1. Ron Dayne- Wisconsin: 7125 career rushing yards for Ron Dayne make him the most prolific Running Back all time in college football. Recruited out of Pine Hill, New Jersey, Great Dayne lit up the college world immediately in a way nobody else has ever done with 2,109 yards and 21 Touchdowns as a true freshman. Let that sink in for a minute or two. Think about all of the great Running Backs over the years and how many of them started off with over 2,000 yards during his freshman season. Most coaches wanted the 5-10, 260 youngster as a Fullback, but Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez wanted him as a Tailback and that’s what he played for the Badgers. As a sophomore his yardage dropped off with only 1,457 yards and his junior season of 1998 he ran for 1,525 yards. During his senior year, the Great Dayne turned it up a few notches once again and smashed Ricky Williams one year old career rushing record with 2,034 yards. Over his career, Dayne had 71 rushing Touchdowns. The New York Giants took Ron Dayne with their first pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. He was not the smashing success in the Pros as he was in college ball and his best seasons were his first and his last. In 7 NFL seasons, Dayne ran for 3,722 yards. In today’s age of players leaving after 3 seasons of college football for the NFL, Dayne’s record may stand the test of time.
2. Ricky Williams – Texas: 6,592 rushing yards over his career topped Tony Dorsett’s record which had stood for 22 years. Williams’ new record lasted all of one season as Ron Dayne smashed it in 1999. In Williams favor, his record was broken in a much more dramatic way in the last game of the season against arch rivals Texas A%M. Tony Dorsett was also on hand to witness the event and Texas won in the last seconds with a Field Goal. Williams was big and fast and maybe at his best on a muddy playing field. Williams played Fullback his first two seasons at Texas and still ran for 1,052 yards as a true freshman, in 1995, and another 1,320 as a sophomore. If playing Tailback for 4 years, Williams numbers may have been enough to hold off Ron Dayne. His junior year, Williams moved to Tailback and put up 1,893 yards even though Texas suffered through a miserable season. John Mackovic was fired and Texas brought in Mack Brown. Williams then ran for an eye popping 2,327 yards and 29 Touchdowns while winning the 1998 Heisman Trophy. Many consider Ricky Williams a bust in the NFL. Huh? He may have had some issues, but he ran for over 10,000 career yards even with suspensions and other assorted issues.
3. Tony Dorsett – Pittsburgh: Dorsett led his Pittsburgh Panthers to the national championship during his senior season and he finished with 6,526 rushing yards breaking Archie Griffin’s one year old record. A first round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys, Dorsett and his team won the Super Bowl during his rookie season. Ron Dayne and Ricky Williams were pure power backs, but Dorsett’s game was based solely on speed. He was a pure burner as demonstrated best by his 99 yard run in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys. As a high school sophomore in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania Dorsett was thought to be too small to play Running Back and weighed about 150 pounds. In his prime, Dorsett was around 5-11, 190, but he was explosive out of his stance and size was never a real problem. Dorsett as a true freshman put the Pittsburgh Panthers back on the football map in 1973 with 1,686 yards rushing and making first team All American. He didn’t have quite the success as a sophomore only running for 1,004 yards and not making All American. But, he made up for it with huge junior and senior seasons and 1,686 yards and 2,150 yards respectively. Pitt beat Georgia and their Junkyard Dog defense in the Sugar Bowl. Dorsett was a rare 3 time All American. In the 1977 NFL Draft, the Cowboys picked Dorsett with the second pick of the first round and he rewarded them with over 12,000 career rushing yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
4. Charles White – USC: Considering all of the celebrated Trojan Running Backs to either win the Heisman or attain super star status, White had more yards than any of them with 6,245. Coming out of San Fernando, California White had a good freshman season with 858 yards rushing. But, USC had Ricky Bell in White’s freshman season of 1976 and Bell ran for 1,433 yards so White was fortunate to get the carries that he did. He was simply too good even as a freshman to keep off the field with even Ricky Bell on the team. In 1977, the job was all Charles White’s and he responded with 1,478 yards. By the time Charles White was a junior, he had developed into a genuine super star and he ran for 1,859 yards while earning Consensus All American honors. White really exploded into legendary status as a senior as he smashed the 2,000 yard barrier and won the Heisman Trophy. Interestingly, another Trojan legend, Marcus Allen was the Fullback on that team and ran for 649 yards and he would win his own Heisman 2 years later. In spite of being a 1st round pick, White found only moderate success in the NFL. He might have been considered a total bust if not for a 1,374 yard season with the Los Angeles Rams. Even though I hate to admit it, politics and favoritism is very much in play in the football world as well as anywhere else. Charles White was mostly a bust elsewhere until reunited with his college coach, John Robinson, with the Los Angeles Rams. Robinson gave White a chance in the NFL just like he did in college and in the 1987 season White took advantage of it.
