Ranking the best college running backs heading into the 2015 season

Even though dynamic backs like Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Todd Gurley, Jay Ajayi and Ameer Abdullah are off to the bright lights of the NFL, the returning crop of star running backs to the college game might be the best ever. In fact, of the 53 running backs to hit the 1,000-yard plateau in 2014, 35 are returning. On top of that, 12 players who rushed for at least 1,500 yards will back on the field in 2015.

Some of the players on this list aren’t household names (yet), but all of them will do damage on the gridiron in 2015.

Here is the list of the best running backs heading into the 2015 college football season.

Stats and statistical rankings from ESPN.com and NCAA.com.

H.M. Marcus Cox, sophomore, Appalachian State

Cox had a huge year in his first season with the Mountaineers as they finished 7-5. His best game came in a 44-0 win over Georgia State when he carried the ball 29 times for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

On the season, he had 255 carries for 1,415 yards and 19 scores. He added 16 receptions for 180 yards.

H.M. Aaron Jones, junior, UTEP

Jones had an impressive all-around season as a sophomore with the Miners. His best game came in a season-opening win against the New Mexico Lobos when he registered 237 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries in a 31-24 win.

On the season, he had 242 carries for 1,321 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was also a threat in the passing game with 30 catches for 293 yards and three more scores.

H.M. Justin Jackson, sophomore, Northwestern

Jackson had a nice freshman campaign even though the Wildcats won just five games. His best game of the season came in a 20-14 upset win over Wisconsin when he finished with 33 carries for 162 yards.

For the season, he had 245 carries for 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns to go along with 22 catches for 201 yards and another score.

H.M. Aaron Green, senior, TCU

Green had a slow start to the season, but once he got more touches he showed why he is such an explosive back. His best game last year came in a 41-20 win over Kansas State when he had 171 yards and a touchdown on just 18 carries.

On the season, he carried the ball 129 times for 922 yards and nine touchdowns to go along with 19 receptions for 166 yards and two more scores.

25. Marteze Waller, senior, Fresno State

Even though the Bulldogs struggles to a 6-8 record in 2014, Waller was a beast. His best game came in a 37-27 loss to Boise State when he had 164 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.

For the season, he had 225 carries for 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with 27 receptions for 120 yards.

24. Alex Collins, junior, Arkansas

While Collins has to split touches, he is part of one of the best backfields in the country. His best game came in a 49-28 win over Texas Tech when he had 212 yards and two touchdowns on a season-high 27 carries.

On the season, he carried the ball 204 times for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns.

23. Jonathan Williams, senior, Arkansas

The second part of the two-headed rushing attack for the Razorbacks had a solid junior season. His best game came in a 49-28 win over Texas Tech when he ran for 145 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries.

For the season, he managed 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns on 211 carries to go along with 11 receptions for 65 yards and two more scores.

22. Jhurell Pressley, senior, New Mexico

While the Lobos had another down season, Pressley in the real deal. His best game came in 60-49 loss to Boise State when he carried the ball just seven times for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

On the season, he totaled 1,083 yards and 12 touchdowns on 114 carries. His 9.5 yards per carry would’ve led the nation if he had enough touches.

21. Elijah McGuire, junior, Louisiana Lafayette

McGuire was a huge reason why the Ragin’ Cajuns had such a successful season in 2014. His best showing came in a 55-40 win over Arkansas State when he registered 19 carries for 265 yards and four touchdowns.

For the season, he carried the ball 166 times for 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with 45 receptions for 468 yards and two more scores. His 7.61 yards per carry was good for third in the nation, according to NCAA.com.

20. Shock Linwood, junior, Baylor

The aerial attack for Baylor was very impressive in 2014, but so was the rushing attack thanks to exploits of Linwood. His best game came in a 61-58 win over TCU when he carried the ball 29 times for 178 yards.

On the season, he finished with 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns on 251 carries.

19. Leon Allen, senior, Western Kentucky

After two seasons with minimal touches, Allen had a monster season in 2014. His best game came in a 52-24 win over Army when he had 33 carries for 345 yards and three touchdowns.

On the season, he carried the ball 272 times for 1,542 yards and 13 touchdowns to go along with 51 receptions for 476 yards and three more scores.

18. Jarvion Franklin, sophomore, Western Michigan

Although his season didn’t end the way it started, Franklin had a dominating freshman year. He had six games of at least 150 yards rushing and three touchdowns. His best performance came in 45-33 win over Idaho when he carried the ball 33 times for 211 yards and three scores.

On the season, he had 306 carries for 1,551 yards and 24 touchdowns to go along with 15 catches for 168 yards and another score.

17. Jordan Howard, junior, Indiana

Tevin Coleman is gone, but the Hoosiers have another star running back in the wings thanks to UAB shutting down its football program. Howard closed out the season in fine fashion for the Blazers with four straight games of at least 145 yards. His best showing came in a 45-24 win over Southern Mississippi when he had 262 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries.

For the season, he registered 306 carries for 1,587 yards and 13 touchdowns to go along with nine receptions for 72 yards and another score.

16. Nick Wilson, sophomore, Arizona

Wilson is one of the many talented young Pac-12 backs who had a very solid freshman season. His best game came in a 42-10 win over the Utah Utes when he carried the ball 20 times for 218 yards and three touchdowns.

For the season, he had 236 carries for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns to go along with 12 receptions for 90 yards and another score.

15. Matt Breida. junior, Georgia Southern

After he got very little time in the backfield as a freshman, he had a breakout sophomore season. His best game came in a 69-31 win over Georgia State when he had 12 carries for 201 yards and four touchdowns.

