Whatever happened to the Big 12's workhorse backs?

July, 22, 2009
7/22/09
5:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It might be the most endangered species this side of the American bison.

True workhorse running backs are disappearing across the nation, but particularly in the Big 12.

It's a marked contrast from the past where many Big 12 teams would rely on one major back to account for much of its running production.

Even the expansion of spread offenses can't be blamed entirely for this predicament. If anything, the overabundance of passing attacks should make it easier for one back to dominate carries because most teams are utilizing fewer running plays than ever before.

Here's an indication of how skewed the statistics were last season in the Big 12. Only four backs accounted for at least 40 percent of their team's rushing totals.

Texas Tech's Shannon Woods led all Big 12 backs last season with 44.5 percent of his team's carries -- 141 totes among Texas Tech's 317 rushing attempts.That total is the smallest for a leader in the Big 12 in the conference's history.

Consider only four years ago that nine Big 12 backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries in 2004 and seven backs that season topped 50 percent of their team's running plays.

But in today's Big 12, coaches are opting to predominantly use a rotation of backs. Teams like Nebraska (Quentin Castille and Roy Helu Jr.), Oklahoma (DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown) and Texas (Vondrell McGee, Cody Johnson, Fozzy Whittaker and freshman Chris Whaley) all are expected to rotate carries in 2009.

Here's a look at how those numbers have changed during the Big 12's history.

1996: Seven backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries, including four backs accounting for at least 50 percent. Leaders included Troy Davis of Iowa State (76.8 percent of ISU's carries), June Henley of Kansas (59.2 percent), David Thompson of Oklahoma State (55.3 percent) and Texas Tech's Byron Hanspard (51.2 percent).

1997: Five backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries, including two backs accounting for at least 50 percent. Leader included Texas' Ricky Williams (67.7 percent), Iowa State's Darren Davis (53.4 percent), Kansas' Eric Vann (47.7 percent) and Texas Tech's Ricky Williams (44.2 percent).

1998: Six backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries, including four backs accounting for at least 50 percent. Leaders included Texas' Ricky Williams (81.3 percent), Iowa State's Darren Davis (74.6 percent), Texas Tech's Ricky Williams (57.2 percent) and Missouri's Devin West (51.8 percent)

1999: Three backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries, including two backs accounting for at least 50 percent. Leaders included Iowa State's Darren Davis (59.1 percent), Texas' Hodges Mitchell (54.5 percent) and Baylor's Darrell Bush (42.1 percent).

2000: Five backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries, including two backs accounting for at least 50 percent. Leaders included Texas' Hodges Mitchell (55.2 percent), Iowa State's Ennis Haywood (51.5 percent), Oklahoma State's Reggie White (48.8 percent) and Oklahoma's Quentin Griffin (46.1 percent).

2001: Six backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries, including three backs accounting for at least 50 percent. Leaders included Texas Tech's Ricky Williams (54.4 percent), Iowa State's Ennis Haywood (53.6 percent), Oklahoma State's Tatum Bell (51.7 percent) and Oklahoma's Quentin Griffin (46.9 percent).

2002: Five backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries, including one back accounting for at least 50 percent. Leaders included Texas' Cedric Benson (59.7 percent), Oklahoma's Quentin Griffin (48.6 percent), Colorado's Chris Brown (46.5 percent) and Kansas' Clark Green (41.7 percent).

2003: Eight backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries, including one back accounting for at least 50 percent. Leaders included Baylor's Rashad Armstrong (54.0 percent), Colorado's Brian Calhoun (44.8 percent), Kansas State's Darren Sproles (44.5 percent) and Texas' Cedric Benson (44.0 percent).

2004: Nine backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries, including seven backs accounting for at least 50 percent. Leaders included Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson (60.0 percent), Texas Tech's Taurean Henderson (55.3 percent), Texas' Cedric Benson (53.0 percent) and Kansas State's Darren Sproles (50.8 percent).

2005: Seven backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries, including one back accounting for at least 50 percent. Leaders included Nebraska's Cory Ross (53.6 percent), Texas Tech's Taurean Henderson (48.1 percent), Baylor's Paul Mosley (46.8 percent) and Missouri's Brad Smith (44.7 percent).

2006: Four backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries, including one back accounting for at least 50 percent. Leaders included Texas Tech's Shannon Woods (69.1 percent), Kansas' Jon Cornish (46.5 percent), Baylor's Paul Mosley (42.6 percent) and Missouri's Tony Temple (42.2 percent).

2007: Four backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries. Leaders included Kansas State's James Johnson (49.6 percent), Nebraska's Marlon Lucky (49.4 percent), Texas' Jamaal Charles (47.9 percent) and Colorado's Hugh Charles (41.0 percent).

2008: Four backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries. Leaders included Texas Tech's Shannon Woods (44.5 percent), Missouri's Derrick Washington (42.4 percent), Kansas' Jake Sharp (41.8 percent) and Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter (41.4 percent).

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