Breakout running backs in the Big 12

We ranked the top backfields in the Big 12 in 2011 last week. What about names will you need to know soon?

ESPN Insider KC Joyner named his top five in college football this year, and Texas' Malcolm Brown is the only Big 12 player on the list.

The Longhorns' schedule strength is based on a projection that could change somewhat as the Big 12 finalizes its 2012 slate, but it was still favorable enough to make colleague Ryan McGee's list of the top 10 early schedule winners of 2012.

Add that to the four returning starters on the offensive line and things would seem to look great for Brown the upcoming season.

Well, they would until one reviews Brown's YPC and GBYPA totals, both of which ranked dead last in this comparison. It's not as if the Longhorns had a bad run-blocking win rate, either, so some of this has to fall on Brown. If the schedule stays just as favorable and Brown can improve his yards per carry rates, an All-Big 12 conference honor could be in his near future.

So what about other backs in the Big 12?

Here's a few guys I'd keep an eye on:

Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State: Johnson had a chance to break out in 2011, but suffered a neck injury early and missed the rest of the season. He's a shifty back with lots of speed, too. James White and Jeff Woody filled in well for Johnson this year, but Johnson is a highlight reel waiting to happen.

Eric Stephens, Texas Tech: Stephens was in the process of breaking out in 2011 before suffering a dislocated knee early in conference play and before the Red Raiders closed the season on a five-game losing streak. He's expected to return in 2012. He was easily on track to become the first Tech running back to rush for 1,000 yards before the injury.

Johnathan Gray, Texas: So, he's not a Longhorn just yet, but Texas has the nation's No. 1 running back coming to campus next year after reeling in Brown, the nation's No. 2 running back, in its 2011 class. Gray broke the national record with 209 career rushing touchdowns, and he figures to score a few times in his first year on campus, too. Carries will be hotly contested in Austin next year, but Mr. Football USA, according to ESPN HS, will try to earn his touches.

Lache Seastrunk/Glasco Martin, Baylor: Seastrunk was another highly recruited player (No. 6 RB in 2010 class), but transferred to Baylor from Oregon and had to sit out 2011. Martin's got plenty of talent, too. They'll join Jarred Salubi in 2012 to try and replace Terrance Ganaway. Baylor's had a 1,200-yard rusher in each of the past two seasons. You have to like one of those three players' chances to continue the streak in 2012.