The ultimate compliment to an outstanding quarterback is a strong running back who can chew up yards on the ground and keep a defense honest. The Big XII has had its fair share of talented running backs over the years and this season is no exception. In fact, the running back position may be the most deeply talented among the conference offenses right now. As for who has the best rushing attack in the Big XII, well, that's up for debate but here's my take on it. Feel free to sound off with your thoughts in the comments section below.
1. Texas Longhorns - The Longhorns have the Big XII's returning leading rusher, in yards per game, with Johnathan Gray who averaged 4.9 yards per carry and 86.7 yards per game in 2013. He'll be teamed once again with Malcolm Brown who had the second most carries in the conference in 2013, averaging 4.2 yards per touch and 69.5 yards per game. Joe Bergeron (5 YPC) completes the trifecta of Texas' top three backs returning.
2. Baylor Bears - The Bears have lost Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin but return sophomore Shock Linwood. Averaging 6.9 yards per carry in 2013, Linwood was second on the team in rushing and earned First-Team Freshman All American honors. Depth may be an issue for Baylor at this position where a redshirt freshman (Johnny Jefferson) and a true freshman (Terence Williams) stand in behind Linwood.
3. Oklahoma - Sophomore Keith Ford only carried the ball 23 times last season but he certainly left OU fans wanting more (5.8 YPC). He should get the nod to start the season with Alex Ross sharing touches as well. Don't sleep on incoming freshman Joe Mixon though!
4. Oklahoma State - Desmond Roland was ninth in the conference in yards per game last season with an average of 62.4 yards per game, scoring thirteen touchdowns, and averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Sophomore Rennie Childs will replace Jeremy Smith as running back 1B. JUCO transfer Tyreek Hill, whole played both RB and WR at Garden City CC, will also get some carries as coaches look to utilize his speed wherever they can.*
5. West Virginia - The stable of running backs could be the best weapon in the Mountaineers' offensive arsenal. Senior Dreanuis Smith averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns last fall. He'll be pushed by sophomore Rushel Shell and Andrew Buie returns to the team this season.
6. TCU - The Frogs haven't had a running back crack the 100 yard barrier in a game for two consecutive seasons. Juniors BJ Catalon (569 yards/6 TD/5.3 YPC) and Aaron Green (232 yards/3.2 YPC) should each share the load for TCU this fall.
7. Texas Tech - Kenny Williams led the Red Raiders in rushing yards (497) and rushing touchdowns (8) in 2013 but transitioned to linebacker in the spring. That leaves DeAndre Washington, who was second on the team, (450 yards/4 TD/4.2 YPC) as the go to guy in 2014.
8. Kansas - James Sims was one of the most underrated backs in the conference over the last few seasons but he has now moved on. KU will be looking to Brandon Bourbon to live up to the 4-star hype he had out of high school. Backing him up will be Taylor Cox (RS-SR), incoming four-star recruit Traevohn Wrench (FR), and #1 JUCO RB (JCGridiron.com) commit DeAndre Mann.**
9. Kansas State - Quarterback Jake Waters is the Wildcats' leading returning rusher. John Hubert was a 1,000 yard back who has gone on to the NFL and duel-threat quarterback Daniel Sams has transferred out of the program. This opens the door for senior DeMarcus Robinson, who only had five carries last season, to step into the starting spot this fall.
10. Iowa State - Senior Aaron Wimberly is a bright spot on this ISU offense. He just needs more touches. In 2013 he got 141 rushing attempts and responded with an average of 4 yards per carry. Junior DeVondrick Nealy, who had 41 carries last season, will back him up.
* Added by Robert Whetsell of Cowboys Ride For Free
**Added by Mike Plank of Rock Chalk Talk