5. DeAngelo Williams – Memphis: One of the lessor known Running Backs on this list, but that didn’t deter him from gaining 6,026 yards as a college football player. The 5-9, 215 Running Back out of Wynne, Arkansas surprisingly chose Memphis over Arkansas, Ole Miss and many others coming out of high school after being rated as one of the top Running Backs in the nation in high school. Arkansas high schools are not known for speed and DeAngelo Williams’ state record in the 100 meters of 10.81 is not overly impressive, but he does still own it and track was not his sport. At Memphis, Williams led the Tigers in rushing as a freshman with 684 yards. As a sophomore in 2003, Williams ran for 1,430 yards, but he tore up his knee and missed the last 3 games. He bounced back incredibly and increased his totals as a junior running for 1,948 yards and 22 Touchdowns. His senior season of 2005, saw Williams run for 1,964 yards and he finished 7th in the Heisman Trophy voting. DeAngelo Williams was picked in the 1st round by the Carolina Panthers in the 2006 draft. Until this past off season, Williams spent his entire career with the Panthers with his best years coming in 2008 when he ran for 1,515 yards and in 2009 when he ran for 1,117 yards. He ran for nearly 7,000 yards with Carolina, but signed with Pittsburgh in the off season.
6. Travis Prentice – Miami of Ohio: The Cradle of Coaches Miami Ohio produced more than it’s share of top college football coaches including Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Paul Brown, Ara Parseghian and many, many more. But, they haven’t been famous for top Running Backs. However, Travis Prentice broke that mold starting in the 1996 season. He redshirted as a true freshman and was a back up in 1996 while rushing for 601 yards. In his sophomore season of 1997, Prentice moved into the starting lineup and ran for 1,549 yards and an amazing 25 Touchdowns.
As a junior in 1998, Prentice rumbled for 1,787 yards which turned out to be his best season. He finished up in 1999 with 1,659 yards. Prentice was a 3rd round NFL Draft choice by the Cleveland Browns, but was cut after one season and bounced around the league after that for a couple of years.
7. Archie Griffin – Ohio State: The one and only two time Heisman Trophy winner. Griffin came along at the right time for rushing yardage and played his freshman year in the first season that freshmen were eligible to play varsity ball. Over a four year period he ran for 5,589 yards in Woody Hayes ultra conservative offense. One of my favorite stories about Griffin is that he fumbled the ball on his very first carry. Woody Hayes did not like fumbles. I wrote a post about Archie Griffin
previously in my blog here: Archie
8. Cedric Benson – Texas: Benson was one of the more famous high school players of all time in leading Midland Lee High School to 3 straight Texas 5A championships while running for 8,423 yards. He signed with the Texas Longhorns and started as a freshman and ran for 1,053 yards. As a sophomore in 2002, Benson led the Longhorns with 1,293 yards. The 2003 season was a decent year for Benson when he ran for 1,360 yards. The emergence of Vince Young at Quarterback for the Longhorns opened up running room for Benson and he had a monster year running for 1,834 yards passing Longhorn legend Earl Campbell along the way. Benson finished his college career with 5,540 total rushing yards. The knock on Benson was his speed, but he ran a a good time in the 40 yard dash for pro scouts at the NFL Combine and with his college production he was picked by the Chicago Bears with the 5th pick of the 1st round. He was a bust in Chicago while running for about 1,500 yards in three seasons. Benson signed with Cincinnati and had some good years there running for over 1,000 yards for 3 straight years in 2009-2011. In 2012, Benson signed with the Green Bay Packers but a foot injury pretty much ended his football career. One thing about Benson is he couldn’t stay out of trouble both at Texas and in the NFL.
