Year of the RB? The Big 12’s rush to 1,000 yards in 2015
Robert Pace, Jeff Caplan
Johnathan Gray, Texas
The Longhorns entered 2014 talking up a physical run game, yet failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher. Malcolm Brown will test the NFL while Gray, who gained 637 yards on 147 carries with seven touchdowns, will return for his senior season. Since arriving as a five-star recruit, Gray has produced more than 2,000 career rushing yards despite injury and internal strife at Texas with the transition from Mack Brown to Charlie Strong. He now has the chance to put his stamp on the program. But it will require coach Strong and assistant head coach for offense Shawn Watson putting the ball in Gray's hands more often. The Longhorns will go into the 2015 opener with the underwhelming Tyrone Swoopes or with a quarterback who has never taken a college snap. It would behoove the Horns to heavily lean on Gray.
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY SportsBrendan Maloney
Rushel Shell, West Virginia
The touted Pitt transfer had flurries of brilliance in his sophomore campaign, his first at West Virginia. In 12 games played in 2014, the 5-foot-10, 215-pound bulldozer ran for a total of 788 yards, capping the regular season off with an 146-yard game that included a season-high 54-yard run for a touchdown. The Mountaineers have burst the ceiling off Shell's expectations for 2015. Head coach Dana Holgorsen is calling upon him to be 'the man,' and WVU's running backs coach has even compared him to Marshawn Lynch. With uncertainty at quarterback, the Mountaineers will likely rely more heavily upon Shell and the rushing attack in the early stages of 2015, which will give the rising junior more touches and a chance to run free.
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DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech
Meet the Big 12's least-talked-about 1,000-yard ground gainer in years. DeAndre Washington became Texas Tech's first 1,000-yard rusher since 1998 and only the program's seventh all-time. But because the Red Raiders struggled so mightily, his feat practically went unnoticed. Washington totaled 1,103 yards on 188 carries in coach Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid offense. The senior stands to be even better simply because the Raiders' offense will be more experienced with a veteran line and whichever quarterback -- Davis Webb, whose season ended prematurely because of injury, or Patrick Mahomes, who was impressive in the final three games. Add it all up and the 5-foot-8, 198-pound Washington should be on the road to 1,000 yards again.
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY SpoMichael C. Johnson
Aaron Green, TCU
Gary Patterson ushered in a new era last season by giving into a spread attack and it paid off. Quarterback Trevone Boykin became a Heisman candidate and the offense was one of the most potent in the nation. The running back position was integral to the success. Green started the season as the backup to B.J. Catalon, but Catalon, who will attempt to jump to the NFL, never returned after sustaining a concussion in the eighth game of the season. The 5-foot-11, 202-pound Green took over and was brilliant, piling up 922 yards on 129 carries for a conference-best 7.1-yard-per-carry average. The offensive line will be revamped with three new starters, but with Boykin under center and Green as the full-fledged starter, a 1,000-yard season seems a solid bet.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY SportsKevin Jairaj
Shock Linwood, Baylor
Art Briles' prolific passing offense bills itself as ‘Wide Receiver U.,' but it has quietly produced six consecutive 1,000-yard rushers. Shock Linwood will try to do it in consecutive seasons. The 5-foot-9 back finished second in the league last season with 1,293 rushing yards on 251 carries (13 games). He averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored 16 touchdowns. Linwood will run behind a fully returning line that is built to take care of business, and there's no shortage of playmakers on the edges, so Linwood should again see plenty of green open spaces. The Bears will replace quarterback Bryce Petty, likely with Seth Russell, and Kendal Briles takes over as the offensive coordinator, but it would be a shock if Linwood didn't again eclipse 1,000 yards.
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Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
The sophomore is coming off a 1,700-yard season (13 games) in which he broke the NCAA single-game rushing record with 427 yards on 34 carries. Most interesting about Perine's quest to conquer 1,000 yards again is that everything around him has changed, starting with new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and the installation of the Air Raid offense. Oklahoma has major holes to fill on the offensive line, and which one of three quarterback candidates will take the season's first snap likely won't be known until fall camp. Riley has promised plenty of balance in his scheme, and considering the Sooners could be breaking in a new quarterback, he'd be crazy not to lean on the 5-foot-11, 243-pound P-Train, who averaged 131.8 yards a game and galloped for 21 touchdowns.