Running Back U: The Top 25 Running Back Schools in College Football
Ah, we live in a world that has less and less appreciation for the ground game.
Indeed, to the disgust of our forebears we have morphed into a gridiron populace who by and large is bedazzled by the big, juicy pass play.
Perhaps it’s our membership in the lightning-fast information age, or maybe we’ve simply lost our appreciation for the guttural occurrence of big bodies moving immovable objects as the pigskin is slowly advanced downfield.
But if we step back a moment from the ball flying overhead and visit palpable statistical evidence, we will no doubt realize that it is still the running game that drives college football. Yes, you can still have your air raid and your hurry-up, but this remains a game that is won on the ground.
It’s the reason that one-dimensional teams with no defense can’t win the big, cheesy enchilada; it’s the natural order of things.
And so, in the spirit of heralding the ground game as the real meaning of life, the following slideshow proudly pinpoints the top 25 collegiate running back manufacturing institutions in these great United States.
These are the factories that have given us the Heisman rushers, the top draft choices, the career leaders, the Super Bowl MVPs, the Hall of Famers, and the best of the best among the valiant warriors who dare to run with the pill.
Notable RBs: John Riggins and Gayle Sayers.
Though hardly the bastion of backs, Kansas deserves mention for producing two of the greatest backs of all time. Riggins is one of only seven running backs in history to capture Super Bowl MVP honors, which he did in 1983 with Washington.
All in all, the Jayhawks have sent 11 backs to the NFL and two have gone in the first round.
Notable RBs: JJ Arrington, Marshawn Lynch and Chuck Muncie.
The Golden Bears have provided the NFL with 13 pro-caliber rushers, with three were selected in the first round.
Notable RBs: Terry Allen, Kevin Mack and CJ Spiller.
Clemson has provided 17 running backs a launchpad into the NFL, with three going pro via the first round of the draft.
Notable RBs: Tony Dorsett, Craig Heyward, Curtis Martin and Randy McMillian.
Pitt's Tony Dorsett took home the Heisman in 1976, foreshadowing an award-winning pro career.
In total the Panthers have had 18 rushers drafted, three going in the first round.
Notable RBs: Joseph Addai, Charles Alexander, Kevin Faulk, Jacob Hester, Harvey Williams and Billy Cannon.
In total LSU has pumped out 26 pro level backs, three first-rounders and the winner of the 1959 Heisman Billy Cannon.
Regardless of the impressive number, you don't necessarily think "running back U" when you think of LSU.
20. Texas A&M
Notable RBs: Bubba Bean, Curtis Dickey, Greg Hill, Detron Smith, John David Crow and Rodney Thomas.
The Aggies have provided the NFL with a long list of players and the running back position is no exception.
Texas A&M's rushing stats include 21 drafted with five in the first round. John David Crow took home the 1957 Heisman.
19. South Carolina
Notable RBs: Dan Reeves, George Rogers, Duce Staley and Marcus Lattimore.
The Gamecocks have provided the NFL with only 13 running backs over the years, but they certainly didn't waste their opportunities in giving up two world-class players with another guy on the way.
George Rogers won the Heisman in 1980 and if Marcus Lattimore could have avoided his 2011 injury, he may well have been the second Gamecock to capture the elusive bronze statue.
Notable RBs: Larry Csonka, Daryl Johnston, Floyd Little, Ernie Davis and Jim Brown.
The Orange are another program with lower overall totals (16 backs drafted, two first rounders) that still manage to pack a powerful punch.
In 1961 Ernie Davis became the first African-American to win the Heisman. Then in 1974 Larry Csonka was named the MVP of Super Bowl VIII.
What hurts Syracuse on the overall list is that the bulk of its most impressive contributions have been less recent than others.
Notable RBs: LaGarrette Blount, Maurice Morris, Jonathan Stewart and LaMichael James.
The Ducks have cranked out 16 NFL-caliber backs. Two were drafted in the first round and if things keep rolling along in Eugene then watch out, because Heismans and increased production capacity might be right around the corner.
16. Oklahoma State
Notable RBs: Tatum Bell, Walt Garrison, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas and Kendall Hunter.
The Cowboys lay claim to granting the football world two of the best all-time speedsters in Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas.
Sanders' record-setting 1988 earned him a concrete spot in the record book and the Heisman trophy. Though Oklahoma State continues to be prolific offensively, its pass-dominated attack is less likely to crank out bulk quantities of rushers.
Notable RBs: Bobby Anderson, Eric Bieniemy, Cullen Bryant, Bo Matthews and Rashaan Salaam.
The Buffaloes have provided a launch pad to the NFL for a whopping 24 backs and among their three first-round selections was 1994 Heisman winner Rashann Salaam.
Notable RBs: Shaun Alexander, Wilbur Jackson, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
The Tide absolutely get the tip of the cap for recent production, which includes 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram, and could very realistically add Trent Richardson to the high honors list in 2011.
In total, Alabama has sent 23 rushers to the pros, including three first-round selections.
13. Florida State
Notable RBs: Edgar Bennett, Marion Butts, Dexter Carter, Warrick Dunn, Amp Lee, Greg Jones, Sammie Smith and Leon Washington.
As is the case with virtually every skill position, Florida State's running back honor roll reads like a dream team roster.
