Projecting Every Conference's Best RBs for the 2022 CFB Season

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVJuly 6, 2022

Projecting Every Conference's Best RBs for the 2022 CFB Season

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    PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 01: TreVeyon Henderson #32 of the Ohio State Buckeyes carries the ball during a 48-45 Ohio State Buckeyes win at Rose Bowl on January 01, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    B/R's offseason series is rolling along with the running backs.

    In the spring, we outlined the most productive returning backfields with no emphasis on projection. This time around, we're projecting the groups that will actually be the best on the field within each conference.

    The list is subjective but focuses on projected efficiency while also considering established talent.

American: UCF Knights

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    DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 13: UCF Knights running back Johnny Richardson (25) runs into the line during the game between SMU and UCF on November 13, 2021 at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Last season, UCF paced the American with 5.4 yards per carry. The 2022 season may bring more of the same.

    Isaiah Bowser scampered for 803 yards and nine touchdowns in eight games last season, and Johnny Richardson ripped off 733 at a sizzling 7.1 yards per attempt. He also caught 25 passes for 226 yards, finishing the season with 959 yards from scrimmage.

    Rounding out the depth is Mark Antony Richards, who added 309 yards and five touchdowns in his first year after transferring from Auburn.

    UCF returns three starters on the offensive line and plucked veteran tackle Ryan Swoboda from Virginia. Throw in the mobile threat of expected quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, and this backfield should be electric.

ACC: Syracuse Orange

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    SYRACUSE, NY - OCTOBER 30: Syracuse Orange Running Back Sean Tucker (34) runs with the ball and straight arms Boston College Eagles Defensive Back Jason Maitre (3) defending during the first half of the College Football game between the Boston College Eagles and the Syracuse Orange on October 30, 2021, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    After leading the ACC in rushing yards per game in 2021, Syracuse must replace only one member of the offensive line.

    That's awfully good news for Sean Tucker.

    Over the past two seasons, he's rushed for 2,122 yards and 16 touchdowns. Tucker finished with the sixth-most yards (1,496) in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season.

    Between him and dual-threat QB Garrett Shrader, the remainder of Syracuse's running backs accounted for just 34 carries in 2021. However, the Orange can deepen the rotation with Juwuan Price, who tallied 693 yards and 10 touchdowns with New Mexico State in 2022.

Big 12: Texas Longhorns

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    AUSTIN, TEXAS - OCTOBER 16: Bijan Robinson #5 of the Texas Longhorns runs the ball while defended by Brock Martin #9 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first half at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    Texas has fantastic upside.

    Bijan Robinson is the Heisman-level headliner, and his main backups will be Roschon Johnson and Keilan Robinson. Led by Bijan's 1,127 yards, they combined for 2,018 at a 6.0-yard clip in 2021.

    Most notably, the law firm of Robinson, Johnson & Robinson put up that efficient production despite the Longhorns dropping seven games. Even if the ever-present offseason buzz of a Big 12 championship run doesn't come true in 2022, Texas should avoid a repeat of that frustrating year.

    Considering what this group accomplished in a bad season, there is well-founded optimism for a high-level unit.

Big Ten: Ohio State Buckeyes

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    COLUMBUS, OHIO - OCTOBER 30: TreVeyon Henderson #32 of the Ohio State Buckeyes carries the ball against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the second half of their game at Ohio Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
    Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

    In short, the Big Ten is stacked. There are several worthy options to consider right away.

    Along with the Ohio State Buckeyes, the conference also has the Braelon Allen-led Wisconsin Badgers. Plus, both Mohamed Ibhraim and Trey Potts return from injury for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and the Michigan Wolverines have a ton of promise.

    Ohio State, though, has TreVeyon Henderson.

    The versatile back returns after a dazzling true freshman season in which he rushed for 1,255 yards, caught 27 passes for 312 yards and totaled 19 touchdowns. Henderson would be a premier Heisman Trophy contender were it not for Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

    Miyan Williams provided 507 yards at a scorching 7.1 per attempt last season. giving the Buckeyes one of the nation's best duos in the backfield.

C-USA: North Texas Mean Green

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    FRISCO, TX - DECEMBER 23: North Texas Mean Green running back Ikaika Ragsdale (25) carries the ball during the Frisco Football Classic Bowl between North Texas and Miami (OH) on December 23, 2021 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    At least on paper, Conference USA has a two-team race.

    Although the UAB Blazers probably win on individual talent with DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr., the offensive line has a few starters to replace. And the North Texas Mean Green were already more efficient in 2021, anyway.

