July 13, 2024

Ranking the Big 12’s best running backs of 2023

Big 12's best running backs of 2023

Kansas State running back DJ Giddens carries the ball in the second quarter against Texas Saturday November 5, 2022 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

The conference lost a ton of offensive firepower from last season.

The Big 12 had a jaw-dropping, six running backs selected in last month’s NFL Draft, including the Doak Walker Award winner Bijan Robinson. However, there are a few remaining rushers, and some newcomers to the league, who are looking to make a splash.

With the Big 12 consisting of 14 teams for the first time ever this fall, 2023 should be a showcase for all of the rushers around the league.

14. Jirehl Brock, Iowa State: The Illinois native struggled to fill Breece Hall’s shoes last season. Brock got off to a hot start though. He rushed for 104 yards, and a score in the opening victory over Southeast Missouri State. The following week he generated 100 yards on the ground in the win at Iowa. Brock found the endzone against Baylor and Oklahoma State. The former four-star prospect rushed for 343 of his 445 yards through the Cyclones’ first four games. However, there was poor blocking from the big boys up front throughout the year, and Brock’s rushing production suffered because of it. The six-foot, 220-pounder is still a load for defenders to bring down with a full head of steam.

13. Trey Sanders, TCU: The Horned Frogs lost 1,000-yard rusher Kendre Miller to the NFL. Now Sanders, who’s a former five-star prospect, and Emani Bailey are trying to replace Miller’s production. Sanders struggled to live up to all of the hype that he arrived with at Alabama. The Florida native was a needle in a haystack in a loaded Crimson Tide backfield over the past three years. During that span Sanders rushed for 535 yards and three touchdowns. Bailey was the Horned Frogs’ fourth-leading rusher last season. The Texas native recorded a rushing score against Tarleton and West Virginia. Bailey registered 11 carries for 58 yards, which were both season-highs in the victory over Iowa State.

12. Jonathan Brooks, Texas: The Longhorns lost a bunch of firepower in the backfield after Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson left for the NFL. The dynamic duo combined for 2,134 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns in 2022. Now Brooks and Keilan Robinson are battling it out to be Texas’ starter this fall. Brooks rushed for a season-high, 108 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over Kansas. He also generated a rushing score against Louisiana Monroe, Oklahoma and Washington. Robinson didn’t have much rushing production, but displayed soft hands throughout last season. The Washington DC native hauled in a touchdown pass against Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas.

11. Corey Kiner, Cincinnati: The former four-star prospect rushed for 321 yards and two touchdowns at LSU in 2021. Kiner returned to his hometown last season, and rushed for 362 yards and five scores with the Bearcats. He recorded a season-high, 106 rushing yards and a touchdown in the win at Tulsa. Kiner also generated a rushing score against Arkansas, Kennesaw State, Miami (Ohio) and Indiana. Senior Ryan Montgomery is in the mix too. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Montgomery was Cincinnati’s third-leading rusher in 2022. He rushed for a season-high, 95 yards and two touchdowns against Tulane. Montgomery also registered a rushing touchdown against SMU, UCF and Temple.

10. Elijah Collins, Oklahoma State: The Detroit native was Michigan State’s second-leading rusher last season. Collins rushed for a season-high, 107 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana. Collins also generated a rushing score against Akron, Washington, Maryland and Wisconsin. Sophomore Ollie Gordon will be in the rotation too. The 19-year old was the Cowboys’ third-leading rusher in 2022. Gordon rushed for a season-high, 136 yards and a touchdown against West Virginia. The Texas native also had a rushing score against Arkansas Pine Bluff, and caught a touchdown against Arizona State and Wisconsin. The Pokes ranked 97th nationally in rushing offense, so improvement is needed.

9. Dominic Richardson, Baylor: The former three-star prospect led Oklahoma State in carries and rushing yards last season. Richardson had a season-high, 27 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown in the victory over Arizona State. The Oklahoma native generated a season-high, three rushing scores in the win over Texas. Richardson recorded 73 yards on the ground and a touchdown against Baylor. He rushed for a touchdown against Central Michigan, Texas Tech and TCU. Richardson only averaged 3.6 yards per carry though, and that has to improve when the Bears navigate through the Big 12 gauntlet. Coach Dave Aranda loves to pound the ball, so Richardson’s production should increase.

