It’s the offseason which means it is #RankingsSZN, and I got to thinking about how many tremendous running backs Mike Gundy has had in Stillwater over the last 15 years.
I’ll likely do this with every position over the next few months, but let’s start with the tailbacks. My criteria here are that you had to total at least 500 yards in your career, which actually limited the list to 12 non-QBs. I’m not sure why, but I thought there might be a few more than that.
I added in a J.D. King-shaped caveat since he’s only played one year but will certainly qualify over the next year or two. As a result, we have a pretty clear break between the unranked, Nos. 6-10 and Nos. 1-5. Or it’s my opinion that we do anyway. Let’s take a look.
Unranked: Beau Johnson (4.9 YPC | 8 TD), Tyreek Hill (5.2 YPC | 1 TD), Rennie Childs (4.1 YPC | 13 TD)
Beau Johnson! I couldn’t put Tyreek on the list for multiple reasons. First, he’s not really a running back. Second, OSU never really used him properly, and he had one more TD than I did as a RB in Stillwater (and I got carries in Stillwater!).
10. J.D. King (4.7 YPC | 4 TD)
It surprised me that King only averaged 4.7 yards per carry his freshman year, but maybe I focused too much on what happened in Morgantown and too little on everything else. He’ll end up in the top seven of this list (at least).
9. Desmond Roland (4.5 YPC | 27 TD)
The ultimate aggregator. Only four backs in the Gundy era have carried the ball more than Roland did at 442 times, and all four of them averaged at least a yard more per carry. Roland was fine, but in a middle class man’s Chris Carson kind of way.
8. Mike Hamilton (5.2 YPC | 5 TD)
Hey, remember when Mike Hamilton had 23 for 161 and a TD in 2005 against a ranked Texas Tech team that OSU beat in Stillwater? I don’t know if he could crack the two-deep these days, but he’ll go down as one of the better “wait, who?” guys of the Gundy era. To be clear: I’m not saying Mike Hamilton is better at football than Tyreek Hill, but he was more accomplished in Stillwater and better (relatively) when he was there.
7. Chris Carson (5.1 YPC | 13 TD)
Did it ever at any point feel like Chris Carson averaged over 5 yards a carry when he was at Oklahoma State? Also, how many OSU fans could give me the number of TDs Carson amassed while he was in orange and black? How many could get within five? It was a strange few years for No. 32, but it did culminate in a 2016 season in which he averaged a Barry Sanders-like 6.8 yards per carry on 82 carries including 8.6 on 17 carries against and 7.6 on 12 carries against OU.
6. Jeremy Smith (5.4 YPC | 34 TD)
Wait, Jeremy Smith had thirty-four touchdowns at OSU? It’s true. He scored in 27 of the 50 games he played in, but he only cracked the 80-yard mark in a game four times. Bonus points because one of those was a 10-carry, 119-yard, 2-TD Big 12 clincher against OU in 2011.
5. Dantrell Savage (6.0 YPC | 17 TD)
Now we get to the pantheon of backs under Gundy. Nobody on this list (and nobody since 2000) has averaged more yards per carry than Savage (6.0) with as many carries as he had (349). Maybe the most underrated player of the Gundy era.
4. Keith Toston (5.8 YPC | 27 TD)
He gets the nod over Savage because he did it for a longer period of time and was probably a better receiver and overall back. These two are fairly interchangeable to me, though. I could be talked into one or the other pretty easily. Their careers overlapped for two years, and Toston averaged nearly as many yards per carry as a freshman as Savage did as a junior in 2006. Better numbers for Savage, but I just think Toston was a better talent.
3. Kendall Hunter (5.9 YPC | 37 TD)
Hunter carried it 708 times in his four-year career, and Gundy rode him like he was trying to win the Belmont. Two seasons of 1,500+ yards, and he likely would have had three if he hadn’t gotten injured his junior year. He’s one of just four Pokes ever with a pair of 1,500-yard seasons (David Thompson, Terry Miller and Thurman Thomas).
2. Joe Randle (5.5 YPC | 40 TD)
I remember when Hunter left and Randle took over, some folks lamented the transition. But I also remember a certain big-armed QB being excited about the switch. Hunter was awesome, an elite tailback, but Randle was more dynamic. He could do anything and everything you wanted him to. The forerunner to Hill in a lot of ways. He played just three years at OSU — and one of them overlapped with Hunter — but he’s 8th all time in rushing yards and 4th in rushing TDs. He had 14 games in which he gained over 100 yards and five in which he scored three or more TDs on the ground. Peak Randle may have even come in a loss … to Texas in 2012 when he gained 199 on 25 carries, had a pair of scores and did this.
Goodness, Joe Randle was good.
1. Justice Hill (5.5 YPC | 21 TD)
Come at me.
I once called him a “much better” version of Randle. That was hyperbole, and I may have been drunk on Bedlam 2017 in which, lest I remind you, he was the best player on the field with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft on the field. I’ll never get over that show he put on. I would love to hear Gundy’s three-Coronas deep thoughts on whether he’d rather have Hill or Randle for a given season. I’d take Hill, but I understand why someone would take Randle.
As far as evolutions go, though, I think we’ve seen a full one from Gundy’s first RB (Hamilton) to his most recent (Hill). No. 5 is everything you want a running back in 2018 to be. Now he’ll get his “Randle in 2012” season this year where he gets to be the best player on what could be a great offense and a real shot over the next two (?) years at every OSU and Big 12 rushing record.
It’s going to be fun to see what Hill does. He has a chance to not only make OSU history, but college football history.
The Big 12 rushing record is possible. Texas’ Cedric Benson holds the record with 5,540 yards from 2001-04. Texas’ Ricky Williams had 5,289 yards from 1996-98, but he also had 990 yards as a 1995 freshman in the Southwest Conference, so that mark is 6,279.
Hill needs 2,931 yards over two years to catch Benson. Hill needs 3,670 yards to catch Williams. That’s a tall task. That’s two seasons of averaging 1,835 yards. OSU has had only three years in which a tailback rushed for at least 1,835 yards – Sanders’ monster 2,850 yards in 1988, Miller’s 1,887 in 1976 and Anderson’s 1,877 in 1982. [NewsOK]