NCAA Football

College Football Power Rankings: Top 25 Running Backs In 2012

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Top 25 Running Backs In 2012

Montee Ball Jersey
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Football has become a game for quarterbacks. It’s often said that you can’t win without a good quarterback, and passing has become the favorite way to move an offense down the field. However, in college football, the running game is still key for success and there are countless running backs who made sure the position didn’t lose any importance this season.

Even as all the praise and awards head to the quarterback, the smart and successful coaches know that a great running game is essential for a well-oiled offense. While some coaches search frantically for a quarterback and star receivers to put up big numbers in flashy offenses, the coach who develops a stud running back that can carry the load in an offense will never be left out in the cold on offense.

This season was a spectacular one for running backs. Young men and experienced veterans all stepped up in big ways to make their impact on college football in the running game. Future stars emerged and long-time studs finished their careers in style.

It was a running back that led the nation in all-purpose yards. A relatively unknown in the desert busted out and led the nation in rushing. A sturdy senior became the NCAA king of touchdowns as he rumbled over defenses. Freshmen flashed their star potential from their very first snap on campus.

All in all, the running back position was impressive in 2012 and some excellent runners proved the importance of the running game in a game that becomes more pass-happy each and every year. Without further ado, we count down the top 25 running backs in college football for 2012.

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25. Eddie Lacy - Alabama Crimson Tide

Eddie Lacy
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The Alabama Crimson Tide punched their ticket to the BCS National Championship in true Nick Saban fashion: playing tough defense and running the football. They did so using a tandem of running backs led by junior Eddie Lacy. Splitting time with T.J. Yeldon hurts his ranking, but it shouldn’t diminish the incredible talent that Lacy is.

For the year, Lacy rushed for 1,182 yards on 184 carries, good for a 6.4 yards per rush average, and scored 16 touchdowns on the ground. He added 172 yards receiving on 20 receptions and a touchdown through the air. He saved his best game for the end of the season, when he busted open the Georgia Bulldogs defense for 181 yards and two touchdowns, averaging over nine yards per carry.

The most impressive par of Lacy’s season is that he was part of a stable with Yeldon, yet each averaged more than 76 yards per game. One can only imagine what kind of numbers Lacy would have been able to put up if he were the featured back in Alabama’s backfield. Oh well, I’m sure he’ll take another national title as a tradeoff.

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24. Kenneth Dixon - Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

Kenneth Dixon
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The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs put together a strong 2012 season with the highest scoring offense in college football, averaging 51.5 points per game. One of the benefactors of that high powered offense was freshman running back Kenneth Dixon, who will likely become the focal point of the Bulldogs offense going forward.

On the season, Dixon rushed for 1,194 yards with 28 total touchdowns. He rushed for more than 100 yards six different times this season and exploded against the Idaho Vandals, rushing for 232 yards and six touchdowns. He scored at least one touchdown in 10 games this season with multiple touchdowns in seven.

And the young man is just a freshman. It’s unclear how the offensive scheme will change with a new head coach taking over the Bulldogs next season. Whatever new schemes come into Rustin for 2013, they’ll more than likely run through Dixon.

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23. Todd Gurley - Georgia Bulldogs

Todd Gurley
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The Georgia Bulldogs came within a last second drive of playing for the national title. While most of the credit for their success this season has gone to the talented arm of Aaron Murray, the Dawgs would be nowhere without the effort of freshman running back Todd Gurley.

Gurley rushed for 1,385 yards this season with 17 touchdowns. He eclipsed 100-yards in a game nine times this season, topping out at 130 yards in back-to-back weeks against the Vanderbilt Commodores and Tennessee Volunteers. He scored at least one touchdown in 10 games this year.

Mark Richt has built his success at Georgia by finding talented young running backs, and he continues that tradition with Gurley. As he continues to mature he will be given a larger load in the offense and his star will only continue to rise.

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22. Bishop Sankey - Washington Huskies

Bishop Sankey
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The Washington Huskies were expecting to take the next step towards rising to the top of the Pac 12 this season. While the team didn’t quite live up to those expectations, at least one member of the team played as well as hoped, and that was sophomore Bishop Sankey.

Sankey was often asked to carry the offensive load for the Huskies, and he proved up to the task. He finished the season with 1,439 yards rushing with 16 touchdowns while adding 249 yards receiving. He eclipsed 100 yards rushing seven times this season, saving his best for last in bowl season. In the Las Vegas Bowl, Sankey went off for 205 yards with a touchdown, winning player of the game honors in a Washington loss.

