football-fbs flag | November 25, 2014

Head to Head: Year of the runningback?

  Samaje Perine eclipsed Melvin Gordon's single-game mark of 406 yards with a 427-yard performace Saturday.

Head to Head discusses the biggest topics in college football. Last week, Melvin Gordon broke former TCU running back Ladainian Tomlinsin's single-game rushing mark of 406 by running for 408 yards against Nebraska. Gordon's mark didn't last longer than a week as Oklahoma's Samaje Perine ran for 427 yards against Kansas on Saturday. With breakout seasons from Gordon, Perine, Miami (Fla.)'s Duke Johnson, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (even Georgia's Nick Chubb has stepped into the relief role for perhaps the best running back in the country, Todd Gurley) and Pittsburgh's James Conner, can we crown 2014 the, "Year of the Running Back"?

How is it not the year of the running back? LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-game FBS rushing record lasted 5,466 days (15 years) before Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon ripped off 408 yards to beat the record by two yards -- in three quarters -- against Nebraska.

When asked how long his record would stand, Gordon said, “I really don’t know.” There’s no way seven days would’ve entered anyone’s mind, right? Well, enter Oklahoma freshman running back Samaje Perine. At 5-foot-11, 243 pounds, Perine dominated Kansas on Saturday to the tune of 427 rushing yards. For a program known for its rushers through the years, Perine topped the school record of 294 yards set by Greg Pruitt in 1971.

The best part? Perine wasn’t even the starting tailback on Saturday. Keith Ford took the first three carries and gained nine yards before a punt. Then Perine took his first carry on the next possession to the house on a 49-yard rush – the first of five scores for Perine.

Poor Melvin. Or, maybe not.

Gordon became the fastest player to 2,000 rushing yards against Iowa this weekend, on just his 241st carry. The junior is currently in 10th place on the FBS all-time single-season rushing list, just 519 yards from from tying Barry Sanders‘ record of 2,628 yards. If the Badgers make the Big Ten championship game, with a bowl game after that, it’s not out of the question that Gordon could be back as a record holder again.

And it’s not just Gordon and Perine. There’s Miami’s Duke Johnson, who sits only 34 yards from becoming the Hurricanes’ all-time leading rusher. Before Saturday’s disappointing loss at Virginia, Johnson had outrushed Miami’s past four opponents 718 to 307.

For a sport that has seen spread offenses and passing numbers shattered in the past decade, it’s refreshing to see some ground-and-pound. There’s also Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, who if not for Melvin Gordon and the Hoosiers’ 0-7 Big Ten record, might be getting some more publicity for being the nation’s second-leading rusher. There's Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah who has bruised almost every defense he's faced. There's Nick Chubb, who as a freshman has made almost everyone in Athens, Georgia, forget about Todd Gurley (think about that for a second).

We'll all be talking about Perine ... until the next guy comes along. But in the mean time, it was a special day.

"This is really awesome that he goes down in the record books," Oklahoma center Ty Darlington said. "He's such a team player. What people won't see is he's covering kickoffs, he's blocking for other guys who don't have the ball. He plays so hard every play, and he's such a humble guy."

We haven’t seen our last rushing record fall in the year of the running back.

--Douglas Kroll,

I think it’s time we pump the brakes a little bit on all the running back love of late in college football.

Listen, it doesn’t take a film-crunching, football-breathing, the-sports-year-is-over-once-football-ends kind of person to tell you that Samaje Perine and Melvin Gordon’s accomplishments during the last few weeks have been remarkable. But to label this season the “Year of the Running Back” is a stretch, and all it takes is a simple glance at the top teams in college football.

The top four teams in the college football rankings -- Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State -- aren’t in the position they’re in primarily because of a running back. You can even expand that through No. 9 -- TCU, Ohio State, Baylor, Mississippi, UCLA -- and it still would hold true. Those teams are where they are because of stable, and sometimes spectacular, quarterback play among other reasons.

Gordon and Wisconsin have gained some momentum out of the Big Ten, but are we all of a sudden going to don the Badgers a favorite? Then there’s Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, who has had incredible moments this year, but the Huskers aren’t competing for a national championship with back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Gordon’s Badgers. And we all know Oklahoma has taken a fall from grace as of late.

If we’re going to hold a year in such high regard for running backs, I’m going to need see a running back or two lead a team to the promise land. 

That’s not to say running backs haven’t played a role in teams rising up the rankings. Mississippi State wouldn’t be the team it is without Josh Robinson, and Florida State’s Karlos Williams has been a big factor in the Seminoles’ magic this year. But when you look at those two teams, the conversation starts -- and should end -- with Dak Prescott and Jameis Winston.

So, congratulations to all the stellar rushing performances that have transpired in college football this season. I don’t want to take anything away from the significance of their accomplishments because those kind of numbers are truly staggering. In fact, there might be another performance of that kind on the horizon. But until I see a running back carry his team into legitimate playoff contention, I’m going to hold off on dubbing this the “Year of Running Back.”

Running backs won’t be the talk of the inaugural playoff. It’ll be the quarterbacks.

--Stephen Sellner,

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