A pro-style rushing attack has featured one running back and his lead blocker in their defined roles. However, NFL teams – and we know it’s a copy-cat league – now have been splitting the carries between the featured backs for a number of reasons.
In college football? It’s been happening for years. There have been a number of high-powered offenses that, instead of spreading it out and using a fast-break attack with the passing game, chose to run the ball down opponents’ throats – times two.
Who are college football’s best running back tandems? We compiled a list based on raw numbers, their roles on winning teams, how well the two complemented each other and collective production.
Will Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and James White be on this list one day?
10. Thurman Thomas & Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State (1986-87)
This duo is about name recognition. Sure, they were on the roster together, but they didn’t perform in tandem or as equals. Thomas was the starter and Sanders the backup. In 1987, Sanders rushed for 603 yards, compared to 1,613 from the All-American Thomas. What did Sanders do when handed the keys? He won the 1988 Heisman Trophy by rushing for an NCAA single-season record 2,628 yards with 39 touchdowns. Maybe, these two future NFL Hall of Famers were better off on their own.
9. Floyd Little & Larry Csonka, Syracuse (1965-66)
Little and Csonka both went on to become Pro Football Hall of Famers, just as Thomas and Sanders did. But it’s about what they did in college that gives them a prominent spot on this list. Little rushed for 1,065 yards in 1965 and 811 in 1966, while Csonka added 795 and 1,012. There was symmetry to the careers of these two, with each taking turns being the team’s leading rusher in the aforementioned seasons. They also had company in the backfield in current Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, who was more of a receiving back. Heck, Little and Csonka could more than handle the running.
8. Mark Ingram & Trent Richardson, Alabama (2009-10)
You knew this tandem was formidable right off the bat in 2009, when Richardson was a freshman but provided 751 yards and eight touchdowns toward the Crimson Tide’s 2009 national championship season. What did Ingram do? He had 1,658 yards, 17 touchdowns and one Heisman Trophy as the clear-cut starter. In 2010, both played 11 games and split the carries – 158 for Ingram and 112 for Richardson – but neither went over the 1,000-yard mark. But hey, they both averaged over five yards per rush.
7. Roger Craig & Mike Rozier, Nebraska (1981-82)
Craig and Rozier were a true rushing team. The pair combined for 4,278 total yards and 31 TDs in their two seasons together in the backfield. However, not all of that time was a share of the lead back’s duties. Rozier showed outstanding promise as a sophomore in 1981 – his first year with the Huskers – and eventually unseated the elder Craig, who moved to fullback in 1982. Rozier went on to win the Heisman in 1983 – after Craig had departed. Both men were Pro Bowl players in the NFL and Craig finished his time with the 49ers with four Pro Bowls and three Super Bowls. Not bad for a second option in college.
6. Ronnie Brown & Cadillac Williams, Auburn (2004)
In 2003, Auburn’s backfield was a three-headed monster that included current New York Giants back Brandon Jacobs, who was clearly No. 3. He took the hint and transferred to FCS school Southern Illinois, leaving Brown and Williams to pair up for the Tigers’ undefeated season in 2004. That season, Williams rushed for 1,236 and Brown added 928, and the two combined for 20 TDs – with Williams in the role as the workhouse back and Brown the more versatile runner. Sure, there were more prolific duos, but Williams and Brown were one of the most effective.
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