SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
8/15/2007 04:02:00 PM
Can These Star-Studded RBs Break Dayne?
Rutgers RB Ray Rice could break the all-time rushing record if he stays at Rutgers for his senior season.
The theme of Sports Illustrated’s 2007 college football preview issue (which should be arriving in your mailbox shortly) is “The Year of the Running Back,” and while I had absolutely nothing to do with its selection (I just write what they tell me), I do think it’s an apt choice.
Though this is probably not the first time that we in the media -- always on the look out for the next trend sweeping the sport -- have declared a particular season to be “The Year of the Running Back” (actually, it’s not even the first time this Web site has declared a Year of the Running Back) -- this time, we really, really mean it. Seriously.
Take a look around the country. Darren McFadden. Steve Slaton. Mike Hart. Ian Johnson. Ray Rice. These aren’t just your average, run-of-the-mill college running backs, people. Arkansas’ McFadden and West Virginia’s Slaton are not only leading Heisman contenders but likely Sunday stars of the not-too-distant-future. Michigan’s Hart is 793 yards away from breaking the career rushing record at a school that’s had ... oh, just a few talented tailbacks in its time. Boise State’s Johnson rushed for a staggering 25 touchdowns last season and one highly memorable two-point conversion. And Rice carried the ball an unfathomable 335 times for 1,794 yards, tops among all returning running backs.
And if you think those guys are special, look at some of the youngsters following closely behind them. Clemson’s C.J. Spiller notched a dazzling 7.3-yards-per-carry average as a freshman last season while splitting time with James Davis. Ohio State’s then-freshman backup Chris Wells, who most believe will follow in the footsteps of Buckeye greats Archie Griffin, Robert Smith and Eddie George, offered a glimpse into the near future with his 52-yard touchdown run in last year’s Michigan game. And celebrated USC recruit Joe McKnight is already drawing comparisons to recent Trojans star Reggie Bush with some of his eye-popping practice runs this month, including a 75-yard Bush-esque punt return in a scrimmage last weekend.
As my colleague Austin Murphy so eloquently put it in this week’s magazine, “There hasn’t been such a constellation of star ball carriers since the late 1970s, when the careers of Marcus Allen, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, George Rogers, Billy Simms and Charles White overlapped.”
All this running-back talk -- including a phone conversation I had last weekend with Dorsett, who appears in a side-by-side photo comparison with Slaton in this week’s issue -- got me to thinking about that most sacred of college football records, the one Dorsett himself held for 22 years before Ricky Williams (1998) and Ron Dayne (’99) broke it in consecutive seasons. Yep -- the all-time rushing record.
No one’s come close recently to touching Dayne’s benchmark of 6,443 yards, both because there haven’t been a whole lot of epic running backs, and those who were either did not play much early in their careers (LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson) or turned pro early (Bush, Adrian Peterson). Seeing as all of the aforementioned current stars besides Hart are underclassmen, I thought it would be fun to figure out which ones have the best shot.
When calculating such things (like during Barry Bonds’ home-run chase), writers always extrapolate a player’s stats using his current “pace.” However, since most of these guys played more extensively as sophomores than they did as freshmen, I used only their 2006 stats as the projected “pace” for 2007-08. In other words, if they were to run for the same number of yards the next two seasons as they did this past one, they would finish with X number of yards.
Steve Slaton: 2005-06: 2,872 2007-08: 3,488 Total: 6,360
Ray Rice: 2005-06: 2,914 2007-08: 3,588 Total: 6,502
Ian Johnson: 2005-06: 2,377 2007-08: 3,428 Total: 5,805
So there you have it. Rice is already on pace to eclipse Dayne, Slaton and McFadden aren’t far behind while Johnson faces an uphill climb. That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many folks who believe McFadden and Slaton will still be in college in 2008 (McFadden’s own mother already said as much), Rice’s workload figures to drop a bit this year now that Rutgers has some more weapons in its passing game and, with all these guys, you never know how injuries and/or number of games (for instance, Arkansas playing in the SEC title game last year) will affect their statistics.
What do you think? Will this current crop of running backs go down in history as one of the greatest? Or will we just be talking about another “Year of the Running Back” in 2010?
Your pace argument is pretty interesting, but assumes a lot. It was rare enough for Williams and Dayne to play four years, and the focus on star players is much greater today than when they played. I see all of the above guys leaving early, for huge money based on hype, deserved or not.
While they're quality players (play for Dallas, please!), if either Rice or Johnson run for 6500 yards against such poor defenses, the record will be devalued.
Also, if I remember correctly, Williams' title game and bowl rushing totals did not count in his record. Then the NCAA changed the rule.
A fine article, but with one glaring omission- the entire piece was written without a single mention of the man who currently starrs at the school where Dayne once set the hallowed mark- PJ Hill. If you want to talk pace, no one has a better chance of shattering the rushing mark than Hill, after his 1,569-yard freshman campaign. Even if he doesn't get better (even though you assumed McFadden/Slaton/Rice/Johnson would accumulate significantly more yards in the future) that would still put Hill at 6,276 career yards, already better than McFadden and Johnson, and less than a hundred behind Slaton. When are the Badgers- and Hill- gonna get some love???