At present, 19 Seminole backs have made it to the NFL and three of these went via the tasty first round.
Notable RBs: Bo Jackson, Rudi Johnson, Cadillac Williams, Tommie Agee, James Brooks, Ronnie Brown and Leon Washington.
Perhaps under-appreciated among running back factory trackers, Auburn's production has turned out far more than 1985 Heisman winner and super-athlete Bo Jackson.
Just one rusher shy of two dozen have made the pros from Auburn and a sizzling five of these athletes have been first-rounders.
Notable RBs: Neal Anderson, Lorenzo Hampton, Emmitt Smith, Larry Smith and Fred Taylor.
Even though when you think of Florida running backs you might immediately think of Emmitt Smith (who earned Super Bowl XXVIII honors on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame), the Gators have sent 22 backs to the NFL and a whopping six of these have gone in the first round.
Notable RBs: Tim Biakabutuka, Ron Johnson, Rob Lytle, Tom Harmon and Tyrone Wheatley.
Michigan's notable list might not knock your socks off, but the Wolverines have sent 28 running backs pro-wards and five of these guys have first round honors.
Additionally, Wolverine Tom Harmon captured the 1940 Heisman trophy.
9. Notre Dame
Notable RBs: Greg Bell, Jerome Bettis, Rocky Bleier, Julius Jones, Johnny Lattner and Ricky Watters.
The thing about Notre Dame is they've produced so many professional caliber players (over 500 in all) that when you list who's provided the most athletes at any position, the Irish are going to be near the top of the list.
In terms of running backs, Notre Dame has cranked out 31 professionals and three were nabbed in the first round. Additionally, Johnny Lattner earned the 1953 Heisman trophy.
Notable RBs: Roger Craig, Ahman Green, Brandon Jackson, Calvin Jones, Tom Rathman and Mark Rozier.
Those beefy Cornhusker linemen have led 30 Nebraska rushers to the NFL and three of these were selected in the coveted and oh, so lucrative first round.
Notable RBs: Terrell Davis, Rodney Hampton, Garrison Hearst, Herschel Walker, Frank Sinkwich and Tim Worley.
It's hard to argue with the Bulldogs' two rushing Heismans (Walker in 1982 and Sinkwich in 1942), combined with Terrell Davis' MVP honors in the 1998 Super Bowl with Denver.
Add 27 pro caliber rushers and six first rounders and you've got an argument for Georgia being even higher in our top 25 sweepstakes.
Why aren't they?
Well, it's all about recent production.
Notable RBs: Cedric Benson, Earl Campbell, Priest Holmes, Eric Metcalf, Ricky Williams and Chris Gilbert.
Though the Longhorn's total numbers are the lowest among the elite teams on our listing (18 total drafted and only four first-rounders), quality makes up for quantity for Texas.
Ricky Williams (1998) and Earl Campbell (1977) both captured a Heisman and the rest of the guys on the list are world-class.
5. Miami FL
Notable RBs: Ottis Anderson, Chuck Foreman, Alonzo Highsmith, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee and Clinton Portis.
The Hurricanes offer up a super set of backs and all in all have provided pro football with 29 rushers, six first-rounders.
One of the highest Miami running back honors came in 1991 when Ottis Anderson captured the Super Bowl MVP award in 1991.
Notable RBs: Dexter Bussey, Adrian Peterson, Greg Pruitt, Steve Sewell, Billy Sims, Spencer Tillman, Joe Washington, Steve Owens and Billy Vessels.
The Sooners have pumped out a mind-boggling 39 pro rushers and six first-rounders. Their trophy case is chock-full with running awards, which is bolstered by three Heisman trophies (Sims in 1978, Owens in 1969 and Vessels in 1952).
3. Penn State
Notable RBs: John Cappelletti, Ki-Jana Carter, DJ Dozier, Franco Harris, Larry Johnson, Steve Smith, Matt Suhey and Blair Thomas.
Penn State's lone Heisman came in 1973 when Cappelletti captured the bronze. Other than that, the Nittany Lions have flooded the pro ranks with 30 rushers and nine went in the first round.
Penn State is a case where quantity and quality meet and make beautiful music.
2. Ohio State
Notable RBs: Keith Byars, Eddie George, Archie Griffin, Tom Matte, Robert Smith, Matt Snell, Chris Wells, Howard Cassady, Les Horvath and Vic Janowicz.
Ohio State has provided football with great running backs with an alluring consistency.
In all, the Buckeyes have cranked out 28 backs, nine first-rounders and five Heisman trophies (Horvath in 1944, Janowicz in 1950, Cassaday in 1955 and Griffin in 1974 and 1975).
Notable RBs: Marcus Allen, Ricky Bell, Reggie Bush, Sam Cunningham, Mike Hull, OJ Simpson, Charles White and Mike Garrett.
Aptly referred to as "Tailback U," USC has manufactured an almost alarming number of high caliber running backs over the years.
The Trojans statistical resume includes 34 pro backs, six first-rounders and five Heismans (Garrett in 1965, Simpson in 1968, White in 1979, Allen in 1981 and Bush in 2005).
What's most impressive about USC is the fact that they've cranked out all its Heisman winners since 1965 (i.e. it's not a bunch of older guys) and really the talent pool has never ever run dry.