With spring practice in the books, we’re updating our Big 12 position rankings.
Up next are the running backs.
1. West Virginia (previous ranking: 1): One of the best groups in the Big 12, regardless of position. The Mountaineers feature Justin Crawford, who ranked sixth nationally last year with a per-carry rushing average of 7.3 yards, Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway. The latter duo figure only to improve after showing flashes last year as true freshmen. Freshman Tevin Bush, a jitterbug at 5-foot-5 and 168 pounds, figures to find a role, too, in his bid to emulate former WVU star Tavon Austin.
2. Baylor (3): The Bears boast the best 1-2 punch at running back in the Big 12 -- and one of the top pairs nationally in sophomore JaMycal Hasty and junior Terence Williams. They were underappreciated last year but often outplayed the more well known Shock Linwood. New coach Matt Rhule looks set to feature his backs, especially with a depleted receiving corps and quarterbacks inexperienced at running this offense.
3. TCU (2): Kyle Hicks is the most productive returning back in the Big 12. After he sat out the spring game, the Horned Frogs expect a big year from the senior, backed up by sophomores Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua. Shaun Nixon, injured last season, returns to the mix -- but at wide receiver, an indication of TCU's shortage there, his strengths as a playmaker and the workload likely to fall on Hicks.
4. Kansas State (6): Bonus points for K-State because of its reliance on fullback Winston Dimel, a rare offensive piece in the Big 12. He’s far from the featured member of the backfield, though, with Alex Barnes returning as a sophomore after his late-season burst in 2016. Justin Silmon, Dalvin Warmack and redshirt freshman Mike McCoy give the Wildcats depth like they’ve not enjoyed in a while -- and for a team set to rely again on ball control.
5. Oklahoma State (4): The Cowboys are thin here but remain in the top half of the league largely because of Justice Hill, the Big 12 offensive freshman of the year in 2016 who rushed for 1,142 yards. Look for Canadian newcomer Chuba Hubbard to complement Hill, along with senior Jeff Carr. And we already like incoming freshman J.D. King out of Georgia, mainly because his mom is a noted advocate of the Mike Gundy mullet.
6. Oklahoma (8): So much potential and such little experience. This spring did little to change the reality that the Sooners can expect to endure growing pains in replacing Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. But Rodney Anderson looks like a difference-maker. Newcomers Marcelias Sutton and Trey Sermon made strides in their practice time with the Sooners, and Abdul Adams received work last year.
7. Texas (5): Only sophomore Kyle Porter managed to stay healthy this spring as the Longhorns’ bid failed to audition candidates for the spot to replace workhorse D’Onta Foreman. The job probably still goes to Chris Warren III, who fought a hamstring injury last season. Kirk Johnson, Tristian Houston and true freshman Toneil Carter add talent and depth, but they’ll have to fare better in the fall at staying healthy.
8. Iowa State (7): David Montgomery returns after a solid season as a true freshman in which he rushed for 563 yards. More reason for optimism is the return to good form of Mike Warren, a freshman star in 2015 who slipped last year. Warren enjoyed a strong spring and looks to share time with Montgomery. Their hope is to find running room behind a rebuilt O-line. Sophomore Kene Nwangwu, a key contributor, is out indefinitely with an Achilles injury.
9. Kansas (10): The Jayhawks feel good about Khalil Herbert and Taylor Martin, the top backs in practice this spring. Herbert, in particular, impacted practices in a big way. Freshman Dominic Williams, a prized recruit out of Texas, and juco star Octavius Matthews, join the group this summer. So despite progress from the guys already on campus, the competition intensifies soon, which will only help a rushing attack that ranked 116th nationally last year.
10. Texas Tech (9): All of the rushing production from last season returns, aside from Patrick Mahomes’ scrambling, but the Red Raiders essentially gave up on the running game, ranking 123rd nationally. That said, Justin Stockton, Da’Leon Ward and Demarcus Felton are capable and experienced. Stockton missed the second half of the spring with a head injury, an ominous development. Tech is looking for a grad transfer and adds Desmond Nisby as a big back in August.