While wide-open, pass-happy offenses have taken over as college football has evolved throughout the last decade, nothing works better than a good old-fashioned rushing attack, even if it is within a new-school look. Running back rooms around the country are loaded with talent from top to bottom. That top-end talent combined with depth can transform teams that are considered national title long-shots into national contenders.
Just look back to TCU last season. The Horned Frogs made a miraculous run to the College Football Playoff National Championship thanks in large part to 1,399 yards rushing from star back Kendre Miller. Meanwhile, Chase Brown led Illinois into relevancy as he rushed for 1,643 yards.
This year features another crop of amazing running backs looking to lead their teams to championship glory. Michigan has made the CFP in each of the last two seasons, and has a couple of stars back in the hopes of not only making it three in a row but also topping rival Ohio State for the third straight season. Speaking of Ohio State, the Buckeyes have the talent to follow the same blueprint with a stable of studs returning for coach Ryan Day to use out of the backfield in the hopes of unseating the mighty Wolverines.
It isn't just the Big Ten, though. SEC teams, as well as others from around the nation, are ready to play ground-and-pound football during the upcoming season. So which running back rooms are the best heading into the 2023 season? Let's break them down.
This is a no-brainer. Blake Corum was not only one of the best running backs in the country prior to the knee injury that he suffered during a win over Illinois last November, but he was also in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race. Corum finished the season ranked third in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (121.92) despite the fact that he managed only 6 yards on two carries fighting through that injury vs. Ohio State. Donovan Edwards served as the "1B" option prior to Corum's injury and stepped up during the final three games of the season as he ripped off 520 yards and three touchdowns despite being hampered by knee and hand injuries. If both are at (or near) 100% in 2023, Corum and Edwards are going to terrorize everyone in their path.
2. Ohio State
Another Big Ten team chimes in at No. 2, and it's no coincidence that it's the other Big Ten representative in last year's CFP. The Buckeyes are led by stars Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson, both of whom could be true No. 1 running backs on virtually every other team in the country. Henderson got banged up a bit last year, but it didn't seem to matter all that much to a team that came within one missed field goal at the stroke of midnight away from making the CFP National Championship. Dallan Hayden had his moments in 2022 as well, which makes this unit as dangerous as they come. Plus, the entire Ohio State running back room will benefit from a wide receiver room that is the best in the nation. The Buckeyes will leave defensive coordinators' heads spinning this season.
3. Penn State
The Big Ten parade keeps moving with Penn State landing at the No. 3 spot. Nicholas Singleton burst onto the scene as a freshman last year with 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns, and was buoyed by fellow newcomer Kaytron Allen's 867 yards and 10 touchdowns. Coach James Franklin has re-established a rushing attack that needed a boost, and his two underclassmen are leading the charge. They will be critical pieces in an offense that is making the transition at quarterback from Sean Clifford to former five-star prospect Drew Allar.
The Bulldogs lost star Kenny McIntosh after last season, but the cupboard is far from bare in Athens, Georgia. Daijun Edwards, Kendall Milton and Branson Robinson were all key contributors to last year's national title team, so nothing they see in 2023 should be surprising. They will have a little more pressure as former quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, a key piece to the running game over the last two years, has moved on to the NFL. This crew should be able to handle it with relative ease, though. Great teams don't rebuild, they reload. Georgia is in reload mode at running back and well on its way to earning the moniker "RBU."
Quarterback Bo Nix's rushing prowess stole headlines last year, but the ground production elsewhere was a key piece to the Ducks' success in Year 1 under coach Dan Lanning. Bucky Irving rushed for 1,058 yards and five touchdowns, while all-purpose star Noah Whittington added 779 yards and five more scores. This despite the fact that opposing defensive coordinators keyed on Nix through the air and on the ground virtually all season. What's more, Whittington put on some weight in the offseason. That should allow Nix to rely more heavily on the running backs behind and alongside him rather than shouldering the load himself.