May 25, 2024
College Football's best running backs of 2023

Clemson running back Will Shipley (1) lines up before a play in the first quarter of the Cheez It Bowl against Iowa State Wednesday December 29, 2021 at Camping World Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

They make life easier for the offense by keeping the pressure off the quarterback.

Running backs are the most trusted players on the field, because they constantly carry the ball, and fumbles aren’t an option. Rather by committee ,or one featured back, running the ball effectively controls the clock and keeps opposing offenses off the field.

Rushers come in all shapes and sizes too. Some are bruisers, while others are speedsters, but each one has their own skill set. For a coach there’s nothing like having a running back that gets stronger with every carry during the fourth quarter. With spring ball approaching, these 20 individuals are looking to capitalize on their successful campaigns from 2022.

And they’re all riding a big wave of momentum from the production they generated on the gridiron.

20. Roman Hemby, Maryland: The former three-star prospect nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in rushing last season. Hemby rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opener against Buffalo. He had 151 yards rushing, and 62 receiving in the victory over SMU. The six-foot, 200-pounder rushed for three scores apiece in wins over Northwestern and Rutgers. Hemby’s 179 yards on the ground against the Scarlet Knights, were a season-high. Not to mention Hemby hauled in five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown against Purdue. The Maryland native is a battering ram in the red zone, with the speed to outrun defenders and power to plow over opposing defensive backs.

19. George Holani, Boise State: The Californian finished third in the Mountain West after he rushed for 1,157 yards last season. Holani generated 110 yards on the ground, and scored two total touchdowns against UT-Martin. He rushed for a season-high, 157 yards, and caught a touchdown in the win over Fresno State. Holani also hauled in a touchdown reception at New Mexico. The former three-star prospect went over the century mark in rushing in back-to-back road victories over Nevada and Wyoming. Not to mention Holani had 108 yards on the ground, and a season-high, three rushing scores against Colorado State. For his heroics, Holani earned second-team, All-Mountain West honors.

18. Marquez Cooper, Ball State: The Maryland native finished 20th in the FBS with 1,326 rushing yards, and scored 13 touchdowns at Kent State last season. Cooper averaged a jaw-dropping, 110.9 rushing yards per game, which ranked 17th in the country. He also capped off the year with first-team, All-MAC honors. Cooper scored a touchdown and rushed for 90 yards against Georgia, which was the most its’ defense surrendered to a running back the entire season. The former three-star prospect rushed for 166 yards against Toledo, 137 against Akron, 168 against Ball State and 145 against Buffalo. However, Cooper’s 240 yards on the ground in the victory over Ohio, were a season-high.

17. Richard Reese, Baylor: He nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as a true freshman last season. Reese finished second in the Big 12, and tied for 16th in the FBS, with 14 rushing touchdowns. Reese rushed for two scores in the season-opener against Albany. Two weeks later the Texas native rushed for 156 yards, and three touchdowns against Texas State. The five-foot-nine, 175-pounder rumbled for 148 yards, and three scores in the victory at Texas Tech. Not to mention Reese stockpiled a season-high, 186 yards on the ground, and two touchdowns in the win over Kansas. The former three-star prospect also found the endzone against Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and TCU.

16. Audric Estime, Notre Dame: The New York native is coming off a solid season with the Fighting Irish, and scored 12 total touchdowns in 2022. Estime rushed for a season-high, 134 yards, and two touchdowns in the victory at North Carolina. He generated 123 yards on the ground, and two scores against Syracuse. Not to mention Estime steamrolled for 104 yards and a touchdown in the win over Clemson. The former four-star prospect also found the endzone against Ohio State, California, Stanford, UNLV and Boston College. Estime even had a 30-yard touchdown reception against Navy. The 5-foot-11, 227-pounder is a load for tacklers to bring down, and he’s extremely physical.

15. Re’Mahn Davis, Kentucky: The former three-star prospect rushed for 1,042 yards, and scored eight total touchdowns at Vanderbilt last season. Davis had 95 yards on the ground, and caught a touchdown in the home-opener against Elon. He rushed for 116 yards, and scored two total touchdowns in the victory at Northern Illinois. Davis also eclipsed the century mark in rushing against Ole Miss. The California native generated a season-high, 167 rushing yards, and hauled in a touchdown pass against South Carolina. Not only did Davis surpass 100 yards rushing in back to back victories over Kentucky and Florida, but he also accomplished that feat in three of Vanderbilt’s last four games.

14. Brian Battie, Auburn: The former three-star prospect rushed for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns at South Florida last season. Battie averaged 6.7 yards per carry, which ranked third in the AAC, and ninth in the FBS. The Florida native rushed for a season-high, 169 yards and a touchdown against Tulsa. Battie showed his worth against the almighty SEC, when he rumbled for 150 yards on the ground and a score at Florida. He rushed for 105 yards in the lone victory over Howard, 106 against Houston, 129 against Temple, 145 against SMU and 144 against UCF. Battie also found the endzone against BYU and Cincinnati. Not to mention Battie earned second-team, All-AAC honors.