    North Texas lost 1,200-yard runner DeAndre Torrey to the NFL but welcomes back Oscar Adaway III. He rushed for 572 yards in 2020 before missing last season with a torn ACL.

    Three more sophomores—Ikaika Ragsdale (534 yards; five touchdowns), Ayo Adeyi (496; six) and Isaiah Johnson (359; five)—give North Texas an impressive collection of depth to run behind four returning linemen.

MAC: Central Michigan Chippewas

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    MUNCIE, IN - NOVEMBER 17: Central Michigan Chippewas running back Lew Nichols III (7) jumps to avoid the tackle of Ball State Cardinals safety Brett Anderson II (23) during the college football game between the Central Michigan Chippewas and the Ball State Cardinals on November 17, 2021, at Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Central Michigan would've had a pair of 1,000-yard runners on the roster until Kobe Lewis transferred to Purdue.

    Instead, it'll be the Lew Nichols show again in 2022.

    Lewis missed 2021 with a knee injury, which allowed Nichols to hold the featured role. He scampered for an FBS-best 1,848 yards and scored 16 times last season, which followed an abbreviated 2020 campaign with 508 yards and four touchdowns in six games.

    Nichols will propel Central's chase for the MAC crown.

Mountain West: Air Force Falcons

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    BOISE, ID - OCTOBER 16: Quarterback Haaziq Daniels #4 of the Air Force Falcons hands the ball off to running back Brad Roberts #20 during second half action against the Boise State Broncos at Albertsons Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Boise, Idaho. Air Force won the game 24-17. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
    Loren Orr/Getty Images

    Given that Air Force runs a triple-option offense, it's no surprise the roster is deep up front and in the backfield.

    However, the 2022 campaign brings an optimal mix of experience at both positions for the Falcons. The program has a legitimate shot at winning its first conference title since 1998 as a member of the WAC.

    Brad Roberts bullied his way to 1,357 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. DeAndre Hughes and Emmanuel Michel both topped 400 yards, and Omar Fattah chipped in 220 more.

    Air Force always has a high volume of rushing production, but its efficiency may also be elite in 2022.

Pac-12: Utah Utes

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    PARADISE, NV - DECEMBER 03: : Running back Tavion Thomas #9 of the Utah Utes rushes for a touchdown in the first quarter during the Pac-12 Championship Game featuring the University Oregon Ducks  and the University of Utah Utes on December 3, 2021 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Matthew Bolt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Matthew Bolt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Utah is aiming for its fourth Pac-12 Championship Game in five years, and the running backs will be a key part of that pursuit.

    Tavion Thomas highlights the unit, looking to improve on a season with 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns.

    Micah Bernard, meanwhile, is an elusive and versatile weapon for the offense. Last season, he rushed for 529 yards and reeled in 26 passes for 251 yards. He's primed for a larger role following the NFL-bound departure of T.J. Pledger.

    One-time LSU back Chris Curry should also contribute for the Utes, who paced the Pac-12 in both yards per carry and total rushing average in 2021.

SEC: Georgia Bulldogs

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    ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 20: Georgia Bulldogs running back Kenny McIntosh runs towards the end zone for a first quarter touchdown during a college football game between the Charleston Southern Buccaneers and Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, November 20, 2021 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA. (Photo by Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Jahmyr Gibbs and Jase McClellan should be a spectacular duo for the Alabama Crimson Tide, but a work-in-progress offensive line is reason for hesitation.

    That's not the case at Georgia, though.

    Behind that veteran group, the Dawgs will lean on Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Bennett. They all held backup roles to Zaire White and James Cook in 2020 and 2021 but combined for a healthy 5.2 yards per carry on 282 attempts as reserves.

    Thanks to the blockers and backs, Georgia's run-focused offense is built for yet another successful year.

Sun Belt: Appalachian State Mountaineers

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 02: Ja'Quan McMillian (21) corner back of East Carolina tries to arm tackle Nate Noel (20) running back of Appalachian State during the Duke Mayo Classic college football game between the East Carolina Pirates and Appalachian State Mountaineers on September 2, 2021 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.  (Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    No surprise here.

    Since joining the Sun Belt in 2014, Appalachian State has consistently ranked among the conference's most productive rushing attacks. Even as the league expands to 14 teams, the Mountaineers are positioned to keep that trend alive.

    As with several other teams mentioned, the Mountaineers have a healthy dose of experience up front. They also have two returning 1,000-yard players.

    Nate Noel tallied 1,126 yards last season, and Camerun Peoples rushed for 1,124 in 2020.

    After them, App State will rotate Daetrich Harrington, Anderson Castle and Wake Forest transfer Ahmani Marshall into the mix.