This isn’t a list of the best running backs in the country.
Everybody already knows Steve Slaton, Darren McFadden and the other leading All-American candidates at the position. And so do oddsmakers, who’ve partially based teams’ 2007 win over/under number on expected production from a school’s star runner.
The tailbacks on the list below haven’t even been the most productive players on their own teams, but they all have the talent to post big numbers in 2007. They can lead their teams to higher-than-expected win totals if they deliver … or to a disappointing record if they can’t meet expectations.
Matt Asiata, Utah Utes (2006: 1,365 yards, 6.3 yards per carry, 15 touchdowns at Snow College)
Utah’s passing game will be just fine in 2007 and its offense will be downright dangerous if Asiata, a JUCO All-American in 2006, poses more of a threat than frequently-injured Darryl Poston.
The Utes face a trio of tough BCS-conference opponents within the season’s first six weeks and Asiata could make them an upset darling if he delivers.
Mike Ford, South Florida Bulls (sat out 2006 after being ineligible at Alabama)
USF needs someone other than quarterback Matt Grothe to pose a running threat if it seriously wants to challenge in the Big East. Ford could be the man for the job.
Head coach Jim Leavitt says Ford isn’t a lock to be the Bulls’ feature back, but the former Tide recruit oozes talent and will get carries against Elon on Sept. 1 to prove his worth before USF visits Auburn the following week.
Justin Forsett, California Golden Bears (626 yds, 5.3 YPC, 4 TD)
Cal’s offense is expected to post big numbers this year behind Nate Longshore and the best receivers in the Pac-10. The Bears, however, need Forsett to shine like conference Offensive Player of the Year Marshawn Lynch did in 2006.
Forsett took a step backwards last year, going from 7.2 yards per carry and 66 yards per game against Pac-10 opponents in 2005 to 5.0 and 46 in 2006. That has to be reversed in his senior year for Cal to shine.
Javarris James, Miami Hurricanes (802 yds, 4.6 YPC, 4 TD)
Miami hasn’t reached double-digit wins since 2003 but expectations in Coral Gables remain sky-high, even though the Canes’ scoring dipped below 20 points per game for the first time in an eternity last year.
James had some big moments as a true freshman last year, but with Miami’s passing game a shell of its former self, he’ll have to dominate like his cousin Edgerrin did back in the day for the Hurricanes to regularly outscore opponents.
Kestahn Moore, Florida Gators (282 yds, 5.2 YPG, 2 TD)
The defending national champs didn’t have a feature back last year, but they had Chris Leak to spread the ball around. With young Tim Tebow running the offense in 2007, it’s on Moore to grind out tough yards against SEC defenses.
Moore has never had more than 13 carries in a game for the Gators, but he’s the team’s best option as a true tailback. If he can’t move the sticks regularly, Florida could finish as low as fourth in the SEC East.
Brandon Murphy, Miami Redhawks (280 yds, 3.5 YPC, 1 TD)
Murphy had 10 or more carries in only four games last season and he was hurt in all of them. He was also running behind a line with a young and injury-plagued line. No surprise, then, that the Redhawks dropped to 2-10.
The line is infinitely better this year and Murphy is healthy again. Miami backers can hope for a return to 2005 form, when Murphy racked up 787 yards and six majors in a memorable five-game span.
Javon Ringer, Michigan State Spartans (497 yds, 5.8 YPC, 1 TD)
In Ringer’s two seasons in East Lansing the Spartans have started off great but collapsed before the calendar reached October. With Drew Stanton in the pro ranks, all eyes are on Ringer to stop that trend.
His career numbers speak for themselves: 8.7 yards per carry, 104 yards per game and six touchdowns in MSU’s eight wins when he’s dressed, compared to 4.3, 44 and zero in its 11 losses with Ringer playing.
Antone Smith, Florida State Seminoles (456 yds, 5.2 YPC, 5 TD)
Hmm, three huge Florida schools, three huge questions about the running game. Smith might have the highest expectations of the trio based on experience, pure talent and expected improvement in the offensive line in front of him.
All the same, Smith hasn’t contributed a lick to any close FSU wins in his short career, something he’ll have to remedy for the Seminoles to win the ACC Atlantic as is widely predicted.
Jonathan Stewart, Oregon Ducks (981 yds, 5.4 YPC, 10 TD)
There are a few big names on this list and Stewart’s might be the biggest based on his exploits at Oregon so far. He topped 120 rushing yards against five BCS-conference opponents last year before being hobbled down the stretch.
He’s been surpassed production-wise by Pac-10 rivals Ryan Torain and Yvenson Bernard, but Stewart can be the conference’s best back. Oregon can be a 10-win team if he plays that way.
Tony Temple, Missouri Tigers (1,063 yds, 5.5 YPC, 7 TD)
Mizzou took a run at the Big 12 North last year behind Chase Daniel’s arm and a defense that improved by nearly 10 points per game. The Tigers host Nebraska this year and can make the conference championship game, but Temple has to play a bigger role.
Temple was a non-factor in too many conference games last year, but showed with his 194-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Sun Bowl that he can be relied on in 2007.
Chris Wells, Ohio State Buckeyes (576 yds, 5.5 YPC, 7 TD)
The Buckeyes lost a ton of offensive talent to the NFL draft following last year’s run at the national title, especially on the passing side of things. That means Wells, who averaged nearly 60 yards per game and scored six touchdowns against his eight Big Ten opponents, has to be a star.
Ohio State has a schedule that has people calling for another double-digit win campaign, but the running attack has to carry the load with no Troy Smith behind center.
Leon Wright-Jackson, Hawaii Warriors (Hawaii scout team following transfer from Nebraska)
Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense often renders the running back position an afterthought, but if the Warriors are going to make a run at a BCS bowl like Boise State did in 2006, someone has to fill the void left by Nate Ilaoa.
Wright-Jackson was a highly-sought recruit three years ago and could be the foil that Heisman Trophy hopeful Colt Brennan needs in his backfield for a magical run in 2007.