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2010 Jul 12

BIG 12 PREVIEW: Ranking the Big 12 Running Backs


By HuskerLocker

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It’s the year of the running back in the Big 12.

Twelve of the league’s 14 leading rushers from 2009 return for the last year of the original shotgun, common-law marriage

Say that again with a mouthful of Skittles in your mouth.

The region hasn’t been this flush with talent since 2004, when Darren Sproles, Cedric Benson and Adrian Peterson rumbled on the plains.

Here’s our ranking for Big 12 running backs. Because of the overall strength of the position, understand the gaps between each team are pretty small.

1. Texas A&M
Starters: Christine Michael (844 yards, 10 Tds) and Cyrus Gray (757/5)
Strengths: While neither fit the definition of big, Michael and Gray are smart, quick, downhill runners that suit Mike Sherman’s West Coast Offense. They probably aren’t quite the duo Auburn once enjoyed in Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown, but they’re inching closer, and Gray is a nice receiving threat, as well. Michael is a home run hitter who busted a 97-yard touchdown run in 2009. A solid recruiting class creates depth at the position. Weaknesses: None. This is a good bunch.

2. Nebraska
Starters: Roy Helu (1,147/10) and Rex Burkhead (346/3)
Strengths: Helu is an unusually gifted runner who sheds tackles in a variety of ways and has deceptively good speed. Burkhead is a jack of all trades. He’s good in short yardage, as a pass catcher, as a pass blocker and as Wildcat quarterback. Third-stringer Dontrayevous Robinson is the power back of the bunch, a good short yardage option. Tyler Legate is NU’s fullback, a returning starter. This is Nebraska’s best backfield since 2006. Weaknesses: Health. Helu is engineered like a sports car, and sometimes the engine isn’t hitting on all cylinders. At times, he tries to avoid every tackler on the field when he should get what he can. Burkhead suffered a fluke injury last year we don’t expect to see occur gain.

T3. Kansas State
Starter: Daniel Thomas (1,265/11)
Strengths: Thomas is the best running back in the Big 12, big but shifty, powerful yet elusive. An all-around athlete, Thomas is a decent receiver and can also play Wildcat quarterback. He has NFL Sundays in his future and he seems to stay healthy. Weaknesses: No proven backup. The job could fall to any number of freshmen.

T3. Oklahoma
Starter: DeMarco Murray (705/8)
Strengths: When healthy, Murray can do just about everything. He’s a one-cut-and-go runner who gets north/south with haste. Excellent receiver (41 catches, 522 yards). After an injury-plagued 2009, he’ll be back to form in 2010. There’s an intriguing backup in Jermie Calhoun, a former high school star, and some speedy recruits from California and Florida. Weaknesses: Depth. No proven fullback for I-formation plays.

T5. Oklahoma State
Starter: Kendall Hunter (382/1)
Strengths: When healthy, Hunter is a terrific back, darting in and out of traffic. His balance and light feet allow him to change direction quickly. He was a 1st-team All American in 2008. Weaknesses: Hunter was injured for the better part of last season - to the point where he missed most of the games - and he’ll need to prove his health in 2010. There’s not much proven depth behind him, as Keith Toston and Beau Johnson both graduated.

T5. Texas Tech
Starter: Baron Batch (884/14)
Strengths: Red Raider running backs don’t seem to last long in the NFL, but they’re perfectly suited for the role they were given in Mike Leach’s offense. Batch’s talents - he also caught 57 passes for 395 yards - may translate better to Sundays because he has decent size (5-11, 205). Good depth here, with Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens both getting their share of touches in 2009. Weaknesses: Slightly new offense to learn. Tech still isn’t great between the tackles and these backs probably run too much laterally.

7. Missouri
Starter: Derrick Washington (865/10)
Strengths: Washington got a little too heavy in 2009 - the coaches wanted him bigger, mind you - so he lost weight and will try to return to his 2008 form. De’Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence are good backups; Lawrence has the potential to be an exciting player if given the chance. Weaknesses: Mizzou’s running game just didn’t work very well in 2009 until the end of the season, then disappeared again in a bowl loss to Navy. Washington, at 6-0, 215 pounds, is perhaps better suited for a more traditional offensive style. He spends too much time running to the line of scrimmage just to gain a few yards.

T8. Iowa State
Starter: Alexander Robinson (1,195/6)
Strengths: We like Robinson. Little guy - 5-9, 186 - but he fits nicely into a hole, and runs that zone read with his quarterbacks beautifully. Maybe not a fit for the NFL, but a tough, versatile runner. Weaknesses: Robinson’s stats were padded by ISU’s 2009 schedule. He may not get 800 yards this year. No experienced backup.

T8. Colorado
Starter: Rodney Stewart (804/9)
Strengths: Stewart is perhaps the Big 12’s smallest running back - 5-6, 175 - but he’s a better between-the-tackles runner than most. Small guys can be hard to locate. Stewart will also enjoy CU’s best offensive line in years. Weaknesses: Backup Brian Lockridge is more of a kickoff returner than running back.

10. Texas
Starter: Tre’ Newton (552/6)
Strengths: Newton is a serviceable runner. Plenty of options and depth, as four guys carried the ball at least 50 times. The real potential lies in fullback Chris Whaley, who needs to lose 15-20 pounds according to head coach Mack Brown, but has plenty of raw talent. Weaknesses: UT has alow some terrific running backs slip away to other programs (Oregon’s LaMichael James, for one) and it’s costing the Longhorns now. Aside from Whaley, none of these guys appear to be “the answer.”

11. Kansas
Starter: Toben Opurum (554/9)
Strengths: Opurum was in 2009 what Whaley could be in 2010. He’s a real load at 6-1, 240, a guy nobody wants to tackle. He’ll play behind KU’s best offensive line in three years, which is helpful. Weaknesses: Opurum’s not going to break too many big runs. The Jayhawks lack experienced depth.

12. Baylor
Starter: Jay Finley (370/1)
Strengths: Finley’s been around the block, having started for a couple years in between injury problems. Jarred Salubi and Terrance Ganaway are experienced backups. Weaknesses: This unit folded up like a cheap accordion once quarterback Robert Griffin got hurt, averaging - get this - 52 rushing yards over the last eight games of the year.

Check Out Our Full Big 12 Preview: Big 12 Coaches, Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Offensive Lines, Defensive LinesCommentary, 12 Best Players, Ten Overrated Players, Ten Underrated Players

Tags: big 12 preview, big 12, roy helu, rex burkhead

Comments (1)

Profile image for huskerfinatic5

Much better! I think that Helu and Burkhead make a good team!
They will be a huge prospect for us. They were both injured last season and it slowed them down a bit. But,it will be awesome to see them back at it again!

– Jul 12, 2010 at 4:34 pm

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