No mention of the great Barry Sanders season rushing record of 2,628 yards? = O Come on, Stuart, that's the one which is going to be the toughest to break even though most of the stud RBs are going to leave college one year early which will make it tough to break Dayne's mark....
Barry Sanders' single season records for touchdowns and rushing yards will never be broken. It's hard enough to break them on video games.
Dayne holding the record is a joke. He rushed for about 200 yards total against Michigan in his 4 years of college. However, it will probably be a while before someone breaks that record. The good running backs don't stay 4 years.
That would be all time rushing leader in Division IA. Why is there no mention of Texas A&I (now Texas A&M - Kingsville) Johnny Bailey who shattered Dorsett's record in the late 80s. (As an aside, this is the same school that produced Darrell Green). R.J. Bowers of Grove City College then did one better in 2000 rushing for more than 6,999, breaking the record of Brian Shay of Division II Emporia State, who run for 6,958 yards from 1995-98. The point of this post is that there are a lot of people ahead of Dwayne on the "all-time" list, and none of the current crop of running backs you have on this list will come anywhere close to these marks.
Before anyone gets too worked up about this, consider this:
-Only 3 players in the history of NCAA D1-A football have ever had three seasons of 1,500 rushing yards.
-Only 4 players in the history of NCAA D1-A football have ever had four seasons of 1,000+ rushing yards.
-Only one player, Tony Dorsett, is on both these lists.
Steve Slaton, Ray Rice, and Darren McFadden could join Tony on both lists and still come up short. Ian Johnson could only join the first list because he only had 663 yards in 2005; he has to work even harder than the others.
One last thing: Ron Dayne's rushing record (actually 6,397 according to NCAA) does not include bowl games and the statistics provided for the current stud players do include bowl games. Including bowl games, Ron Dayne had over 3500 yards in his first two seasons--600 yards better than the nearest current competitor--and finished with 7,125 total.
And if you grant past RBs their bowl yards and the record still falls, you can always say we play more games now (12), even though some of these players had 12 game seasons on occasion (and then a bowl)... AND they played more games than past players in the 9 game seasons.
I believe Rutgers had a ball carrier in 1876's storied 3 game season who averaged 353 yards a game.. is he the all-time leader?
Are we to take into account how bad some of the conference and OOC teams were for each of these players?
How about the tendency to run up the score for the polls.. back when that counted more?
How about we take into account the new balance and competitiveness in recruiting and on the field and say, no matter who you play it is harder now to accumulate huge rushing totals.
How about we take into account the rule changes that stole 10 offensive plays or so from each team for each game last year?
Or how about we take into account the development of pass happy offenses, making it harder for running backs to get touches on straight running plays?
My advice is to just accept the fact that if one of these guys breaks the record, just assume it is a well earned title and honor the guy. Forget everything else.
Terry Grant at Alabama yeaaaahhhh baby. Bout time yall give us some recognition weak Big 10 aint got nothin on us. Mark my words and yall remember this, let it ring out through your brains. Terry Grant will destroy our SEC competition next year.
wolverine2000 makes the type of point you expect from a good Michigan fan. Yes, Dayne ran for less than 200 yards against Michigan in his 4 years of college. Could that be because of Michigan's stellar defenses, or is it because Ron Dayne is garbage, as wolverine2000 seems to think? Myself, I believe the key factor is the fact that he only played against Michigan TWICE in those 4 years.
I hear you Wolverine fan. The University of Georgia held Dayne to 38 yards in the 1998 Outback Bowl in a blowout. Oh wait, Mandel doesn't allow facts when it comes to UGA...especially I'm sure when it has to do with his Big 10.
Eric... as someone who loves D3 football (Trinity U., TX), I think reality is that most of the country only cares about D1-A football.
And while Ron Dayne is far from the best or most explosive back in NCAAA history, lets remember he holds the record because he remained relatively healthy, his longevity, and he was consistent. Keep in mind that Dayne ran for more than 2100 yards (including bowls) as a freshman while not starting until the 5th game; it's basically double what any of these guys did.
Ekesher... you pointed out a fact that I was tempted to add before, but you're not completely correct. Dayne actually went down in the 1st quarter of his second game against Michigan and sat out the rest of the game. So, I'm pretty sure Wolverine2000 overestimated Dayne, but I'll take 4-quarters and 200 yards against Michigan.
-Dayne is 5th all-time for yards/game for players with more than 2500 rushing yards in their college careers. He 1,000+ yards more than anyone ahead of him.
-Marshall Faulk is 6th!
-He set the record in the same number of games as Dorsett (8th in yds per game) and three games less than Ricky Williams (12th)
I’ve got your man. He averaged 159 yards per game in 33 contests while scoring 52 touchdowns. The three-time consensus All-American pick rushed for 5,259 yards. He rushed for an NCAA freshman record of 1,616 yards (including a school-record 283 in his sixth game) along with most 200-yard games by a freshman (4) (and no he’s not Adrian Peterson). He led his team to a perfect 12-0 record and a national championship his freshman year. His team compiled a 32-1 regular-season record in his three years. He won the Heisman as a junior. Based on his 3-year average of 1,753 yards/yr, he would have eclipsed 7,000 yards for his career. His name: Herschel Walker.