If you’re a fan of college football, there’s a good chance you’ve used a moniker such as ‘Running Back U’ to describe your favorite football program’s history of producing top-flight talent at a given position. Almost every fan base of every major football program has claimed to be one kind of ‘U’ or another. Schools such as USC, Ohio State, Alabama, Miami and even Texas all have strong cases for RBU status, but there can only be one true RBU, right? Probably not, but we’ll give this a try anyway.
In this year’s Rose Bowl matchup, the playoff semifinal will pit the Georgia Bulldogs against the Oklahoma Sooners — two programs that have a wealth of history at the running back position. Fans of Oklahoma aren't shy about claiming OU as RBU, while fans of Georgia have said as much in regards to UGA’s history in the backfield. But what exactly are the criteria that qualify a school as RBU material? Well, that’s obviously quite subjective.
A laundry list of big-time ball-carriers is the foundation of any RBU argument. For Georgia, guys like Frank Sinkwich, Charley Trippi, Willie McClendon, Rodney Hampton, Lars Tate, Garrison Hearst, Terrell Davis, Knowshon Moreno, Todd Gurley, and even current Bulldog Nick Chubb reinforce any RBU claims in Athens. You may have noticed how I didn’t even mention the legendary Herschel Walker, who is arguably the greatest college football player, regardless of position, in history:
For Oklahoma, the list of names is just as impressive. Billy Vessels, Tommy McDonald (who is in the Pro Football HOF as a receiver), Steve Owens, Greg Pruitt, Joe Washington, Billy Sims, Spencer Tillman, Quentin Griffin, Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray and Samaje Perine make up the cream of the crop. As far as pure talent is concerned, there are some who would say that none of the aforementioned Sooners top the list. Though his career in Norman never truly panned out, Marcus Dupree, aka “The Best That Never Was”, is believed by some to be the most talented back in Sooner history.
Another measure of an RBU candidate is statistical production at the highest level from said laundry list of elite running backs. I’m talking about rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in droves over the course of a career, not just a handful of games or one season. Herschel Walker still holds the SEC record for most rushing attempts in a game with 47. Samaje Perine ran for 427 yards in a single game, the most in FBS history. The superlatives are nice, but both schools own rushing records that are unlikely to be broken any time soon, if ever at all.
Without further adieu, check out how Georgia and Oklahoma running backs stack up statistically. We’ll start with the collegiate production of the best backs at each school.
1,000-Yard Seasons in UGA History
The thousand-yard mark has long been a key barometer for a successful season for running backs. Neither Georgia nor Oklahoma have seen a 2,000-yard season on the ground from a tailback, but each school has had a number of rushers run for a thousand yards in a single season. The Georgia Bulldogs have had 12 running backs record a total of 17 different 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
1,000-Yard Seasons in OU History
On the other side of the scale, Oklahoma has had 18 running backs turn in 28 different 1,000-yard campaigns. It’s a testament to several factors that are many times outside a running back’s control. Individual talent is the first requirement, but style of offense, quality of offensive line, and depth in the backfield and the level of competition can make all the difference in a running back’s chance to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season.
Career Rushing Yards
- Herschel Walker, UGA - 5,259
- Nick Chubb, UGA - 4,599
- Samaje Perine, OU - 4,122
- Billy Sims, OU - 4,118
- Joe Washington, OU - 4,071
- Adrian Peterson, OU - 4,045
- Steve Owens, OU - 4,041
- Quentin Griffin, OU - 3,938
- DeMarco Murray, OU - 3,685
- De’Mond Parker, OU - 3,403
(Note: UGA players in bold)
The reason I compiled this list in this manner instead of doing a top five or ten of each school’s leading career rushers is because the disparity is so drastic between Georgia’s top two leading rushers versus all other Bulldogs. Also, it’s easier to see that while Georgia has two backs who have rushed for more yards than any Sooner has, Oklahoma has eight tailbacks who have amassed more rushing yards than everybody else from UGA not named Walker or Chubb.
Ultimately, it comes down to what’s more important in this debate over the real RBU. While I’ll readily admit that Herschel Walker’s 5,000-yard club membership is extremely impressive, sheer quantity should win out in this part of the debate. The 4,000-yard club is impressive in its own right, and five is greater than two.
Career Rushing Touchdowns
Just like the career rushing list above, I wanted this list to show just how deep Oklahoma has been in regards to running backs and rushing touchdowns. Today, Oklahoma is known for their offensive prowess, but long-time Sooner fans know this is nothing new in Norman. For decades, OU has been lighting up scoreboards. It comes in different ways now, but the end results have always amounted in burying opponents.
- Steve Owens, OU - 57
- Billy Sims, OU - 53
- DeMarco Murray, OU - 50
- Herschel Walker, UGA - 49
- Samaje Perine, OU - 49
- Quentin Griffin, OU - 44
- Chris Brown, OU - 42
- Nick Chubb, UGA - 42
- Adrian Peterson, OU - 41
- Joe Washington, OU - 39
After decades of putting on offensive clinics, it’s no wonder Oklahoma has three tailbacks in the 50 TD club. Looking deeper, the Sooners have seen seven running backs record 40 or more rushing touchdowns compared to the Bulldogs’ two. This contest was not as close as the yardage comparison.
