College Football
Big 12 running backs are putting the power in Power 5 football
College Football

Big 12 running backs are putting the power in Power 5 football

Updated Nov. 1, 2023 12:41 p.m. ET

The Big 12 is running all over the other Power 5 conferences when it comes to robust rushing attacks.

Oklahoma State's Ollie Gordon II leads the nation in rushing with 135.9 yards per game, and the Big 12 has three other running backs averaging at least 100. The other four power conferences have five 100-yard-per-game rushers combined.



The Big 12 is first among its brethren in rushing yards per game (172.8) and second in total yards (421.7).

"It's interesting how cyclical football is in some ways," said Sonny Dykes, the coach at TCU, where Emani Bailey has three 100-plus yard games, putting him fourth in the conference in rushing yards. "You go back and you look now, and the Big 12 was a running league forever, and then we became a four-wide league, and now it's back to an emphasis on running the football and playing defense. And so it's funny how this stuff cycles through."

Big 12 squads are definitely leaning on their ball carriers this season.

Jonathon Brooks averages 115 yards per game for No. 7 Texas and, according to PFF College, has forced a Division I-leading 58 missed tackles, tops among Power 5 backs.

"As much as he's running really good, hard yards between the tackles, he's a home run hitter for us now, too," Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said of the third-year back. "I don't know if everybody appreciated that about him coming into the season."

Devin Neal ran for 112 yards and a TD last week for Kansas in the 38-33 upset of then-No. 6 Oklahoma. Neal is averaging 96 per game for the No. 22 Jayhawks.

Oklahoma ranked behind Texas and Alabama despite Red River win

Tahj Brooks is a bright spot for struggling Texas Tech, averaging 111 yards carrying the ball.

"I'm probably as impressed with (Tahj Brooks), honestly, as anybody in the league," Dykes said. "He's big, he's physical, he finishes runs. I think he is the consummate right back. When you say OK, what do the great ones do? They make yards when there's not yards to be made, and he consistently does that. Just finishes runs, plays really physical, powerful, guys bounce off of him."

Gordon was the first — and so far, only — Power 5 running back to surpass the 1,000-yard mark this season. The 6-foot-1, 211-pound second-year player ran for 282 and four TDs in the 48-34 win over West Virginia on Oct. 23, then had 271 yards and two TDs as the Cowboys crushed Cincinnati last week.

He's the just the second player in school history with back-to-back games of 250-plus rushing yards, joining Barry Sanders in 1988.

"I think Ollie has really good competitive speed," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "I think he feels guys coming behind him, and he kind of weaves and takes off pretty good. He doesn't have that burst from 10, 15 feet. But he's a big strider when he gets to the open field, so they kind of have a hard time getting from behind."

West Virginia second-year back CJ Donaldson Jr., 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, is on a roll. He romped for a season-high 121 yards and a TD last week as the Mountaineers won 41-28 at UCF. He has a touchdown in six straight games.

"When he runs like that, man, he's a load," West Virginia coach Neal Brown said.

In the Big 12, he's not alone.

Reporting by The Associated Press.


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