While the rest of the offense failed to step up this season, Sankey came up huge time and again. Steve Sarkisian will have some questions to answer heading into next season, but one of the biggest questions marks in 2012 (Who would run the football?) got answered in a major way for this year and beyond.

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21. Jahwan Edwards - Ball State Cardinals

Jahwan Edwards
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The Ball State Cardinals made a run in the MAC, winning their final six games of the regular season. They weren’t able to win the conference, but they pushed until the very end. Credit for that goes squarely to sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards.

Edwards rushed for 1,410 yards this season with 14 touchdowns while averaging over six yards per carry. The success of his team was very closely tied to how well Edwards rushed the football. When their leading rusher gained at least 98 yards, the Cardinals were a perfect 8-0. When he rushed for less, they went just 1-4. In the team’s six game winning streak to close out the regular season, Edwards broke the 100-yard mark five times.

As Ball State figured out how to get the ball to their running back, they found increasing amounts of success. Expect to see Edwards become the feature of the Ball State running game and drive the offense to even greater heights in 2013.

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20. Kasey Carrier - New Mexico Lobos

Kasey Carrier
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The season turned south for the New Mexico Lobos as they lost their final six games of the season to finish at the bottom of the Mountain West Conference. While the team fell apart down the stretch, the one member of the Lobos who did not disappoint was junior running back Kasey Carrier.

Carrier finished the season with 1,459 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. In twelve games, Carrier rushed for over 100 yards seven times and continued to produce even as the season went down in flames. In a loss to the Air Force Falcons, the junior racked up 338 yards with three touchdowns.

The talented running back proved the old adage that one man can’t win a game all by himself. New Mexico will need to get some production from the rest of the team to help Carrier out, but they should be able to count on the running game doing its fair share next season as Carrier returns for his senior season.

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19. Cody Getz - Air Force Falcons

Cody Getz
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Air Force is known for their triple-option attack and racking up rushing yards in bunches. This season was no exception as the Falcons finished with the No. 2 rushing attack in college football, led by their senior running back Cody Getz.

Getz finished out his career at Air Force with his first season as the featured runner. He gained 1,248 yards with nine touchdowns while missing two games. He averaged 104 yards per game this season while eclipsing the 100 yard mark five times with three games over 200 yards rushing. Getz had his best game of the season right out of the gate, rushing for 218 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening win over the Idaho State Bengals.

The season started strong for Getz as he scored eight of his nine touchdowns in the first five weeks of the season. His season was undercut by injuries which kept him out of a pair of games and limited his effectiveness down the stretch. The team struggled when he did, and will be looking to replace his senior leadership this offseason.

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18. David Fluellen - Toledo Rockets

David Fluellen
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The Toledo Rockets were right in the thick of the race for a MAC championship until the very end of the season. They can thank the efforts of their junior running back David Fluellen for carrying them so close.

Fluellen ranked No. 8 in college football, averaging 124.83 yards per game, en route to amassing 1,498 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also added 24 yards receiving as he proved to be a vital cog in the Rockets’ offensive attack. He eclipsed 100 yards rushing in seven games this season and gained at least 200 on three different occasions. He topped out with 228 yards and two touchdowns against the Buffalo Bulls.

Fluellen’s season was cut short by injuries which forced him to miss a game at the end of the season. He also hurt himself early during Toledo’s bowl game loss. He’ll look to rebound healthy in 2013 and continue the strong campaign he started in 2012.

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17. Joseph Randle - Oklahoma State Cowboys

Joseph Randle
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The Oklahoma State Cowboys had another season of high-powered offense, finishing with the No. 3 scoring offense in college football. The attention goes to the No. 7 passing attack, but it’s the running game that has helped fuel their success this season. That running game is keyed by junior Joseph Randle.

The running back followed up a breakout sophomore campaign with career highs in attempts and yards, finishing with 1,417 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also added 224 yards receiving out of the backfield. He broke the 100 yard mark eight times, peaking with a 199-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Texas Longhorns.

The Cowboys’ offense was a well-oiled machine all season long and Randle was a key cog in their success. He could continue to improve and bust out as a true star next season if he comes back for his senior year.

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16. Robbie Rouse - Fresno State Bulldogs

Robbie Rouse
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The Fresno State Bulldogs rushed out to a share of the MWC conference championship thanks to the No. 12 passing attack in college football. However, it was the balance of the running game and Robbie Rouse that let the Bulldogs find success in 2012.

