The Top 25 RBs in SEC History

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2011

The Top 25 RBs in SEC History

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    From Bo Jackson to Mark Ingram, the SEC has produced many of the top running backs ever to grace a college football field.

    In a field as crowded as any conference in the country, these rushers separated themselves from the pack to become the best ever.

    Read on to see who makes the cut for the 25 greatest backs ever to carry the ball in the SEC.

Honorable Mention: George Rogers, South Carolina, 1977-80

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    George Rogers capped one of the great careers in the history of college football by winning the 1980 Heisman Trophy.

    He ran for more than 5,000 yards in his record-breaking career at South Carolina, 1,781 of them in his Heisman campaign.

    Unfortunately, for the purposes of this list, South Carolina was not a member of the SEC when Rogers played.

    The Gamecocks were an independent in football at the time, leaving Rogers’ stats out of the conference’s already-gaudy record books.

25. Travis Stephens, Tennessee, 1998-2001

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    Though other Tennessee running backs have piled up more yards, Travis Stephens stands out from the crowd for having put up the greatest single season in school history.

    In 2001, he carried 291 times for 1,464 yards, a total that stands 13th on the SEC’s all-time list.

    Behind Stephens and a powerful defense, the Vols would finish fourth in the AP poll that season, though an SEC title game defeat at the hands of LSU spoiled what could have been an even bigger year.

    Stephens appeared in just one NFL game, in 2002.

24. Rudi Johnson, Auburn, 2000

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    Rudi Johnson played just one season at Auburn, but he made it count, averaging better than 130 yards per game in 2000. He finished with 1,567 rushing yards, the 10th-best season in SEC history.

    Had he not spent two years as a junior college player and then jumped to the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals after just the one year, Johnson would almost undoubtedly rank a good deal higher on this list.

23. Johnny Dottley, Ole Miss, 1947-50

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    Though his 6’1", 200-lb. frame made him a fullback in the late 1940s, Johnny Dottley was one of the great big play runners the SEC ever saw.

    He still holds three top-10 spots in the SEC record books for highest yards-per-carry in a single game.

    As a junior in 1949, he averaged 131.2 yards per game (10th-best in conference history), highlighted by a 20-carry, 235-yard explosion against Chattanooga.

    He would go on to a brief career with the Chicago Bears, earning Pro Bowl honors as a rookie in 1951.

22. Joe Cribbs, Auburn, 1976-79

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    It’s easy to get lost in the daunting competition of Auburn’s rushing record books, but Joe Cribbs deserves to be remembered as one of the all-time Tiger greats.

    His 3,368 rushing yards place him 15th on the SEC’s all-time list (though a mere fourth at his own school), as do his 34 career rushing TDs.

    Cribbs highlighted his senior season in 1979 with a 250-yard performance in a win over Georgia.

    He won AFC Rookie of the Year honors after being drafted by the Buffalo Bills, the highlight of an eight-year career as a pro.

21. Deuce McAllister, Ole Miss, 1997-2000

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    Deuce McAllister brought as much excitement to Ole Miss football as anyone not named Manning in the last half-century.

    Though his 3,060 career yards (a school record) don’t stand out in the SEC record books, he was a threat to score any time he touched the football.

    McAllister totaled 37 rushing TDs, good for 11th in SEC history, in addition to impressive performances as a receiver and kick returner. As a junior in 1999, he averaged nearly 170 all-purpose yards per game.

    McAllister’s impressive pro career in New Orleans appears finally to be over, as he officially retired last January.

20. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia, 2007-08

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    A dangerous mix of speed and power, Knowshon Moreno put up a pair of impressive seasons at Georgia before jumping to the NFL.

    His 1,400-yard sophomore season ranks in the top 20 in SEC history.

    Playing against SEC defenses that were routinely among the nation’s best, Moreno still managed to average 105 yards per game for his career, good for seventh on the conference’s all-time list. He’s also eighth all-time with 131 all-purpose yards per game.

19. Felix Jones, Arkansas, 2005-07

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    Though his raw totals were diminished by splitting carries with backfield mate Darren McFadden, Felix Jones was one of the most explosive runners in college football history.

    Two of the SEC’s top six seasons for highest average per carry belong to Jones, including the conference record at a whopping 8.74 yards per try.

    Jones was also a dangerous kick returner, which helped him amass 1,800 all-purpose yards in two different seasons.

18. James Brooks, Auburn, 1977-80

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    For his special teams performance alone, James Brooks would be remembered as a standout at Auburn. He graduated with the school’s all-time record for kickoff return yardage at 1,726.

    That’s on top of rushing for 3,523 yards in his four-year career. In all, Brooks racked up 5,596 all-purpose yards, sixth-most in SEC history.

    Brooks went on to a standout NFL career in Cincinnati, where he still ranks among the career leaders in both rushing yards and receptions.

