Since its inception in 1996, the Big 12 has been a proving ground for many of the best athletes in the world of college football. As we leave the 15th year in Big 12 history behind us, we at Bleacher Report decided to take a look back at some of those athletes.
Many of the best running backs of the last 15 years have come from the Big 12. Many of the rushers on this list have gone on to strong NFL careers as well. However, that is not what this list is about. This list is about the best RBs to have their number called while on a college football field while playing for a Big 12 school. This means that greats like Barry Sanders, Rashaan Salaam and Gayle Sayers aren’t eligible.
However, there are plenty of great RBs in those 15 years from one-hit-wonders to four year dynasty runners. The first player on the list however is between those two, a two-year back who ran for over 2200 yards for Kansas.
Stats for this article from www.sports-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Although Cornish was redshirted, he did see time in all five of his years at Kansas, returning two kicks in 2002 before the redshirt was applied. After two more years on the bench behind the duo of John Randle and Clark Green, Cornish was given his first full season of duty in 2005 while splitting carries with Green.
He rushed for over 100 yards four times in 05’—including a three touchdown, 10.3 yard per attempt performance against Appalachian State—averaged 5.8 per attempt and totaled nearly 800 yards on only 134 attempts. The keys to the castle were handed to him in 2006 however and he did not disappoint, rushing for 1457 yards on 250 carries and eight touchdowns.
He only scored 20 TDs from scrimmage in his two years of duty—three of them receptions—but he dominated every other RB in the 06’ season in nearly every rushing category and for that he breaks the top 25 all time.
To understand the field presence that Marlon Lucky had in Lincoln, you can’t just look at statistics.
Sure, his 4.6 yards per attempt average is lower than many on this list and he only rushed for just shy of 2400 yards in four seasons at Nebraska. However, he was a first-down-yardage threat out of the backfield in the passing game averaging 10.2 yards per catch, 135 receptions and 1379 yards through the air.
When factored in, he wasn’t the best runner in Nebraska history, but he was a potent part of the offense for the Cornhuskers in his tenure there and his 3772 career yards and 26 TDs live on as his legacy in corn country.
While he was an integral part of Missouri’s offense since his rookie campaign in 2000, he didn’t truly break out until his senior year when he rushed for 1155 yards and 14 TDs. He also averaged a career best 5.3 yards per attempt that season.
Missouri fans remember him fondly whenever Texas Tech comes to town and they remember his single-handed dismantling of the Red Raiders’ defense. He rushed for a then career best 139 yards and three TDs. He had rushed for three touchdowns once before in his early season romp of 2002 but would only top 139 yards once when he averaged 7.1 yards per attempt against Texas A&M.
With 40 career rushing TDs—11 of which came in the first four games of the 02’ season—Abron comes in at No. 9 of all-time rushing TD leaders in the Big 12, but that only earns him 23 in our book.
Overshadowed by Ricky Williams, Priest Holmes’ Big 12 story isn’t in the stats. While he did power through for 13 TDs in 1996 for the Longhorns—including two crucial scores in the first ever Big 12 Championship Game—you had to watch him play to see his talent.
He did average 5.5 YPA in his one Big 12 season and later won a Super Bowl with the Ravens, but he never really got his chance to shine until his seven-year run in Kansas City.
That being said, you would have to go to the really deep parts of Texas to find someone who hasn’t heard of him and who didn’t love him as a Longhorn.
Not to be confused with long time Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee, Scobey played two years at NEO A&M in Oklahoma playing Junior College Football before making the jump to Kansas State. Suffice it to say that they were not disappointed with him. In two years he rushed for near-as-makes-no-difference 2000 yards and 31 TDs.
In that time he notched eight games rushing over 100 yards—five of which were for 149 yards or more—including a 204 yard drubbing of intrastate rival Kansas. He also ran for four touchdowns twice in his career, once against Iowa State and another against New Mexico State, averaging over 7.0 yards per attempt in both tilts.
Scobey’s career fizzled in the NFL and he found himself as mainly a kick returner, but his rushing prowess at Kansas won’t soon be forgotten by Jayhawks fans.
Picking up where Marlon Lucky left off in 2008, Helu picked up the torch in Lincoln and carried it for over 3400 yards in his four year tenure for the Huskers. He wasn’t as prolific out of the backfield in the passing attack, but he was a stronger runner who averaged nearly six yards per attempt.
His 28 touchdowns doesn’t make as big a splash as many others have, but 21 of those came in only two years of work and his 6.6 yards per attempt was first overall in the Big 12 last season.
His chances of being drafted in the NFL aren’t great as he is a middle of the road prospect, but he capped Nebraska’s time in the Big 12 and gave them the sendoff they deserved in 2010 with 1245 yards—307 of those coming in Nebraska’s 31-17 upset of Missouri. Helu had himself a day earning nearly three quarters of Nebraska’s total 464 yards in that game and put up three touchdowns to boot.
Buckhalter was the definition of a one hit wonder, but boy was he something. In one year, on only 106 attempts, he rushed for 750 yards and seven touchdowns. Not only were those rushing yards good enough for seventh best in the Big 12 in 2000, but his 7.1 yards per attempt that year were best in both the Big 12 and the NCAA.