The senior led the team in rushing with 1,490 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground this year. He was also a consistent threat in the passing game, catching 63 passes for 435 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was a major piece of the Fresno offense, rushing for more than 100 yards in nine games this season. He had his best game in a breakout performance against the Nevada Wolfpack when he gained 261 yards with two touchdowns.

Rouse’s accomplishments have been overshadowed by the play of his quarterback Derek Carr, who has been spectacular this season. However, if the Bulldogs do not find someone to replace Rouse next season, Carr and the entire offense will struggle.

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15. Venric Mark - Northwestern Wildcats

Venric Mark
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The Northwestern Wildcats found some rare success on the football field this season, being one of the few Big Ten teams to represent the conference well this bowl season. The Cats were able to win 10 games this year by using a versatile offensive philosophy that was in constant attack mode. A major part of that was the running game, led by junior Venric Mark.

The 5-foot-8 running back amassed 1,366 yards with 12 touchdowns this season. He averaged over 109 yards per game and passed the century mark eight times this season. He also added another dimension to the Northwestern attack in the return game as one of the more dangerous punt returners in college football.

The Wildcats are not a typical football power, so they turned to an atypical running back to find their success. Mark isn’t going to be lighting up draft boards with his measurables, but he continues to find a way to be productive.

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14. Zurlon Tipton - Central Michigan Chippewas

Zurlon Tipton
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In addition to being a member of the All-Name team, Zurlon Tipton helped spur the Central Michigan Chippewas to a winning season with a four-game winning streak to close out the season. The turnaround for CMU came when they started to turn more towards their talented junior running back.

Tipton finished the year with 1,492 yards rushing with 19 touchdowns on the ground. He also added 287 yards receiving and a touchdown catch out of the backfield. He surpassed 100 yards rushing in eight games this season, including the final seven, and the Chippewas went 6-2 in those games. He peaked with a 243-yard, three-touchdown performance in a win over the Akron Zips.

Central Michigan struggled early in the season, but once they figured out their winning formula of getting Tipton the ball, things turned around for them. They will have one more year with the talented runner, who should expect to be the focal point next season from day one.

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13. Adam Muema - San Diego State Aztecs

Adam Muema
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The San Diego Aztecs gained a share of the MWC title thanks to the No. 20 rushing attack in the nation. The key for that success was sophomore Adam Muema, who stepped up in a huge way this season.

The 5-foot-10 tailback rushed for 1,458 yards this season and scored 17 total touchdowns. He rushed for more than 100 yards in seven games this season with a pair of 200 yard performances. He saved his best performance for the season finale when he went off for 255 yards and four touchdowns in a win over the Wyoming Cowboys.

Many people thought that the running game of SDSU would take a step back this season with the early departure of Ronnie Hillman following the 2011 season. Muema made sure that didn’t happen and will look to take his game to the next level in 2013, and bring the Aztecs offense up with him.

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12. Stepfan Taylor - Stanford Cardinal

Stepfan Taylor
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The Stanford Cardinal enjoyed a new level of success this season as they won the Pac 12 championship and staked their claim as the cream of the crop of west coast football. There was some tumultuous times at the quarterback position for Stanford, but they were able to count on senior running back Stepfan Taylor each and every week to lead the offense.

Taylor finished the season with 1,530 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He also added 287 yards receiving with a pair of touchdowns out of the backfield. He surpassed 100 yards rushing eight times during the season, with his season high coming in the Big Game against the Cal Bears when he gained 189 yards with a touchdown.

As David Shaw shuffled his quarterbacks from Josh Nunes to Kevin Hogan, the one constant on the Stanford offense has been Taylor. The senior will be sorely missed as he leaves as the career leader in touchdowns for Stanford.

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11. Giovani Bernard - North Carolina Tar Heels

Giovani Bernard
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The North Carolina Tar Heels weren’t eligible to go to a bowl game this season, but they enjoyed a very nice season, winning eight games. Much of that success can be traced to the talents of sophomore running back Giovani Bernard.

Bernard was a dynamic playmaker all season long for the Heels. He finished the year with 1,228 yards rushing 12 touchdowns on the ground while catching 47 passes for 490 yards with five touchdowns out of the backfield. He averaged nearly 200 all-purpose yards per game, ranking No. 4 in the country. He broke the 100-yard rushing mark in five of his 10 games played this season, including a 262-yard performance with a touchdown against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

The Heels will be hard pressed to find a replacement for Bernard next season, as the sophomore has declared as an early-entrant into the NFL draft this spring. It will be a tall task that they struggled with this season, as they went 0-2 in games that Bernard did not play in.