17. Moe Williams, Kentucky, 1993-95

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    Moe Williams hit the ground running at Kentucky, setting the school’s freshman record with 986 rushing yards. It was as a junior, though, that he really made his mark on the SEC.

    In addition to racking up a school-record 1,600 rushing yards (eighth-best in conference history), Williams broke out for the single biggest game the conference had ever seen. In a win over South Carolina, Williams totaled 429 all-purpose yards, 299 of them rushing.

    Williams would go on to a solid, unspectacular NFL career, mostly with the Vikings.

16. Bobby Humphrey, Alabama, 1985-88

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    During the turbulent years that followed Bear Bryant’s retirement at Alabama, Bobby Humphrey was one of the first real bright spots. His 1,471 rushing yards in 1986 still stands as a Crimson Tide record.

    Humphrey, also a terrific receiver who caught 60 passes in his four seasons with the Tide, finished his career with 3,420 rushing yards and 33 TDs.

    Humphrey went on to a brief but effective NFL career, earning a Pro Bowl nod with the Broncos in 1990.

15. Shaun Alexander, Alabama, 1996-99

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    Neck and neck with Bobby Humphrey in the Alabama record books is another speedy running/receiving threat, Shaun Alexander.

    Alexander comes out ahead by a nose, with school records of 3,565 rushing yards (ahead of Humphrey by 145) and a single-game high 291 yards (breaking Humphrey’s old mark by 7).

    As a senior, Alexander set an SEC record that still stands by scoring 24 combined touchdowns.

    He capped his Tide career by stunning Auburn on the road in the 1999 Iron Bowl, scoring three TDs in the fourth quarter to lead ‘Bama to a comeback win.

    Alexander’s brilliant career as a Seattle Seahawk was highlighted by an NFL MVP season in 2005.

14. Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State, 2006-09

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    Among the top offensive players in Mississippi State history, Anthony Dixon shattered most of the school’s freshman rushing records despite starting only five games that season.

    He followed that performance by setting the Bulldogs’ record for carries the next season.

    Though his teams met with limited success (just one winning record in his four years in Starkville), Dixon himself just kept getting better.

    He finished with 3,994 career rushing yards and 42 TDs, both school records and both in the top 10 in conference history.

    Dixon played sparingly as a rookie behind Frank Gore in San Francisco last season.

13. Sonny Collins, Kentucky, 1972-75

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    The lone bright spot for a string of losing teams at Kentucky, Sonny Collins was a classic workhorse back. His 777 career carries are eighth all-time in the SEC.

    He earned all-conference recognition in three of his four years with the Wildcats, finishing with a school-record (and then-SEC record) 3,835 yards rushing.

    Collins enjoyed just one year as a pro with the Atlanta Falcons before a knee injury ended his football career.

12. Garrison Hearst, Georgia, 1990-92

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    Georgia’s best tailback of the post-Herschel Walker era was the fleet-footed Garrison Hearst. He put up solid seasons for his first two years in Athens, but nothing that prepared fans for his junior year.

    In 1992, Hearst ran for 1,547 yards and a then-record 19 TDs. Add in his two receiving TDs, and Hearst accounted for 126 points, best by a non-kicker in SEC history.

    Hearst’s injury-plagued professional career had a silver lining, as it enabled him to win the Comeback Player of the Year award twice (for Arizona in 1995 and San Francisco in 2001).

11. Cadillac Williams, Auburn, 2001-04

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    As impressive as Cadillac Williams’ Auburn career was, one can only wonder at the numbers he might’ve put up if he hadn’t shared the backfield with fellow future NFL starter Ronnie Brown.

    Not only did he and Brown lead Auburn to a perfect 13-0 2004 season, but Williams finished his career with school records for carries and TDs (45, good for fourth in SEC history).

    Williams’ 3,831 rushing yards for his career are second only to Bo Jackson in Tiger history.

10. Charles Alexander, LSU, 1975-78

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    Were it not for Herschel Walker, Charles Alexander might be remembered very differently today.

    Alexander re-wrote the SEC record books as a runner, but Walker eclipsed many of those records before the ink had time to dry.

    Alexander became the first SEC back to reach 4,000 career rushing yards, and his 1,686 yards as a junior in 1977 shattered the single-season record for the conference.

    He also graduated as the SEC leader in both rushing (40) and total (42) touchdowns.

    Alexander went on to a workman-like NFL career with the Bengals, though his performance never approached his collegiate successes.

9. Errict Rhett, Florida, 1990-93

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    For all the Florida runners who have gone on to NFL stardom, none put up numbers in Gainesville to match Errict Rhett.

    A dangerous runner and superior receiver, Rhett was the centerpiece of two SEC champions (1991 and 1993).

    His Gators records for both rushing (4,143) and all-purpose (5,393) yardage still rank in the SEC’s top 10 all-time. He also amassed 36 TDs, just one shy of Emmitt Smith’s Florida mark.