13. Devin Neal, Kansas: The hometown kid was a big reason why the Jayhawks became bowl eligible for the first time since 2008. Neal’s 1,090 yards on the ground ranked fifth in the Big 12. He was fourth in the league and 24th in the nation in yards per carry. Neal scored three total touchdowns in the victory at West Virginia. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder had a monster performance in the win over Oklahoma State, with 224 rushing, and 110 receiving. Neal also eclipsed the century mark in rushing against Tennessee Tech and Texas Tech. The former three-star prospect found the endzone against Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State. For his heroics he was the Kansas’ Offensive Player of the Year.

12. Bucky Irving, Oregon: The Chicago native finished third in the Pac-12, with 1,058 yards on the ground last season. Irving averaged a jaw-dropping, 6.78 yards per carry, which ranked third in the conference, and eighth in the FBS. He rushed for 107 yards, and caught a touchdown against UCLA. The former four-star prospect also hauled in a touchdown pass in wins over California and Washington State. Irving had a season-high, 149 rushing yards against Washington. The 5-foot-10, 194-pounder left a lasting impression with 149 yards on the ground in the Holiday Bowl against North Carolina. For his performance, Irving was named the Holiday Bowl Offensive Player of the Game.

11. Carson Steele, UCLA: Coach Chip Kelly quickly found a replacement for 1,000-yard rusher Zach Charbonnet. Steele rushed for 1,556 yards at Ball State last season, which ranked first in the MAC, and ninth in the FBS. The former two-star prospect tied for 16th in the country with 14 touchdowns on the ground. Steele averaged a jaw-dropping, 129.7 rushing yards per game, which was eighth-best in the nation. He was one of the country’s most consistent backs, who eclipsed the century mark in rushing in nine of the Cardinals’ 12 games. Steele also rushed for a season-high, 198 yards against Toledo. The six-foot-one, 215-pounder capped off his stellar campaign with first-team, All-MAC honors.

10. Damien Martinez, Oregon State: The former three-star prospect rushed for 982 yards as a true freshman in 2022. Martinez earned first-team, All-Pac-12 honors, and was named the league’s Freshman Offensive Player of the Year. Not to mention he averaged 6.1 yards per carry, which ranked fourth in the conference. He rushed for 178 yards, and three touchdowns in the victory over Colorado, which were both season-highs. Martinez also eclipsed the century mark in rushing against Washington State, Washington, California, Arizona State and Oregon. The Texas native caught fire down the stretch, and went over 100 yards rushing in the Beavers’ final six games of the regular season.

9. Trey Benson, Florida State: The Mississippi native is coming off a stellar campaign with the Seminoles. Benson is a load for defenders to bring down, considering he stands six-foot-one, and weighs 215 pounds. After all, he averaged 6.43 yards per carry, which ranked first in the ACC and 13th in the FBS. Not to mention Benson capped off the season with second-team, All-ACC honors. The former three-star prospect rushed for a season-high, 163 yards at Syracuse. Benson also went over 100 yards rushing against Duquesne, Georgia Tech, Miami and Florida. His three rushing touchdowns against the Gators were a season-high. Benson also scored against Boston College, and Louisiana.

8. Miyan Williams, Ohio State: The Cincinnati native finished third in the Big Ten, and tied for 16th in the FBS, with 14 rushing touchdowns last season. Williams averaged 6.45 yards per carry, which ranked third in the the league, and 12th in the nation. Not to mention he earned third-team, All-Big Ten honors. Williams rushed for 189 yards and five touchdowns against Rutgers, which were both season-highs. The former three-star prospect also eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Indiana. Williams had a rushing score against Notre Dame, Iowa, Penn State and Georgia. He packs a ton of power behind his five-foot-nine, 225-pound frame.

7. Donovan Edwards, Michigan: The former four-star prospect made sure the Wolverines’ rushing attack didn’t miss a beat after Blake Corum suffered a season-ending injury. Edwards rushed for nearly 1,000 yards on just 140 carries. He averaged 7.1 yards per carry, which ranked first in the Big Ten, and third in the FBS. The Michigan native caught everyone’s attention after he rushed for 173 yards, and two scores against Penn State. Edwards recorded a season-high, 216 rushing yards, and two touchdowns at Ohio State. The six-foot-one, 204-pounder also eclipsed the century mark on the ground against Rutgers, Purdue in the Big Ten Championship Game, and TCU in the Playoffs.

