Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big 12 [Print without images]

Friday, April 8, 2011
The Big 12's 1,000-yard rushers in 2011

By David Ubben

Four digits is the benchmark for a great season among running backs and receivers, while a 3,000-yard year is the mark of the game's top passers.

Last year, the Big 12 had seven rushers top 1,000 yards, but only one -- Cyrus Gray of Texas A&M -- returns. Five graduated and another -- Rodney Stewart of Colorado -- will be in the Pac-12 next year. So in the spirit of our friends at the ACC Blog led by the fearless Heather Dinich, I'll take a crack at picking the most likely players in the Big 12 to reach 1,000 yards rushing next season.

A note: This list is not the list of the Big 12's best running backs, though clearly, that's a factor. Instead, it's a list of the players with the best opportunity in their exact situations to reach 1,000 yards.

Though the Big 12 notched seven 1,000-yard rushers last season, it had just four the previous two years and eight in 2007.

1. James Sims, Kansas -- As a true freshman in 2010, Sims didn't play in the opener, but it was clear as the season went on that he's the Jayhawks most consistent runner. Kansas is deep at the position, but Sims figures to get the biggest share of carries for a team with big questions at quarterback. The Jayhawks averaged nearly 40 rushing attempts per game last year. I don't see that number dropping this year. Sims got just 168 of those 470 carries, and he still managed 742 yards.

Kansas' James Sims
Kansas' James Sims rushed for 742 yards on 168 carries last season.
2. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M -- Gray and his teammate in the backfield, Christine Michael, should both have very good years. I like both of them to clear 800 yards, and it's possible they both hit 1,000 yards, but there's only so much offense to go around. Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller, along with the rest of the talented receiving corps, will have to get theirs. Considering the way Gray closed the season, he's likely to start out with the biggest share of carries.

3. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State -- Randle will also be in split backfield along with Jeremy Smith, but he showed plenty of pop as a true freshman last year. Only DeMarco Murray caught more passes as a running back last year, so he may clear 1,000 yards of offense without doing it on the ground. But the Cowboys run an Air Raid system with a commitment to the run, so the touches should still be there for Randle with Kendall Hunter gone to the NFL.

4. Christine Michael, Texas A&M -- Michael will be coming back from the broken leg and looked pretty good in spring practice last week, but like I said, there's only so many touches to go around. Michael will get plenty and probably clear 700-800 yards, but he'll need to average a Gray-like 5-plus yards per carry to do it, which is possible.

5. Roy Finch, Oklahoma -- Finch has the talent to do it. No doubt. But there's no getting around doubting his health. A stress fracture in his foot caused him to miss almost half his freshman season, and the Sooners are mindful of that with a good group of backs behind him that might sap a few carries. Finch will have to hit a few big runs to get to 1,000, but if he gets hurt again, perhaps true freshman Brandon Williams or Brennan Clay could step in.

6. Eric Stephens, Texas Tech -- Texas Tech never had a 1,000-yard rusher under coach Mike Leach, but it's a new day in Lubbock. The offense will be the same, but coach Tommy Tuberville has placed an emphasis on running the ball more effectively, and Stephens will likely be the beneficiary. Aaron Crawford could be a factor if Stephens gets banged up, too.

7. Jarred Salubi, Baylor -- Like Texas A&M, Baylor has a whole lot of offense in a lot of places. Salubi could hit 1,000 yards if he becomes the featured back, but he's likely to share carries with Terrance Ganaway.

8. Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State -- Johnson needs his new quarterback, whoever wins the competition, to play well and soften up defenses a bit, but the sophomore could be due for a nice year in his first as starter. Former Cyclone Alexander Robinson had over 2,000 yards in his final two years combined, and if Johnson continues to show the explosiveness he did as a freshman, he could have a similar career.

9. Bryce Brown, Kansas State -- Kansas State has run their backs more than any team in the Big 12 the past two seasons, in part because they had one of the league's best in Daniel Thomas. Brown has a lot to prove after an underwhelming, short run at Tenneessee, but there's no clear heir outside of Brown to pick up those 1,057 carries that the Wildcats have had in the past two seasons. Thomas toted it for 545 of those -- most in the Big 12 in 2009 and 2010 -- and if Brown gets off to a nice start, he'll be next in line.

9. Malcolm Brown, Texas -- We've seen Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson for quite awhile at Texas. Both can get it done in spurts, but Whittaker has problems staying healthy and Johnson lacks burst. He's also working at fullback this spring. If any Texas back is going to have a big year, I'm pointing to the possible workhorse in Brown, rather than Jeremy Hills or D.J. Monroe.

10. De'Vion Moore, Missouri -- No Missouri running back had 100 carries last year, and Moore, the team's leading rusher, had just 517 yards. The Tigers ran the ball pretty well last year, but didn't rely on one player. Look elsewhere for a 1,000-yard rusher.

Prediction: Sims, Gray, Finch, Randle