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10. Beau Blankenship - Ohio Bobcats

Beau Blankenship
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The Ohio Bobcats won their first seven games of the season to look like an early favorite to be the BCS buster of 2012. While they faltered down the stretch in the regular season, finishing 9-4 after their bowl game, the team put together a very impressive season and nobody was as impressive as running back Beau Blankenship.

The junior tailback finished as the No. 10 runner in the country, averaging 123.38 yards per game. He gained a total of 1,604 yards on the ground with 16 total touchdowns. He eclipsed 100-yards rushing in nine games this season and broke the 200-yard barrier once in a 269-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Massachusetts Minutemen.

The Bobcats fell short of the BCS busting aspirations this year, but they’ll be keyed to make another run next year on the legs of Blankenship. They’ll have their hands full with a very tough MAC to contend with, but with their running back leading the way, they have a fighting chance.

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9. Dri Archer - Kent State Golden Flashes

Dri Archer
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The Kent State Golden Flashes were a shootout loss in the MAC championship away from busting up the BCS this year. They rolled through their conference schedule thanks to the No. 15 running game in college football, headlined by Dri Archer.

Archer was a home run waiting to happen every time he touched the ball. He finished the year rushing for 1,352 yards with 15 touchdowns while catching 35 passes for 539 yards while catching four touchdowns. He averaged nine yards per rush on the season and over 15 yards per catch. He had five games of over 100 yards rushing and twice went over 200 yards despite never carrying the ball more than 18 times in a single game.

Kent State average almost 35 points per game this season thanks to a flashy offense that was primed to bust open a big play because of Dri Archer. As the coaching staff continues to find new ways to get Archer the ball, look for the offense to get even more explosive next season.

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8. Kerwynn Williams - Utah State Aggies

Kerwynn Williams
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The Utah State Aggies enjoyed the most successful season in decades thanks to a stingy defense and the No. 26 running game in the country. That rushing attack was led by senior Kerwynn Williams.

Williams finished the season leading the team in rushing with 1,512 yards with 15 touchdowns. He also finished second on the team in receiving with 45 catches for 697 and five touchdowns. His 171.15 all-purpose yards per game were good for No. 10 in all of college football. He finished four games with more than 200 all-purpose yards highlighted by an overtime win over Louisiana Tech where he rushed for 162 yards, caught four passes for 125 yards and scored three total touchdowns.

The Aggies weren’t expected to make a lot of noise this season, but they were able to thanks to the efforts of their senior tailback. Losing Williams and head coach Gary Anderson for next season will be a difficult duo to replace if Utah State hopes to duplicate their success this year again in 2013.

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7. Jonathan Franklin - UCLA Bruins

Jonathan Franklin
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Few people expected the UCLA Bruins to play as well as they did under first year head coach Jim Mora. However, the cupboard was far from bare when Mora took over and he was able to find great success immediately because of senior running back Jonathan Franklin.

The Doak Walker Award finalist finished the season with 1,734 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He also added 33 receptions for 323 yards and a pair of scores out of the backfield and keyed the Bruins’ offensive success all season long. He eclipsed the 100-yards rushing mark in nine games this season including a pair of 200-yard performances to kick off the season. His most impressive performance, however, came in the Pac 12 championship against Stanford when he ran for 194 yards (the most given up by a very tough Stanford run defense) and two touchdowns.

The Bruins came out ahead of schedule in the Mora rebuild thanks to the incredible talents of Franklin in the backfield. Thanks to the production and leadership of their senior tailback, the Bruins were able to win the Pac 12 South for a second straight time (though the first time legitimately). Replacing him next season will a key concern if the Bruins hope to keep their place atop their division.

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6. Antonio Andrews - Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Antonio Andrews
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The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers made some waves this season when they upset their in-state rival Kentucky Wildcats. They weren’t able to keep that positive momentum going the rest of the season, but were still an excellent team that made it to a bowl game. Much of that success came because of the dynamic play of Antonio Andrews.

The junior was the key to the Hilltoppers success all over the field. He rushed for 1,728 yards with 11 touchdowns while catching 37 passes for 432 yards and three touchdowns. He was also a constant threat in the return game and led the nation in all-purpose yards, averaging 243.15 per game. He rushed for more than 100 yards in nine games while breaking the 200-yard mark in three. His high point came against the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns when he broke off 238 yards rushing with a pair of touchdowns.