For the season, he carried the ball 171 times for 1,485 yards and 17 touchdowns to go along with eight receptions for 97 yards and another score. Those numbers were good enough to earn a spot as one of the 10 finalists for the Doak Walker Award given to the Nation’s top running back.

14. Donnel Pumphrey, junior, San Diego State

Pumphrey carried the load for the Aztecs’ offense with a massive sophomore season. He finished fourth in the nation in rushing yards and ninth in rushing touchdowns. His best game came in a 38-7 win over San Jose State when he carried the ball 21 times for 261 yards and three touchdowns.

For the season, he registered 276 carries for 1,867 yards and 20 touchdowns. He added 23 catches for 160 yards.

13. Royce Freeman, sophomore, Oregon

Although he wasn’t at his best during the final four games, Freeman had a standout freshman season. His best game came in a 45-20 win over Washington when he totaled 169 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries.

For the year, he registered 252 carries for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns to go along with 16 catches for 158 yards an another score.

12. Kareem Hunt, junior, Toledo

Even though he only played in 10 games as a sophomore, Hunt put up some of the best numbers in all of college football in 2014. He finished third nationally in rushing yards per game and second in yards per carry. His best performance came in the 63-44 win over Arkansas State when he managed 32 carries for 271 yards and five touchdowns.

On the season, he finished with 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns on 205 carries.

11. Paul Perkins, senior, UCLA

Perkins was one of the best running backs in a loaded Pac-12 conference. His best game came in the 40-35 Alamo Bowl win over Kansas State when he had 20 carries for 194 yards and two touchdowns.

On the season, he carried the ball 251 times for 1,575 yards and nine touchdowns to go along with 26 receptions for 201 yards and two more scores.

10. Devon Johnson, senior, Marshall

Even though he struggled with some injuries, Johnson had a big junior year for the Thundering Herd. He finished sixth in the nation in rushing yards and first in yards per carry. His best showing came in a 35-16 win over Florida Atlantic when he carried the ball 24 times for 272 yards and four touchdowns.

On the season, he had 206 carries for 1,767 yards and 17 touchdowns to go along with six catches for 121 yards and two scores.

9. Devontae Booker, senior, Utah

Booker was the perfect fit for a Utah offense that was looking for an identity. After splitting touched for the first three games of the year, he got to carry the load and great things happened. His best showing came in a 29-23 double-overtime win over Oregon State when he totaled 32 carries for 229 yards and three touchdowns.

On the season, he carried the ball 292 times for 1,512 yards and 10 touchdowns to go along with 43 receptions for 306 yards and two more scores.

8. Dalvin Cook, sophomore, Florida State

Even though there were six games in 2014 where he had less than 10 carries, Cook showed that he could be a force for the Seminoles. His best performance came in the ACC championship game when he totaled 31 carries for 177 yards and a touchdown.

On the season, he carried the ball 170 times for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns to go along with 22 catches for 203 yards.

7. Derrick Henry, junior, Alabama

Henry doesn’t have to contend with T.J. Yeldon for touches in the backfield anymore and that will do wonders for his already impressive totals. His best performance in 2014 came in the 42-13 SEC championship game win over Missouri when he had 20 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns.

For the season, he carried the ball 172 times for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with five receptions for 133 yards and two more scores.

6. Corey Clement, junior, Wisconsin

It didn’t take a ton of touches to realize that Clement has the skill-set to be a star for the Badgers. His best game came in a 38-28 win over Illinois when he had 13 carries for 164 yards and a touchdown.

For the season, he had 147 carries for 949 yards and nine touchdowns to go along with 14 catches for 119 yards and two more scores. Not bad for a guy who was playing behind Melvin Gordon.

5. Leonard Fournette, sophomore, LSU 

While his freshman campaign was solid, Fournette showed glimpses of what kind of star-power he possesses during the last two games of the year. His most impressive showing came in the 31-28 loss to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl when he had 11 carries for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

On the season, he finished with 1.034 yards and 10 touchdowns on 187 carries to go along with seven receptions for 127 yards.

4. James Conner, junior, Pittsburgh

Conner is a big, bruising back who put up huge performances all season long. He finished seventh in the nation in rushing yards and third in rushing touchdowns. His best showing came in a 51-48 double-overtime loss to Duke when he had 38 carries for 263 yards and three touchdowns.

For the season, he carried the ball 298 times for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns.

3. Samaje Perine, sophomore, Oklahoma

Perine wasn’t very consistent as a freshman, but when he had it going, he was hard to tackle. He finished eighth in the nation in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. His best game came in a 44-7 win over Kansas when he broke the FCS single-game rushing record with 427 yards and five touchdowns on 34 carries.

For the season, he carried the ball 263 times for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns.

2. Nick Chubb, sophomore, Georgia

Few expected the kind of success that Chubb had in the Georgia backfield in 2014. After he saw limited action to start the season playing behind Todd Gurley, Chubb got his chance and took full advantage. His most impressive showing of the season came in the 37-14 over Louisville in the Belk Bowl when he had 266 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.

On the season, he totaled 219 carries for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with 18 catches for 213 yards and two more scores.

1. Ezekiel Elliott, junior, Ohio State

While all the hype surrounded the Ohio State quarterbacks during the 2014 campaign, Elliott quietly stepped up and had a terrific season. He finished third in the nation in rushing yards and eighth in yards per carry. His best game of the year came in the 42-20 win over Oregon in the National Championship when he rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns.

For the season, he finished with 273 carries for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns to go along with 28 receptions for 220 yards.

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