FRISCO, Texas — In a league that has been dominated by quarterback play, 2018 may be the year of the running back in the Big 12 Conference.
With the 10 teams descending upon Frisco, Texas, for the Big 12 Football Media Days this week, there is truly one guaranteed starting quarterback in attendance — Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Will Grier of West Virginia — while half of the teams brought tailbacks.
"Boy, it's strong. The Oklahoma State kid (Justice Hill) might be one of the best I've ever seen. He is so talented," Kansas coach David Beaty said. "And they are just everywhere across the conference. There are so many really good players at running back."
Hill is easily at the head of the class of the returning running backs in the Big 12.
The preseason All-Big 12 selection for Oklahoma State rushed for 1,467 yards last season — tops in the conference by 400 yards — while competing for touches with the league's leading passer in Mason Rudolph. Hill was the lone Big 12 representative on the Doak Walker Award semifinalist list (of 11 college tailbacks) late last season.
Six of the top eight leading rushers in the league return from a year ago — all of which will be juniors — with the top three having eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau. Behind Hill was Oklahoma's Rodney Anderson (1,161 yards) and Iowa State's David Montgomery (1,146 yards), with the other returning starting backs having rushed for at least 650 yards.
In fact, Grier is one of just two Big 12 quarterbacks to make the Maxwell Award watch list released Monday — the other being Oklahoma's Kyler Murray. As for running backs on the list for the Maxwell — given to the college football player of the year (with the winner typically also winning the Heisman Trophy) — the league landed five backs on the list: Hill, Anderson, Montgomery along with Alex Barnes of Kansas State and Darius Anderson of TCU.
With the departure of the top two quarterbacks in the league being from the Bedlam rivalry, the Nov. 10 matchup in Oklahoma could shape up to be more focused on a battle between the league's top two running backs.
"I love to compete, and I know he (Hill) loves to compete, so it's going to be fun playing against him again," Anderson said. "He had a great game against us, and I hope he has a great season."
Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury — who is famous for his air raid offenses — foresees this season being a productive one for the league's running backs, and it's not necessarily because of the lack of proven quarterbacks across the conference.
"With the zone coverages and teams dropping everybody out and playing the dime defenses, teams are going to be leaning on running backs more and more, and you're going to see productive years from those guys," Kingsbury said.
This article is written by Jason Elmquist from Stillwater NewsPress, Okla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.