Back at it again with Wahl's College Football Preview debuting the Running Backs to Watch Edition from 12 oz Sports Radio in the Power 5, Mid Majors and Football Championship Subdivision.
(3) Power 5 Running Backs to Watch:
Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky
Kentucky is overcoming replacing their tenured Quarterback, Stephen Johnson, what does this mean? More carries and more touches for Benny Snell. I love the way he runs the ball isn't afraid to drop the stiff arm to get more leverage on his defenders. Also has a deadly spin move that has made great SEC defenses look silly.
Love his ability to be consistent in multiple offensive packages. Ran the Wildcat many times last year and ran it with great success. Hope to see some of the same as well as some new offensive packages this year.
Kentucky was 5-2 last year when Benny Snell Jr. rushed for at least 100 yards. Another stat: Kentucky was 4-1 in the SEC when he ran for 100+ yards rushing
Key Factors/Predictions: If Snell Jr. can produce similar or better stats this year with average Quarterback play, I think Kentucky can win 9 games on their schedule. I know Snell Jr. will run over Murray State, Middle Tennessee State, etc. but I want to see the production we see against Mississippi State, Georgia and at the end of the year rivalry game at Louisville. If all goes well, I think Snell Jr. may crack the finalists list for the Doak Walker Award.
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Cam Akers, Florida State
What stands out about Cam Akers is his ability to not only break tackles, but to dismantle his defenders. Although FSU had a rocky season last year, he still carried for 1000 rushing yards while splitting time. With Willie Taggart being a run minded coach, expect him to get the bulk of the carries this year and excel.
Under 31% of his games last year he went for 100 yards. Expect that number to be well above 50% in this upcoming season.
I also think that once FSU designates a Quarterback in their battle this season, that will make Cam even more versatile and get more catches out the backfield to improve on his 116 yards and one touchdown receiving last year.
Key Factors/Predictions: Although Cam Akers will excel and Florida State will improve, I see the Seminoles as a 7-8 win team. They have a very tough schedule against many ranked opponents such as Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson, and Notre Dame. Expect more catches out the backfield from Akers and see him as the man in command at Running Back for Florida State. Won't be a Doak Walker finalist, but will be a name we want to keep in mind after his Sophomore season with FSU.
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Finishing top 6 in the Heisman Trophy voting last year was no slouch year for TRUE Freshman Jonathan Taylor. He as an uphill runner can produce the type of speed once he's evaded tacklers, can get in the end zone easily.
I would like to see more than 13 touchdowns with this Badger schedule this year. I feel with Quntez Cephus suspended for more than likely the season and Danny Davis the first two games, the Badgers will depend more on the running game and get Taylor more touches. I would also like to see more pass packages available to Taylor, had ZERO touchdowns receiving last year and less than 100 yards receiving. Expect Paul Chryst to make this adjustment this year.
He's blessed to be a running back that has a top 5 offense line in the country, expect his YPC average to improve (6.7 YPC, last year) soar with an even better returning offensive line this year.
Key Factors/Predictions: It will be tough for Taylor to cap another near 2000 yard season, but he will still be a Top 5 Heisman finalist. Wisconsin's schedule is a hair tougher than it was last year with two games one at #14 ranked Michigan and at #10 Penn State and at Iowa, who loves to destroyed highly ranked teams seasons. Keep an eye on the amount of carries for Taylor this year as well as receiving touchdowns.
(2) Mid Major Running Backs to Watch:
Spencer Brown, UAB
Similar to Taylor, Brown has a good freshman year for the Blazers. You have to like the size on this kid (6'0, 235) and his ability to accelerate. Built like a power back, but runs like an elusive uphill runner that once he picks up speed, he's gone.
His yards per carry (5.3) will need to improve. He was 10th in Conference USA in this category although he had 250 carries which was 2nd in Conference USA. He doesn't need more carries, he just needs to make more out of his touches.
Has a high ceiling for continued production. over 46% of his games last year he had 100+yards. Also from a team side, UAB was 5-0 when Brown had over 22 carries. UAB should game plan to give him the ball 22+ times to contend for another December bowl game.
Key Factors/Predictions: I expect 1600 yards rushing in Spencer's Sophomore campaign. I would like to see more consistent product throughout the whole season and not just sparks during non-conference games and middle of the season like last year. Being the strength of schedule this year compared to last year, I think Brown will need to get more carries throughout the season in order for UAB to have another good season. If that happens, Brown could be a Top 10 candidate for the Doak Walker at the end of the year.
Devin "Motor" Singletary, Florida Atlantic
Almost 86% of Devin Singletary's games last year he went for 100+ rushing yards. 50% of his games he had at least 3 touchdowns. This kid is a Red Zone threat and averaged 6.4 yards a carry last year.
If you watch Lane Kiffin's offense, you will see that he runs with Singletary often in the Shotgun, which gives the offensive line time to set up Devin to break thru easily. Motor is a fantastic in between the tackles runner and if you blinked last year, you would miss his touchdowns as Lane Kiffin and FAU has one of the quickest offensive sets I have ever seen in College Football.
Singletary did struggle against Navy and Wisconsin so I am looking forward to a rebound when Devin, Lane and the bad boys from FAU take on proven Power 5 power, Oklahoma next Saturday. I want him to have a strong showing to start the season unlike last season.
Key Factors/Predictions: Singletary will be tested more this year against bigger competition such as at #7 Oklahoma and at #21 Central Florida, after their outstanding undefeated year. If Motor can blast off in these two games and continue what he does best tearing up Conference USA defenses, I can see him as a Doak Walker winner at the end of the year. Book it.
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(1) Football Championship Subdivision Running Back to Watch:
Bruce Anderson, North Dakota State
Bruce is something to watch when breaking tackles. An absolute bulldozer last year when lowering the shoulder. Also a dominant pass catcher out of the backfield. Can find space without issue.
Not just as a strong running back and pass catcher, also a strong threat on Kickoff Return. It is very hard to find any player in Power 5, Mid Majors, and FCS that excels in all three categories.
Four games of 100+ yards last season in the toughest conference in FCS. Was a 2nd team All American, should be a 1st team this year.
Key Factors/Predictions: The expectation every single year at North Dakota State is to win a Championship, which Bruce has been two championship teams already going into his Senior year. Would like to see his YPC average improve well over the 5.2 mark he hit last year, would like to see it around 6.0. I think NDSU will benefit again from his ability to be productive in all areas listed above. NFL teams will keep an eye on Anderson this year as his marketability on offense and special teams in a large asset to every NFL team. Look to see NDSU again in the Championship game again this year.
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