    Rhett showed flashes of his old form in the NFL, but his seven years in the pros (most successfully with Tampa Bay) never matched up to his triumphs at Florida.

8. Dalton Hilliard, LSU, 1982-85

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    At most schools, Dalton Hilliard would be the undisputed king of dual-threat runner/receivers, but LSU has produced so many great ones that Hilliard’s achievements can get lost in the shuffle.

    He nosed past Charles Alexander’s school record for career rushing by a mere 15 yards, finishing with 4,050 (still sixth all-time for the SEC). He’s also eighth in conference history (though just third at LSU) with 5,326 all-purpose yards for his career.

    Injuries derailed a promising pro career for Hilliard with his hometown Saints, but not before he made the 1989 Pro Bowl for a season in which he scored 18 touchdowns. 

7. Mark Ingram, Alabama, 2008-10

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    Just a few short months after the final game of his Alabama career, Mark Ingram already belongs among the best the mighty SEC has to offer.

    Though Ingram’s individual totals are less gaudy than some other backs on this list, he got the results that count the most.

    Only Ingram, in the long history of SEC runners, managed to bring home a Heisman Trophy and a national championship in the same season.

    Ingram’s final* year, spent splitting carries with Trent Richardson, cost him on the stat sheet, but he still finished with a solid 3,261 career yards and an even more impressive 42 rushing TDs.

    *The original version of this slide listed this year incorrectly as his senior year. Thanks to Tyler in the comments for catching this error.

6. Emmitt Smith, Florida, 1987-89

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    Even before Emmitt Smith became the NFL’s all-time rushing leader, Florida fans knew he was something special.

    In just three seasons, Smith shattered the school records for rushing yards in a season (1,599) and a career (3,928) while scoring 36 TDs.

    He’s second all-time in the SEC with a career average of just under 127 rushing yards per game.

    Smith is also one of just four backs in conference history to break 300 rushing yards in a game, having run for 316 against New Mexico in his final season in Gainesville.

5. Billy Cannon, LSU, 1957-59

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    Though his stats have been eclipsed by more recent runners, Billy Cannon still holds a special place in LSU lore.

    A speedy halfback with the hands to play tight end (as he would later do for the AFL’s Houston Oilers), Cannon anchored LSU’s first-ever national championship team in 1958.

    He’s even more revered, though, for his 1959 season, which saw him bring the school its first Heisman Trophy.

    Tigers fans still speak reverently of his tackle-breaking, 89-yard punt return TD (“The Run”) that gave top-ranked LSU a come-from-behind home win over No. 3 Ole Miss.

4. Kevin Faulk, LSU, 1995-98

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    Few running backs in college history have found more ways to help their team than Kevin Faulk.

    Faulk’s sure hands and deceptive speed made him a threat as a runner, receiver, and return man, and he made his presence felt in all three roles.

    Faulk totaled an astounding 6,833 all-purpose yards in his four years at LSU, nearly 1,000 yards ahead of second place on the SEC’s all-time list.

    He also has two of the conference’s top four single seasons in all-purpose yardage.

    Faulk’s long career with the Patriots may have finally come to a close after he played in only two games last season.

3. Darren McFadden, Arkansas, 2005-07

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    As a sophomore*, Darren McFadden ran for 1,647 yards, a school record and the fifth-highest season total ever for an SEC back.

    And that wasn’t even the best he could do.

    McFadden’s junior* year, in which he ran for 1,830 yards and amassed an SEC-record 2,310 all-purpose yards puts him solidly among the all-time greats as a college runner.

    He finished his career with an astounding 4,590 rushing yards, second-best in the storied history of the SEC.

    *The original version of this slide listed these years incorrectly as junior and senior, respectively. Thanks to Stewart in the comments for catching this error.

2. Bo Jackson, Auburn, 1982-85

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    One of the greatest players in football history for sheer athletic ability, Bo Jackson’s power and speed were unrivaled. He’s widely considered one of the greatest Heisman Trophy winners of all time.

    Jackson holds the SEC record with an absurd 6.62 yards per carry for his career. His 1985 Heisman season places third in the SEC rankings at 1,786 rushing yards.

    He might have become one of the NFL’s all-time greats if it weren’t for the hip injury that ended his career after just four seasons. 

1. Herschel Walker, Georgia, 1980-82

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    It’s almost impossible to overstate the esteem in which Herschel Walker is held by Georgia fans.

    Arguably the greatest college football player of all time at any position, Walker is without a doubt the best running back the SEC has ever seen.

    All three of his seasons at Georgia are among the top seven rushing seasons by any back in SEC history.

    He ran for 5,259 yards in just 33 games, winning a national championship as a freshman and the Heisman Trophy as a junior.

    Prior to his stints as an MMA fighter and Olympic bobsledder, Walker was also a pretty fair NFL running back, making back-to-back Pro Bowls with Dallas in 1987-88.

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