6. Nicholas Singleton, Penn State: The former five-star prospect delivered on the hype, after he rushed for 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns as a true freshman last season. Singleton averaged 6.8 yards per carry, which ranked second in the conference, and seventh in the FBS. The six-foot, 219-pounder rushed for a season-high, 179 yards, and two touchdowns against Ohio. The following week he generated 124 yards on the ground, and two scores in the victory at Auburn. Singleton also went over the century mark in rushing against Maryland. He left a lasting impression with 120 yards on the ground in the Rose Bowl. Singleton capped off his stellar campaign with third-team, All-Big Ten honors.

5. Will Shipley, Clemson: The former five-star prospect finished second in the ACC, with 1,182 rushing yards last season. Shipley also generated 15 rushing scores, which ranked second in the league, and 15th in the country. Not to mention Shipley capped off the season with first-team, All-ACC honors. The North Carolina native rushed for a season-high, 172 yards and two scores against Syracuse. Shipley also rushed for two touchdowns apiece against Georgia Tech and Furman. He eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Louisiana Tech, Wake Forest and South Carolina. Shipley also found the endzone against Boston College, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami and North Carolina.

4. Braelon Allen, Wisconsin: The former four-star prospect is a two-time, 1,000-yard rusher. Allen is a flat-out, bruiser, standing six-foot-two, and weighing 235 pounds. He has rushed for a jaw-dropping, 2,510 yards, and 23 touchdowns over the past two seasons. The Wisconsin native averaged 103.5 rushing yards per game in 2022, which ranked fourth in the Big Ten, and 20th in the FBS. His 165 yards on the ground against Ohio State were a season-high. Allen also eclipsed the century mark in rushing against Illinois State, Northwestern, Michigan State, Purde, Maryland and Oklahoma State. The Guaranteed Rate Bowl MVP capped of the season with second-team, All-Big Ten honors.

3. Raheim Sanders, Arkansas: The Florida native used his six-foot-two, 227-pound frame to punish would-be tacklers. Sanders finished second in the almighty SEC, and 13th in the FBS with 1,443 rushing yards. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry, which ranked first in the league, and tied for 10th in the country. For his heroics on the gridiron, Sanders earned second-team, All-SEC honors. The former four-star prospect had 232 rushing yards, and three touchdowns in the win over Ole Miss, which were both season-highs. Sanders rushed for 117 yards against Cincinnati, 156 against South Carolina, 167 against Missouri State, 101 against Alabama, 175 against BYU and 171 against Auburn.

2. Blake Corum, Michigan: No Hassan Haskins, no problem. Corum exceeded expectations after he rushed for 1,457 yards through 11 games. He averaged 121.9 rushing yards per contest, which was ninth-best in the country. His 18 touchdowns on the ground ranked second in the league, and fifth in the FBS. Not to mention Corum earned first-team, AP All-America honors for his success on the gridiron. The Virginia native was named the Big Ten’s Running Back of the Year. Corum rushed for a season-high, five touchdowns against Connecticut. The former four-star prospect had 243 yards on the ground against Maryland was a season high. Corum is also ahead of schedule with rehabbing his knee.

1. Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss: The Alabama native was one half of the Rebels’ two-headed monster in the backfield last season. Judkins led the almighty SEC with 1,567 rushing yards, and finished seventh in the FBS as a true freshman. He rumbled for 16 touchdowns on the ground, which also ranked first in conference. Judkins capped off his stellar campaign with first-team, All-SEC honors. The former three-star prospect rushed for a career-high, 214 yards at Arkansas. Judkins also rushed over the 200-yard mark in the victory over Texas A&M. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder also eclipsed the century mark in rushing against Central Arkansas, Tulsa, Kentucky, Auburn, LSU and Alabama.

Honorable Mention

Samson Evans, Eastern Michigan: He finished with 1,166 rushing yards, and earned second-team, All-MAC honors in 2022. Evans’ 15 scores ranked first in the league, and 14th in the FBS. His 258 rushing yards against Arizona were a career-high.  Evans has 28 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons.

Sieh Bangura, Ohio: Last season he was named the MAC’s Freshman of the Year after he rushed for 1,078 yards, and scored 15 total touchdowns. Bangura raised eyebrows when he eclipsed the century mark in rushing against Florida Atlantic, Miami (Ohio), Ball State and Wyoming.

Kimani Vidal, Troy: The Georgia native capped off a 1,000-yard campaign last season. Vidal rushed for over 200 yards in back-to-back weeks against Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas State, and combined for six touchdowns in those games. He also had 112 rushing yards against Louisiana.

La’Damian Webb, South Alabama: The former three-star prospect rushed for 1,067 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns last season. Webb rushed for 247 yards and four touchdowns at Georgia Southern, which were both season-highs. He also earned first-team, All-Sun Belt honors.

Frank Gore Jr., Southern Miss: He finished 16th in the FBS with 1,382 yards on the ground in 2022. Gore rushed for 178 yards against Southern Miss, and 199 against Louisiana-Monroe. His 329 rushing yards in the bowl win over Rice was a single-game, record for the Golden Eagles.