Andrews was everywhere for the Hilltoppers in 2012 and will be a huge asset for first year head coach Bobby Petrino in 2013. With the offensive mind of Petrino and the talents of Andrews in the backfield, look out for the Hilltoppers next season.

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5. Kenjon Barner - Oregon Ducks

Kenjon Barner
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The Oregon Ducks were once again one of the most prolific offenses in college football this season, ranking as the No. 2 scoring offense and No. 3 rushing offense. They were fueled by the breakout season of senior running back Kenjon Barner.

In his first season as the featured back in Chip Kelly’s blur offense, Barner exploded for 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground while catching 20 passes 256 yards and a pair of scores out of the backfield. He rushed for over 100 yards in eight games, more than 200 yards in a game twice and even over 300 yards once when he went off for 321 yards and five touchdowns against the USC Trojans.

Barner was rewarded for coming back for his senior season by being named first-team All-Pac 12, a Doak Walker Award finalist and a ninth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting. His strong running inside the tackles will be sorely missed next season, but Oregon has more than enough athletes in their backfield to make up for his absence.

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4. Le'Veon Bell - Michigan State Spartans

Le'Veon Bell
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The Michigan State Spartans struggled to a 6-6 record in the regular season when their offense failed to pick up any momentum finishing as the No. 110 scoring offense in the country. The one person on the offense who didn’t struggle this year was running back Le’Veon Bell.

The junior finished with 1,793 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns on the ground. He rushed for more than 100 yards eight times this season and broke 200 yards in three games this season. He peaked against the Minnesota Golden Gophers when he went off for 266 yards with a touchdown.

The Spartan offense lacked any significant pop outside of Bell which prompted the junior to declare himself eligible for the NFL draft. There are plenty of questions to answer in East Lansing before next season, but who will step up and replace the production of Bell is by far the most pressing.

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3. Montee Ball - Wisconsin Badgers

Montee Ball
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The Wisconsin Badgers were not nearly as successful this season as they have become used to in recent years, but they were still able to find a way back to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. Their run was fueled once again by their ground game, ranked No. 13 in college football, and their unquestioned leader on offense, senior running back Montee Ball.

Ball rushed for 1,830 yards with 22 touchdowns on the ground this season. He had 10 games with 100 yards rushing or more with a pair of 200-yard performances as well. His best game came against the Purdue Boilermakers when he rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns.

Ball’s college career wrapped up with a strong season and plenty of accolades to take with him to the next level. He broke the NCAA career touchdown mark, finishing with 83 touchdowns over his four years in Madison. He was named to several All-American teams and took home the Doak Walker Award as well in the process. His production may be never be matched in Madison, or anywhere else for that matter, ever again.

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2. Stefphon Jefferson - Nevada Wolfpack

Stefphon Jefferson
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Playing in the MWC can sometimes cause a player to get overlooked. In the case of the Nevada Wolfpack running back Stefphon Jefferson, that was a very big mistake. The Pack finished with the No. 18 scoring offense and No. 7 rushing offense in college football thanks to their junior tailback.

Jefferson finished the year second in rushing, averaging 144.85 yards per game. He accumulated 1,883 yards on the year with 24 touchdowns. He rushed for more than 100 yards in 10 games this season and finished with more than 200 yards once when he gained 247 yards with a pair of touchdowns against Northwestern State. In another game, he broke the offense open against the Hawaii Warriors with seven total touchdowns. In two of the three games he didn’t hit 100 yards rushing, he came close, finishing with more than 90 yards.

Jefferson was a major snub for the postseason awards this season as he led the nation in rushing for most of the season before eventually falling to second. He was an incredible talent that fueled the Nevada attack and will be sorely missed in Reno next season as the junior has declared for the NFL draft.

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1. Ka'Deem Carey - Arizona Wildcats

Ka'Deem Carey
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The Arizona Wildcats enjoyed a lot more success than people that they might under first year head coach Rich Rodriguez, winning eight games including a bowl game thriller. Their success can be directly traced to the emergence of sophomore Ka’Deem Carey at running back.

Carey led the nation in rushing this season, averaging 148.38 per game, on his way to accumulating 1,929 yards on the year. He scored 23 rushing touchdowns on the year, with at least one touchdown in 12 games. He passed 100 yards rushing 10 times this season, including two games of over 200 yards and one game over 300 yards when he rushed for a season-high 366 yards with five touchdowns against the Colorado Buffaloes.

Carey was arguably the biggest breakout star in college football this season. Rodriguez is known for creating stars with his up-tempo, wide open offensive philosophy, and should continue to push Carey’s star higher next season and beyond.