9. LaDainian Tomlinson – TCU: After running for over 2,500 yards as a high school senior, Tomlinson signed with the TCU Horn Frogs in Fort Worth. As a freshman in 1997, Tomlinson split time with junior Running Back Basil Mitchell who was a solid back in his own right. Tomlinson ran for 538 yards in 1997 while Mitchell ran for 719 yards. In 1998, Mitchell was a senior and ran for over a 1,000 yards while Tomlinson had 717 yards. The Running Back job belonged to Tomlinson
alone in 1999 and he impressed with 1,974 rushing yards. He broke the national single game rushing record against UTEP with 406 yards which stood until this past season, 2014, when Melvin Gordon broke it against Nebraska. Tomlinson finished up in Fort Worth with a spectacular 2,158 rushing yards giving him 5,387 career yards. In the NFL, the career of LaDainian Tomlinson really took off. He was the 5th overall pick in the 2001 season. Tomlinon ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his first 8 NFL seasons. He finished up in the NFL after 11 seasons and over 13,000 career yards and 5th all time in NFL rushing yardage. LaDainian Tomlinson is a sure fire Pro Football Hall of Fame pick soon.
10. Damion Fletcher – Southern Mississippi: Rivals.com rated him a 2 star prospect and Southern Miss got a steal out of it. Fletcher ran for 1,388 yards as a freshman and then followed up with a 1,586 yard performance. But, that was as good as he would do in college following that season he ran for 1,313 and then as a senior in 2009 he only ran for 1,015 yards which gave him 5,302 career rushing yards which was good enough for 10th best of all time. He is not currently playing in the NFL, but still not a bad career for a 2 star recruit.
11. Anthony Thompson – Indiana: Anthony Thompson just has to be the top football player in the history of Indiana. That may not be saying a lot because they have little history outside of basketball.
The Terre Haute, Indiana native chose to play football at in state Indiana and the rest is history. As a freshman, in 1986, Thompson ran for 806 yards and then topped that with 1,014 as a sophomore.
Thompson’s junior and senior campaigns are what made him famous when he made Consensus All American both seasons. As a junior, he tore up defenses to the tune of 1,686 yards and 26 Touchdowns. His senior year he ran for 1,793 yards and 24 Touchdowns giving him a total of 5,299 yards in his career at Indiana. He broke the NCAA rushing Touchdown record with 67 which was broken by Ricky Williams in 1998. He was selected in the 2nd round by the Cardinals, but sadly was a total bust in the NFL only rushing for a little over 800 yards in 4 seasons. Still, he will always be a legend in Indiana football.
12. Herschel Walker – Georgia: Walker was a true difference maker in college football. The Bulldogs were average when he arrived and they won the national championship during his freshman season when he ran for 1,616 yards. Maybe his most famous college football play was in his first game against Tennessee when he ran over the Volunteers Bill Bates and scored his first college Touchdown. In 1981, the sophomore Walker ran for 1,891 yards and as a junior he punished defenses with 1,752 yards to finish with 5,259 total career rushing yards. Walker was the first ever college football player to leave early when he went to the USFL. The NFL would not take juniors at that time, but that changed after Walker for fear of losing too much talent to the up and coming new football league. The USFL did not last long, but it did forever change college football and not for the better. Walker, had he stayed for his senior season, would still own every rushing record in college football.