Quarterbacks tend to dominate headlines, but the running back position is stacked in 2015. A running back hasn’t won the Heisman Trophy since Alabama’s Mark Ingram won the award in 2009. There are a few candidates this season that could change that trend. After taking a peek at five signal callers that will saw the national championship picture, we take a look at five running backs who could make a run for the Heisman and determine the fate of their team’s season in this edition of The Five.
Ezekiel Elliott – Ohio State
Quarterback Cardale Jones received a hefty amount of the praise for the Buckeyes winning the first College Football Playoff, but it was Elliott that did the work. He rushed for over 200 yards in the final three games of the season, propelling Ohio State to heights the program didn’t expect to reach after falling early in 2014 to Virginia Tech. It started with two touchdowns and 220 yards against Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship game that lifted the Buckeyes over TCU in the rankings. He ran over Alabama in the semi-finals and then took the heart from Oregon’s defense in the championship.
Elliott enters 2015 as the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy, and while the three-headed quarterback rotation Ohio State has will fill the headlines, it will need to be Elliott who carries the Buckeyes back to a national championship.
Nick Chubb - Georgia
Todd Gurley’s bad luck was Nick Chubb’s coming out party. With the future first-round pick on the sidelines because of a suspension and then an ACL injury, Chubb took on pressure he didn’t expect to have in 2014 and never looked back.
He ended the season with over 1,500 yards rushing despite not earning the starting job until the Missouri game, which was Georgia’s sixth game of the season. He never failed to rush for over 140 yards in a game as a starter against FBS competition and is the reason Georgia enters 2015 as the favorite to win the SEC East.
Samaje Perine – Oklahoma
Perine led all freshman running backs 1,713 yards rushing and 131.77 yards per game. He also set a single-game rushing record against Kansas and added 21 touchdowns on the season. Oklahoma never had continuity at the quarterback position, and that allowed the true freshman from Texas to become the driving force of the Sooner offense.
Lincoln Riley is taking over play-calling duties this season for Oklahoma, but expect him to lean more on Perine than he has on the running game in his career as an offensive coordinator. As profiled recently here at TSFJ, Perine is a rare talent in a pass-happy Big 12, where defenses aren’t as big and physical up-front as front-sevens are in the SEC and Big 10.
Leonard Fournette – LSU
The scary part about this list is Fournette may be the most talented of the group. It took the former No. 1 ranked recruit a little time to figure out the college game, but he eventually became the featured back in LSU’s offense by the end of the season. He finished with 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 187 carries. He also had five 100-yard games despite not being the singular focus of the Tigers’ rushing attack.
Fournette has a rare combination of speed, power and vision. He may have the most upside of any running back in the nation and could be the breakout star of the SEC in 2015.
Dalvin Cook – Florida State
Much like Elliott at Ohio State, headlines centered around the quarterback for Florida State and not on the running back that made the offense go. Jameis Winston, for very good reasons, received much of the credit for the ‘Noles offense, but Cook added another dimension to the offense in 2014.
Cook didn’t play much until the middle of October, but once Florida State settled on him as the feature back he never looked back, accumulating over 1,000 yards on 170 carries. With Winston gone, Cook will be the focal point of the Florida State offense and that should work out just fine.
A former newspaper man, Mike Craven is the publisher of BirdsUp.com of the Rivals.com network. His work can also be found in Dave Campbell's Texas Football Magazine and in the Texas FNF Magazine.