For the next two lists, I wanted to highlight the Georgia and Oklahoma running backs who have produced the most at the highest level of football — the NFL. For the first part, I only included former pros who are no longer on NFL rosters.
Former NFL RB Career Production - UGA
- Herschel Walker - 8,225 rushing yards, 61 rushing TDs
- Garrison Hearst - 7,966 yards, 30 TDs
- Terrell Davis - 7,607 yards, 60 TDs
- Rodney Hampton - 6,897 yards, 49 TDs
- Knowshon Moreno - 3,616 yards, 27 TDs
- Charley Trippi - 3,506 yards, 23 TDs
- Horace King - 2,081 yards, 9 TDs
- Andy Johnson - 2,017 yards, 13 TDs
- Olandis Gary - 1,998 yards, 11 TDs
- Tim Worley - 1,792 yards, 8 TDs
- Robert Edwards - 1,222 yards, 10 TDs
- Lars Tate - 1,061 yards, 15 TDs
Former NFL RB Career Production - OU
- Greg Pruitt - 5,672 yards, 27 TDs
- Billy Sims - 5,106 yards, 42 TDs
- Joe Washington - 4,839 yards, 12 TDs
- James Allen - 2,497 yards, 4 TDs
- Kenny King - 2,477 yards, 7 TDs
- Steve Owens - 2,451 yards, 20 TDs
- Horace Ivory - 1,425 yards, 15 TDs
- Stanley Wilson - 1,118 yards, 11 TDs
- Elvis Peacock - 1,001 yards, 7 TDs
When it came to the number of players who finished their career with 1,000+ career rushing yards, the final tally wasn’t all that close. There have been four Bulldogs who have rushed for more yards than the Sooners’ most productive back on this list. UGA has been well represented in the backfields of NFL for years. Unfortunately, Billy Sims’ career was cut short due to injury. Otherwise, the man who held OU’s rushing title for nearly four decades likely would’ve ended up in Canton.
Active NFL Running Backs - UGA
Oklahoma has had nine running backs taken in the first round all-time compared to Georgia’s eight, so the difference there is negligible at best. As far as active players are concerned, it’s plain to see that in the league today there are more Sooner running backs than Bulldog rushers.
- Todd Gurley (3rd season) - 3,026 rushing yards, 26 rushing TDs
- Keith Marshall - no career stats
Active NFL Running Backs - OU
- Adrian Peterson (11th season) - 12,276 rushing yards, 99 rushing TDs
- DeMarco Murray (7th season) - 7,067 yards, 48 TDs
- Joe Mixon (1st season) - 518 yards, 4 TDs
- Samaje Perine (1st season) - 510 yards, 1 TD
- Damien Williams (4th season) - 477 yards, 3 TDs
For Georgia, while Gurley has started 41 games for the Rams over the past three seasons, Marshall has unfortunately yet to record any stats in a game after two consecutive season-ending injuries. On the other side, Peterson led the league in rushing in ‘08, ‘12’ and ‘15, while Murray won the NFL single season rushing record in ‘14. Today, Oklahoma fans get to watch both of them plus several other former Sooners tote the rock on Sundays.
I considered adding any winners of the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s best running back in this next section, but since the award wasn’t established until 1990, that meant guys like Herschel Walker and Billy Sims didn’t have a chance to win. It’s unfortunate because those two would have undoubtedly taken home the hardware along with at least a couple others from both of these schools. With that in mind, take a look at which Bulldog and Sooner RBs won the ultimate individual award in team sports.
Georgia Heisman Winners
- Frank Sinkwich - 1942
- Herschel Walker - 1982
Oklahoma Heisman Winners
- Billy Vessels - 1952
- Steve Owens - 1969
- Billy Sims - 1978
Focusing on the prized stiff-arm trophy itself, three Oklahoma running backs won the Heisman in the years between Georgia’s two winners. Each winner carries his own fabled status and competed at a level few others could match relative to their respective eras.
Although I may be a tad biased, the debate about which program is the real ‘Running Back U’ begins and ends with the University of Oklahoma. While the Georgia Bulldogs can claim the SEC’s all-time leading rusher in Herschel Walker, along with a history of churning out quality talent at the next level, UGA’s list of prominent ball carriers reaches its end a bit more quickly than OU’s long line of elite tailbacks.
If there’s one position that OU has historically excelled in producing it’s the running back position. That’s not to take anything away from Georgia’s history of producing household names in the backfield, because the Bulldogs have been one of the top running back factories in the country over the past 50 years. OU doesn’t exactly run away with the title here, and there are others besides UGA — most notably USC — with a place in this discussion. But when taking both past a present glory into account, OU has the edge.
Running Back U: Oklahoma
Just for the hell of it, here are some more highlights of the best backs from these two schools:
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