He was a fourth round pick in the 2001 draft and currently plays for the Denver Broncos, but his legacy is still further north in Nebraska, in the heart of Cornhusker Nation.
One of the best RBs to ever play for Iowa State, Ennis Haywood’s story is a bit more tragic than the others on this list.
After rushing for 2406 yards and 22 TDs in two seasons at Iowa State, Haywood ended up on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad in 2002. He would later fight for a roster spot in 2003 but would die in May of 2003 after being declared brain dead upon arriving at the hospital. Doctors later found a mixture of alcohol and prescription pills in his stomach that led to his death.
He may not have gotten his break in the NFL, but Cyclones fans never forgot his power, presence, or production. His 11 games with over 100 yards rushing—including five for more than 190 yards—live on in Iowa State lore.
In four years at Oklahoma State, Kendall Hunter has earned his No. 4 RB rank in this year’s draft. In that time he has rushed for near-as-makes-no-difference 4200 yards and 37 touchdowns while adding another 519 yards and two scores through the air.
In an era of spread offenses in the Big 12, Hunter has thrived, averaging 5.9 YPA. He lead the Big 12 in rushing yards, yards from scrimmage, and plays from scrimmage in 2008. Hunter has also finished in the top ten in most every offensive category in both 2008 and 2010 which were his two biggest season for the Cowboys.
A consistent and unrelenting runner, his only truly huge game came in last season’s opener against Washington State when he rushed for 257 yards on 21 carries and also notched four touchdowns. However, he has also rushed for 100 yards or more in 18 games, including three trips past the 200 mark.
A likely late round pick in the draft, Kendall Hunter is one of the most talented runners that both Oklahoma State and the Big 12 have ever seen.
Coming in at fourth on the all-time Big 12 career TD list, Jorvorskie Lane is arguably one of the top two or three RBs to come from Aggie Football.
He led the Big 12 in touchdowns in2006 with 19, and also ranks in the top 40 in NCAA history in career touchdowns.
The power running Lane never had a 1000 yard season, but he averaged 4.5 YPA over his four year career and still racked up just shy of 2200 rushing yards. His senior year numbers were stunted by his move to fullback, and he was never drafted or played in the NFL, but the Aggies remember the big bruising back from Lufkin who still holds the school’s record for career touchdowns.
Considering that two of his first two seasons were spent behind Adrian Peterson and Allen Patrick, Oklahoma’s Chris Brown was often stuck behind other more promising talent.
However, when he got his true chance in 2008, he did not disappoint Sooners fans. He rushed for over 1200 yards and notched 20 TDs as Oklahoma made a run to the BCS Championship game only to lose to Florida in the heart of Tim Tebow’s tenure.
His legacy at Oklahoma and in the Big 12 has been overshadowed by DeMarco Murray and Adrian Peterson, but his ability to break big gains and put up points on offense is second to few in Big 12 history.
Before Bob Stoops created the dynasty and before AP-All Day ever wore the white and crimson in Oklahoma, there was Quentin Griffin.
Rushing for 40 touchdowns and nearly 3500 yards in his career, Griffin was a powerful runner who gained 1884 of those yards and 15 of those TDs in 2002 alone.
He also has 1110 receiving yards, five receiving TDs and a National Title in 2000 on his Big 12 resume. After tearing his ACL for the Denver Broncos in 2004, his career never recovered. However, Sooners fans won’t soon forget who came before Adrian Peterson to help Bob Stoops’ run to the top.
Intrastate rivals with Quentin Griffin, Tatum bell eventually went on to take Griffin’s starting job in Denver when Griffin went down due to injury.
In Big 12 play he was simply electric. In his junior and senior years he rushed for 1096 and 1286 yards respectively and averaged over six yards per attempt. By the end of his career for the Cowboys, bell had racked up 3410 yards and 34 TDs on the ground.
His efficiency in his last two years is his true legacy when he would own defenses and break big gains on nearly every run. Bell averaged over 100 yards 12 times in those two seasons—eclipsing the 200 yard mark twice in 2003 alone.
His NFL legacy is tainted with fumble and grand theft luggage, but Cowboy fans and fans of the Big 12 surely remember his prolific and explosive running style in his two big years there.
Ahman Green was lucky to have two of his years in the Big 12 as he rushed for just shy of 3000 yards in that time. Over his career in the Big 12 he averaged nearly seven yards per attempt and notched 29 TDs.
Green rushed for a career best 214 yards in 96’ against Iowa State and would later rush for four TDs in 1997 games against Kansas State and Baylor.
Green later set the franchise record for rushing yards as a member of the Green Bay Packers, But Cornhusker fans still remember his big gain ability when he played in front of packed houses in Lincoln.
Stats from www.huskers.com
Sooners fans are going to miss this guy. Not as much as they maybe still miss Adrian Peterson, it’ll come close.
The sole holder of the school TD record—and second place shareholder in the same Big 12 history book with 50 scores—Demarco Murray knew how to score in his time at Oklahoma better than nearly anyone in the history of college football.
