Running Back U: ESPN releases updated Top-10 for best RB producing schools

On3 imageby:Kaiden Smith08/02/23


ESPN’s verdict is out yet again, as the worldwide leader in sports recently released their updated ‘Position U’ rankings. Many programs and fans across the nation feel like their team produces the best talent at certain positions, but ESPN set the record straight.

ESPN Stats & Information broke down the data going back to 1998, using key markers of greatness at each position like college production, NFL draft selections, and NFL production to determine which schools reign supreme at each position.

The running back position may be facing adversity in the NFL at the moment, but in the college game it’s still one of the premier positions and a consistent staple of the game. Let’s take a look at who ESPN crowned as Running Back University and the rest of their top programs at producing ball carriers.

1. Alabama

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It’s hard to deny the Alabama Crimson Tide when it comes to the running back position. Alabama’s rosters are notorious for running back rooms with a multitude of future NFL Draft selections, many of which have translated their game effortlessly to the NFL.

In the most recent 2023 NFL Draft Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs was selected with the No. 12 overall pick, as he now joins Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris, Brian Robinson, and Damien Harris as Alabama’s running backs currently active in the NFL. Three of those backs rushed for over 1,000 yards last season in the leauge, as Alabama also boasts two Heisman Trophy winners at the position since 1998.

2. Wisconsin

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When it comes to running the rock, there aren’t many programs that do it better than the Wisconsin Badgers. There have been 35 single-season performances where backs have rushed for 2,000 yards or more, and five of them belong to the Badgers.

Wisconsin standout Melvin Gordon ranks second on the list for his impressive 2,587-yard season in 2014. But Jonathan Taylor found himself there twice after rushing for 2,194 yards as a sophomore and 2,003 as a junior following a 1,977 yard true freshman campaign. Taylor also one back to back Doak Walker Awards, joining Gordon, Montee Ball, and Ron Dayne was Badger backs to win the award since 1998.

3. LSU

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You could definitely make a case that LSU is Running Back University, with four running backs on NFL rosters last season. Former Tigers like Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams are currently free agents in the league, but their resumes in Baton Rouge are hard to deny.

Up until last season and excluding the shortened 2020 COVID-19 season, the Tigers have had a 1,000-yard rusher every single season dating back since 2013. From Jeremy Hill to Derrius Guice and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU running backs just always seem to get the job done.

4. Miami

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Deejay Dallas and Travis Homer are the only current Miami Hurricanes running backs in the NFL at the moment. But the history and rich tradition in Coral Gables specifically at the running back position is hard to deny.

Miami legends like Ottis Anderson and Alanzo Highsmith miss the cut due to ESPN’s 1998 and later criteria. But that doesn’t stop backs like Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore, Lamar Miller, and many others from helping The U secure the No. 4 spot in RBU.

5. Texas

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Like Miami, Texas too has tons of history at the running back position dating back many decades. Ricky Williams’ school record 2,124-yard season in 1998 makes the cut for ESPN’s metrics, but unfortunately none of Earl Campbell’s impressive seasons from the 1970s make the cut.

The Longhorns have a strong history of backs being successful in college and in the NFL, boasting names like Jamal Charles and Cedric Benson. But they could rise in future iterations of the RBU rankings, with D’Onta Foreman coming off of a career season and Bijan Robinson entering the league this year.

6. Oklahoma

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For two straight seasons, Oklahoma has taken the cake as QBU, with undeniable names and Hesiman Trophy winners like Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield leading the charge. But the running back position for the Sooners has also always been solid.

The Sooners have an impressive five running backs currently in the NFL, with the college and pro duo of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine recently breaking up after three seasons of being college and NFL teammates. Iconic names like DeMarco Murray and Adrian Peterson also lead Oklahoma’s impressive history of successful running backs.

7. Georgia

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Georgia hasn’t just been successful at winning national titles lately, but also putting running backs in the NFL. Kenny McIntosh was selected in the seventh round of this year’s draft, and the year before both James Cook and Zamir White were selected as well.

Nick Chubb has been at the forefront of Georgia’s running back dominance, putting together four straight 1,000-yard seasons for the Clevland Browns. But even he follows in the footsteps of recent Georgia greats like Todd Gurley and Knowshon Moreno.

8. Auburn

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Tank Bigsby is the newest addition to the Auburn/NFL running back family, selected with the No. 88 overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft. Bigsby is the only Auburn Tiger rusher currently in the league from Auburn, but historically he’s definitely not alone.

Between 2009-2017 the Tigers had an impressive nine year run where they always had a 1,000-yard rusher. From Tre Mason to Kerryon Johnson and everyone in between, there’s no doubt the Auburn running back lineage is strong, dating back well before the mentioned names above.

9. Oregon

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In recent history, Oregon‘s running backs have gotten it done in a variety of ways and done it with style. From an electric playmaker like DeAnthony Thomas that dazzled with his speed and quickness to a powerful, bruising back like Jonathan Stewart, there’s no doubt that the Ducks’ backfield keeps defenses on their toes.

Royce Freeman is the only Oregon back in the NFL currently and is a great representative, ranking first in school history in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total yards from scrimmage, and total touchdowns. But Bucky Irving could be right on his heels and join him soon after an impressive sophomore season for the Ducks.

10. Oklahoma State

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Oklahoma State is a new addition to the RBU list following an impressive recent uptick in running back production. Chuba Hubbard leads the charge after an impressive 2,094-yard season for the Cowboys in 2019, ranking only behind Barry Sanders for the school single-season record.

But Justice Hill and Jaylen Warren also join Hubbard as Cowboys in the NFL, representing three straight seasons of Oklahoma State rushers being selected in the NFL Draft. The trio still has a lot to prove at the professional level, but could play a huge part in Oklahoma State climbing up the rankings in the future.

There’s no doubt that the RBU field is a competitive one that’s loaded with talent, and it will definitely be interesting to see if there’s any movement on the rankings next year after what should be another exciting calendar year of football.