Will Travis Etienne be the best running back in college football this upcoming season?

If you didn’t know already, Clemson football is going to be scary this year.

Last week, Urban Meyer, Reggie Bush, Joel Klatt, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn and Rob Stone – our Big Noon Kickoff crew – tabbed Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence the best amateur under center heading into the 2020 season.

And Thursday, the crew named his teammate, running back Travis Etienne, the best back in college football, as the fall season rapidly approaches.

Etienne’s college career has been nothing short of spectacular. After leading the Tigers in rushing in his freshman season, Etienne truly broke out as a sophomore.

In addition to winning a National Championship title, he rushed for 1,658 yards (4th best in the FBS) with an FBS-leading 24 TDs, and he also caught 2 TD passes for a total of 26 TDs, which also led FBS.

And if you thought that he couldn’t top his sophomore season, you were sadly mistaken.

Etienne kicked off his 2019 campaign with a career-high 205 yards and 3 TDs in the first game of the season, and he finished the year with 1,614 rushing yards (7th best in the FBS) and an ACC-leading 19 rushing TDs. His role also increased in the passing game, and Etienne caught 37 passes for 432 yards and 4 TDs, which were all career-highs.

He owns the ACC record for most career rushing TDs with 56, and his 62 career TDs – 56 rushing and 6 receiving – also ranks first in conference history.

Pro Football Focus College went more in-depth on Etienne’s success over the past two seasons.

Etienne posted a 92.4 PFF rushing grade in each of the past two years — a mark that led all FBS backs in both seasons and ranked among the three best grades ever at the position.

Former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart had the Tigers‘ running back as the overwhelming favorite on his list of best running backs heading into the 2020 season, comparing him to his former USC backfield mate Reggie Bush, who is widely-regarded as one of the greatest college running backs of all-time.

“I think he is the most versatile running back coming back … He reminds me a lot of Reggie to be honest with you. He is really explosive when he has the ball. We all know he can hit the home run as soon as he breaks and sees green grass. But something else, he led the nation last year in broken tackles with 91, so this is a guy who not only can get outside and have the home run threat, he also can run between the tackles … When we think of Clemson the last two years, we focus on Trevor Lawrence. In my opinion, Travis Etienne has really been the catalyst that made that offense go the last two years, and that’s why I think this kid is going to have a monster year this year.”

However, while two other FOX Sports analysts – Quinn and Stone – agreed with Leinart, Etienne didn’t rank at the top of everyone’s list.

A problem for Etienne this upcoming season could be the lack of returners on the offensive side of the ball. The Tigers need to replace four of five starting offensive lineman, and a few top-tier wide receivers. Meanwhile, the next favorite on the list, Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, has most of his supporting cast returning, including his QB, the Cowboys’ two top wideouts, and three offensive lineman.

For that reason – among others – Joel Klatt and the fans picked Hubbard as their favorite running back heading into the 2020 season.

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Hubbard redshirted his first year at OSU in 2017, but the following year, he played in 13 games and racked up 740 rushing yards and 7 TDs.

He returned last season as Oklahoma State’s starter and had a breakout year, rushing for an FBS-best 2,094 yards on 328 carries, scoring 21 TDs in the process.

He earned his way into some elite company last season, becoming one of only two backs to rush for 2,000+ yards in Oklahoma State history.

The other guy?

Oklahoma State legend and NFL Hall of Famer, Barry Sanders.

For his efforts, he was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Joel Klatt broke down why Hubbard earned his vote, listing the support he has around him and Hubbard’s speed and durability as the key reasons.

“I went with Hubbard because he has more experience on the offensive line. He has more experience returning at wide receiver on that offense, so there’s not going to be as much of a focus just on him from a defensive perspective – even though there should be. He is fast – I mean blazing fast. I love his production, and the fact that he didn’t really slow down even though he was getting a large number of carries throughout the season. I expect big things from him.”

While the fans and five of the six analysts had either Hubbard or Etienne at the top of their lists, for the second week in a row, Bush served as the outlier.

Last week, he was the only analyst to put Ohio State’s Justin Fields above Lawrence in his quarterback rankings, and this week, he went with Alabama‘s Najee Harris as his top back.

Harris played more of a backup role his freshman and sophomore year behind a loaded running back room, but his junior season, he cemented himself as the starter, racking up 1,224 yards (94.1 yards per game) and 13 TDs, as well as 304 receiving yards and 7 receiving TDs.

As you can see, Harris is known for his hops, which is one of the reasons Bush chose him above Etienne and Hubbard.

“I like Najee Harris because he is the most complete running back out of all the backs we just listed. He is shifty, which I didn’t realize. You see him muscling guys, jumping over people. This dude is 230 pounds, He’s as big as just about any starting ‘Mike linebacker’ in the NFL right now, and he’s doing all of this in the SEC. So he’s a grown man playing in a big boy conference.”

The Hesiman Trophy has most recently been given to the top QBs in the nation, and as of 2005 – the year Bush won it – only three running backs have won the illustrious award: Bush, Alabama’s Mark Ingram in 2009, and Alabama’s Derrick Henry in 2015.

Bush thinks the Tide’s Najee Harris could follow in the footsteps of Ingram and Henry in 2020.

“I think if he plays well enough, I think he can win the Heisman trophy.”

There’s still a few months before college football kicks off, so in the meantime, enjoy the entire Big Noon Kickoff Show from Thursday, debating the best running backs in the college game:

And check back next week when the team ramps up the debate once again, this time discussing who are the nation’s top wide receivers!