8. Jovantae Barnes, Oklahoma: Although the Las Vegas native was Eric Gray’s backup last season, he still rushed for 519 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman. Barnes rushed for 77 yards in the victory at Nebraska. The former four-star prospect recorded 100 yards on the ground and two scores at TCU. Barnes also posted two rushing touchdowns in the win over Kansas. The six-foot, 200-pounder rushed for 59 yards in Bedlam. Not to mention Barnes generated a season-high, 27 carries for 108 yards and a touchdown in the bowl game against Florida State. The Sooners have produced a 1,000-yard rusher in eight of the last nine seasons, so Barnes is poised for a breakout campaign.

7. Tony Mathis, Houston: The Florida native led West Virginia in carries and rushing yards last season. Mathis rushed for 71 yards against Pittsburgh, 59 against Kansas and 53 against Oklahoma. He recorded 104 yards on the ground and two touchdowns in the victory over Towson. The former three-star prospect generated a season-high, 163 rushing yards and two scores in the win over Baylor. Mathis also found the endzone at Texas. Coach Dana Holgorsen is known for airing the ball out, but Mathis has only caught 14 balls over the past two years. So Mathis will have to be much more involved in the Cougars’ aerial attack to be effective. The 5-foot-11, 207-pound Mathis is great out in space.

6. DJ Giddens, Kansas State: The former two-star prospect put together a promising campaign as a redshirt freshman last season. Giddens was Deuce Vaughn’s backup, but still finished as the Wildcats’ third-leading rusher. The Kansas native rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown in the opening victory over South Dakota. Giddens also generated a rushing score in wins over Missouri, Oklahoma State, Baylor, West Virginia and Kansas. His 78 yards on the ground against the Mountaineers were a season-high. Giddens scored a touchdown in four of the last five games of the regular season. Florida State transfer Treshaun Ward will also be in the mix after rushing for 628 yards and seven touchdowns in 2022.

5. RJ Harvey, UCF: The hometown kid was the Knights’ third-leading rusher last season. Harvey rushed for nearly 800 yards and averaged 6.7 per carry. He recorded 50 yards on the ground and a touchdown at Florida Atlantic. Harvey generated 73 rushing yards against Georgia Tech, 69 against SMU, 73 against Temple and 83 against Tulane. Not to mention Harvey rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over Cincinnati. The former three-star prospect posted a season-high, 151 rushing yards and a score in the win over Memphis. Harvey even added 74 yards on the ground and a score at South Florida. The five-foot-eight, 195-pounder is primed for a 1,000-yard campaign this fall.

4. Tahj Brooks, Texas Tech: The former three-star prospect led the Red Raiders in carries and rushing yards, to go along with 26 catches last season. Brooks rushed for 50 yards and three touchdowns in the season-opener against Murray State. The following week he added 78 yards on the ground and a score against Houston. Brooks generated a season-high, 107 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the win over West Virginia. Not to mention he recorded a rushing score against Houston and Kansas. The 5-foot-10, 230-pound Brooks bullied his way for 98 rushing yards against Baylor. The Texas native left a lasting impression with 90 rushing yards in the bowl victory over Ole Miss.

3. Aidan Robbins, BYU: The Kentucky native brings a lot of production to Provo after rushing for 1,009 yards and nine touchdowns at UNLV last season. Robbins rushed for two scores and hauled in a seven-yard touchdown reception in the opening victory over Idaho State. The former three-star prospect recorded 84 yards on the ground and a touchdown at California. Robbins had a monster outing in the win over North Texas, when he carried the ball 29 times for 227 yards and three touchdowns. His rushing performance ranked eighth in school history for a Rebel running back in a single game. Robbins also eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against San Diego State and Fresno State.

2. CJ Donaldson, West Virginia: The Miami native led the Mountaineers in carries and rushing yards as a true freshman last season. Donaldson got his feet wet in the opener at Pittsburgh, and finished the Backyard Brawl with a season-high, 125 yards on the ground and a touchdown. The following week he generated two rushing scores against Kansas. Donaldson rushed for 101 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over Towson. He added 106 rushing yards in the win at Virginia Tech. However, he suffered a lower leg injury against TCU and had season-ending surgery. Donaldson picked up where he left off though, with eight carries for 36 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

1. Devin Neal, Kansas: The 19-year old led the Jayhawks in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns last year. Neal became Kansas’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 2019. He was a two-sport athlete for the Jayhawks, but dropped baseball to focus solely on football. After all, he rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the opener against Tennessee Tech. Neal generated two rushing scores and caught a 17-yard touchdown in the victory at West Virginia. The former three-star prospect also had a rushing score against Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State. His 32 carries for 224 yards in the win over the Cowboys were both season-highs. Neal recorded 190 rushing yards at Texas Tech.