Recently, our colleagues at the Big Ten blog determined the five best players at each position in the history of their conference. We thought it was interesting, so we're following suit.
A couple of notes: We'll be basing these lists on the college careers of the players, not on how they fared in the NFL. And with apologies to LaDainian Tomlinson and Pat White, only players that wore Big 12 logos at the time they played -- and only the seasons they played while part of the Big 12 -- were considered to keep this consistent.
Our rankings continue today with the Big 12’s best-ever running backs:
1. Ricky Williams, Texas (1996-98): The College Football Hall of Famer and 1998 Heisman Trophy winner was the most prolific rusher in the history of the game by the time he graduated, and not just in yardage. Nobody had ever scored as many rushing touchdowns (72) or points (452) as Williams did. He followed up a 1,200-yard sophomore season with 1,893 yards and 25 touchdowns. Then he did the impossible and topped that: 2,124 yards, 27 touchdowns and all the records. And he produced nearly 1,000 career receiving yards. We often call backs who run this hard and score this much monsters. Williams remains the king of the Big 12's monster backs.
2. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06): One of the all-time great rushers played like it as soon as he got to college. Peterson was a unanimous All-American as a freshman after rushing for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns and leading the Sooners to the BCS national title game. He probably should have won the Heisman that year. Despite an ankle issue as a sophomore and a collarbone injury as a junior, Peterson still rushed for 100-plus yards in 22 of his 31 career games and was among the most dominant backs college football has ever seen.
3. Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04): Putting Sproles this high on the list might seem like a slightly sentimental pick, since he was just so fun to watch. But we might not see anyone break Sproles’ Big 12 record for career all-purpose yards (6,812) in a long time. The mighty mite racked up a combined 4,769 rushing yards over his final three seasons at K-State. His finest year came in 2003, when Sproles led the Wildcats to a Big 12 title as a junior while rushing for 1,986 yards and 16 scores.
4. Cedric Benson, Texas (2001-04): Benson has to be on this list for his longevity. No other player in Big 12 history has rushed for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. Benson is still No. 7 in the NCAA record book with 5,540 career rushing yards and No. 5 in career rushing TDs with 64. Texas won at least 10 games in each of his four years, and Benson finished off his prolific Longhorns career with an 1,800-yard senior season to earn the Doak Walker Award.
5. Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma (1999-2002): We were torn on a few players here -- Ahman Green, Troy Davis and DeMarco Murray were seriously considered as well. Griffin broke out as a sophomore, rushing for 17 TDs to help power OU’s 2000 national title team. He was even better as a senior, rushing for 1,884 yards and scoring 18 total TDs for the 12-win Rose Bowl champs. Griffin finished with 5,036 career all-purpose yards, including 2,148 in his final season, and was one heck of a tough back for his 5-foot-7, 190-pound size.