Position U: Top RB Schools of All Time
Welcome to the most contentious string of debates among college football fans. It's Position U week.
Bleacher Report writers David Kenyon and Kerry Miller are identifying the college programs that have generated the most productive NFL players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive line and defensive back since 1970.
In this edition of a five-part series, the focus is on running backs.
At every position, the discussion has several possible angles. Is your preference total NFL alumni? The number of players drafted from a certain position group? Actual NFL production? All of these measures are reasonable to use as a guide.
Throughout this Position U series, B/R's focus will remain on the third definition. While the total number of players was considered, on-field production since 1970 shaped the final order.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Over the last two decades, Alabama has generated more than a handful of highly regarded players. The most productive are Shaun Alexander and current Baltimore Ravens bulldozer Mark Ingram II, as well as Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans. The key for 'Bama to rise would be sustaining NFL excellence.
Auburn has enjoyed a pair of superb stretches at the position. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Tigers produced starting backs in William Andrews, Joe Cribbs and James Brooks with a little Bo Jackson, too. Then around the 2000s, they sent Stephen Davis, Rudi Johnson, Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams to the NFL.
In a few years, Georgia may claim a higher spot. Herschel Walker, Garrison Hearst, Terrell Davis—a Hall of Famer—and Rodney Hampton give the Dawgs a sturdy foundation. Together with Knowshon Moreno earlier in the 2010s, Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D'Andre Swift can bolster UGA's resume.
Since the group is absent a superstar, LSU isn't really a factor for a top-three spot. Still, the program has churned out a dozen quality rotational pieces with Kevin Faulk, Joseph Addai and Dalton Hilliard, among others. Leonard Fournette is LSU's top active player.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State fell a little short but has Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders to propel the future. The past includes Hall of Fame runner Franco Harris, as well as multiple-time Pro Bowlers in Lydell Mitchell, Curt Warner and Larry Johnson.
If you're looking for the best three-man combination of running backs, Pitt has a spectacular case. Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin and LeSean McCoy all topped 11,000 career rushing yards. What holds Pitt back is a thin group otherwise, though Dion Lewis and James Conner are working to change that.
Let's be clear: There's no shame in a top-heavy collection of running backs. Texas has a Hall of Famer in Earl Campbell with memorable players Priest Holmes, Ricky Williams, Jamaal Charles and Cedric Benson. That's a heck of a group. But only four other Longhorns even reached 1,000 career rushing yards.
Also a very narrow miss, USC boasts Hall of Fame backs in Marcus Allen and O.J. Simpson. The drop-off is relatively steep after Reggie Bush and Sam Cunningham, though. Charles White and Ricky Bell both had one excellent NFL season.
Annually a top rushing team in college, but that hasn't always translated to the NFL. Perhaps surprisingly, only five Wisconsin running backs have managed 10 career rushing scores. Melvin Gordon and James White are the recognizable players today.
3. Oklahoma Sooners
Most everyone who watched Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma likely expected he'd become a star in the NFL. They were right.
Peterson exited the 2019 season as the No. 5 all-time leading rusher, earning All-Pro recognition four times and one MVP. However, he's simply one of four OU alums with at least three Pro Bowl trips. The others are Greg Pruitt, Billy Sims and DeMarco Murray.
And the list of accomplished runners keeps going.
Steve Owens, Joe Washington, Mike Thomas and Kenny King all reached a Pro Bowl. James Allen posted a 1,000-yard year, and current Bengals back Joe Mixon has two. Damien Williams played a vital role for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Peterson is a legendary headliner, and the steady flow of top-level talent is impossible to ignore.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Although he might not ever receive the Hall of Fame call, Eddie George performed at a level worthy of deep consideration. He was a workhorse for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and ranks 52nd in career yards from scrimmage.
John Brockington earned three Pro Bowls and an All-Pro honor for the Green Bay Packers in the 1970s. Ezekiel Elliott has already accomplished the same with the Dallas Cowboys, twice leading the NFL in rushing yards even before theoretically entering his prime.
In the late '70s and early '80s, Pete Johnson averaged 1,019 scrimmage yards over a six-year stretch with the Cincinnati Bengals.
After him, Keith Byars piled up 8,770 scrimmage yards and headed to the Pro Bowl. Robert Smith made two Pro Bowls with four 1,000-yard rushing campaigns on the Minnesota Vikings.
Jim Otis, Raymont Harris, Beanie Wells and Carlos Hyde all sprinkled in 1,000-yard seasons on the ground. Other notable alumni include Archie Griffin, Ron Springs and Vince Workman, while J.K. Dobbins is the latest Ohio State product headed to the NFL.
1. Miami Hurricanes
Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only 65 running backs have surpassed 9,000 scrimmage yards in their careers. Six of them—nearly 10 percent—passed through the locker room at Miami.
Frank Gore has enjoyed the longest career, compiling the third-most rushing yards all-time. If he enters the Hall of Fame, Gore will join Edgerrin James in Canton. "Edge" had a brilliant 11-year career and ranks 13th in career rushing yards.
Ottis Anderson, Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee—all two-time Pro Bowlers—each rank in the top 41. Chuck Foreman headed to the Pro Bowl five times, and Lamar Miller has once.
Foreman, Anderson, James and Portis all won AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Tom Sullivan, Albert Bentley, Cleveland Gary and Duke Johnson each had seasons with 1,000-plus scrimmage yards and at least 3,500 in their career.
Heading into 2020, Johnson and Gus Edwards are rotational players, while recent draft picks Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas are attempting to solidify a regular role.