Return of the Back: State of Texas leading charge for individual rushers in FBS

Edit by DCTF

Share or Save for Later

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Save to Favorites

The proliferation of 7-on-7 and the Air Raid offense shifted the landscape of football in Texas at the high school and college level. The Lone Star State became a magnet for quarterback and receiver talent over the last two decades. In 2020, nearly 25 percent of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL were Texans. Last year’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year was former Lake Travis receiver Garrett Wilson

Since the high schools played the spread style and flung the football, those positions flourished, and the best athletes flocked to the football. The Great State was no longer a running back haven. The Jonathan Grays and Jonathon Brooks were outnumbered by the Jaylen Waddles and CeeDee Lambs. The same thing happened on the other side of the ball with inside linebackers transitioning to rush ends or safeties. 

But the 2023 season, at least at the college level, is providing a throwback feel to the state of Texas. There are 17 running backs in the FBS ranks averaging over 100 yards rushing per game through Week 9 of the football season and four of them play college football in the state of Texas. Add Oklahoma State’s Ollie Gordon – the nation’s leader in rushing yards with 1,087 – and five of the top 11 running backs in America, at least in terms of rushing yards per game, played Texas high school football – that’s 45.4 percent.

Brooks leads Texas-based college football running backs with 923 yards – good for 115.38 a game (4th in the nation). The Longhorn and former Hallettsville star has seven rushing touchdowns and could win the Doak Walker Award if his play continues and Texas wins the Big 12. Tahj Brooks – a Manor product now at Texas Tech – is seventh in the nation with 110.8 yards per game. Texas State’s Ishmail Mahdi (106.75) and TCU’s Emani Bailey (106.38) are 10th and 11th in yards per game in the FBS, respectively. 

Only one quarterback – Rice’s JT Daniels – ranks in the top 10 for passing yards in a game. Texas State’s TJ Finley ranks 18th while Texas’s Quinn Ewers is at 21. The highest ranked wide receiver in Texas in terms of yards per game is North Texas’s Ja’Mori Maclin at 87.9. Rice’s Luke McCaffrey and UTSA’s Joshua Cephus are also in the top 30 nationally in receiving yards per game. 

The dominance on the ground by lead backs is an anomaly. The number of running backs who averaged over 100 yards rushing is dwindling due to passing attacks and a stable approach to the running back position. It isn’t that teams are running the ball less and for fewer yards as much as they’re not relying on one bell cow to tote the rock. That’s true at the NFL level, as well, and it is why the position is underpaid and undervalued at the pro level.

The college game only has 17 running backs currently averaging 100 yards or more on the ground – the lowest number since at least 2013. The numbers over the last decade paint an obvious picture. In 2013, 29 running backs averaged at least 100 yards rushing. At least 30 running backs a season pulled that off from 2014 through 2017. The number of runners averaging 100 yards or more a game dipped to 24 in 2018 and 22 in 2019. There were 27 runners who did it in 2020, and then that number went back to 22 in 2019, 23 in 2020, and just 20 in 2022. 

For four of the 13 FBS programs in Texas to have a running back averaging 100 yards or more on the ground a game is also unusual in the last decade. The only other year since 2013 with four to average 100 or more was 2021 with Abram Smith, Bijan Robinson, Sincere McCormick, and DeAndre Torrey. The number was two in 2022 and 2020, and zero in 2019. Since 2013, only 2021 and 2023 have produced more than two players in Texas to rush for over 100 yards a game. 

This doesn’t mean that the state of Texas is leaning into the ground-and-pound at a team level. Even though more individuals are enjoying leading-man success at running back, the Lone Star State remains a passing region. Four programs – North Texas, Rice, SMU, and TCU – rank inside the top 20 in passing yards per game. Texas State is 28th and Baylor sits at 31. Add Texas at 36 and over half of the teams in Texas rank inside the top 40 nationally in passing yards per game. 

Conversely, Texas State at 19th nationally is the top-ranked rushing offense in Texas at 201.25 yards per contest. No other team ranks in the top 30 and only Texas at 35 and North Texas at 39 sit inside the top 40. 

Even though football has changed over the last few decades a universal truth remains: Watching a lead back dominate a football game is one of the most satisfying experiences left in the sport. And the best place to watch those in 2023 is the Lone Star State. 

This article is available to our Digital Subscribers.
Click "Subscribe Now" to see a list of subscription offers.
Already a Subscriber? Sign In to access this content.

Sign In
Don't Miss Any Exclusive Coverage!

We've been the Bible of Texas football fans for 64 years. By joining the DCTF family you'll gain access to all of our exclusive content and have our magazines mailed to you!