His career 3685 rushing and 1571 receiving yards earn him fourth best in Big 12 history for yards from scrimmage. Murray also holds third all-time in the Big 12 in total touchdowns with 65 and 10th overall in kickoff return yards average.
His career numbers are even more impressive when considering that he has been plagued with injuries which threaten his 2011 Draft stock. Wherever he is picked, one thing is for sure. His replacement has some very big shoes to fill on a team that expects nothing less than perfection from their running backs.
The Red Raiders finally break into the list at No. 12, and Taurean Henderson is worth the wait. Although he never found success in the NFL, Henderson struck fear into defenses in his four years at Texas Tech.
A dual threat running back, Henderson totaled just shy of 5300 yards in his career, 3241 of those on the ground. He also holds the school and Big 12 records for the most touchdowns in a career with 69. He also shares second overall in Big 12 rushing TD history with Demarco Murray at 50.
What Red Raiders fans likely remember most is his four TD performance against intrastate rivals Texas A&M and his 169 yard rout of Kansas while football fans across the country are left with the thought of what might’ve been in the NFL.
Another alumnus from Texas Tech’s football program, Byron Hanspard exploded in his only year in the Big 12 with 2084 yards rushing and 13 TDs. He finished sixth in the Heisman voting in 1996 and his career never took off as a RB in the NFL, but his one season in the Big 12 is still one of the most impressive in the conference’s 15 year history.
Another one-and-done in the Big 12, Troy Davis played three years of college ball like Hanspard, but only his 1996 campaign counts for this list.
In that one year however he rushed for 2185 yards and 21 TDs while averaging 5.4 YPA. He finished second in the Heisman voting in 1996 and was the first player in NCAA Div 1-A history to rush for over 2000 yards in consecutive seasons.
If you were one of the many people wondering where the 6.3 YPA gainer for the Chiefs came from, you will soon know.
In fact, Charles has been running that was since he averaged 6.2 per attempt in three years with the Longhorns. He also piled up 3328 yards and 36 TDs and lead the Big 12 in rushing yards and rushing TDs in 2007.
He also was part of the 2005 National Championship team along with Vince Young and continues to break consistently big gains through the toughest defenses to this day
A predecessor to Bob Stoops at OU, DeMond Parker knew how to put the yards and defenses behind him.
In three years and 31 games at Oklahoma he racked up 3403 yards and 21 TDs. However, what are most impressive are his 5.9 yards per attempt average, 12 games over 100 yards and five games over 200.
His career long run may only be 53 yards, but Parker was one of the best pure runners the Big 12 has seen, and he did it in the conference’s first three seasons.
Colorado’s sole addition to this list is possibly the best of the two-hit-wonders. His sophomore season was a great year where he rushed for 946 yards and 16 TDs while averaging 5.0 YPA.
However, no one was ready for the explosion from Chris Brown in 2002 when he ran for over 1800 yards and 19 TDs on only 303 carries. He was a single threat back with only 11 career catches out of the backfield at Colorado, but he was one of the best ever.
Brown was also named 2002 Big 12 offensive player of the year and is good enough for fifth on our list all-time.
Not to be outdone by Chris Brown, Darren Sproles broke out even bigger in 2003, leading the Big 12 in rush attempts(306) and leading the NCAA in rushing yards(1986) and yards from scrimmage(2273).
2003 was Bill Snyder’s last 11 win season with Kansas State and Darren Sproles was a huge part of that. He has gone on to a prolific career with the San Diego Chargers.
Cedric Benson is one of the most prolific RBs in NCAA history. He holds the Big 12 record for rush attempts (1112), rushing touchdowns (64) and rushing yards (5540).
He wasn’t much of a receiving threat out of the backfield, but he never needed to be. The one category he lacks in is yards per attempt, but even there he averaged an even five over his four year career. He rushed for over 100 yards more than 20 times in his career and eclipsed 150 and 200 yards on multiple occasions.
The fact that he is No. 3 on this list isn’t a ding to him, but praise for the top two.
In three injury shortened seasons with the Sooners, Adrian Peterson rushed for over 4000 yards, 41 TDs and averaged 5.4 yards per attempt.
He played in the heart of the Bob Stoops era and was in the top three in rushing yards and touchdowns in each of his three years from 04’-06’. Peterson ranks in the top 40 all-time in the NCAA in rushing yards and came within one win of a National Championship, losing to USC in the Orange Bowl.
However, Peterson only rushed for less than 100 yards 9 times in his 31 game college career and is considered the most talented running back to ever play for the Sooners.
Ricky Williams has been the best RB in the history of the Big 12 since its inception in 1996. In his three years of Big 12 play he compiled nearly 5300 yards on 845 attempts and averaged over 6.2 YPA. He also scored 64 TDs in his time in the Big 12 which only Cedric Benson has tied since.
He finished fifth in the Heisman voting in 1997, but would not be denied and won the award a year later.
In his entire college career he earned 7206 yards and 75 touchdowns from scrimmage and has solidified himself as the single best RB to ever play in the Big 12, one of the best to ever play in the NCAA and will likely hold both of those titles for years to come.