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Running Back U?

By on September 27th, 2018 in Football 7 Comments »

The origin of this article was a question on my weekly Tiger-Eye Review post from TET member Zotus. He asked if I could run some numbers on the ‘Running Back U” claim by many NCAA institutions to see if there was any validity to Auburn’s claim.

This is what I found.

There have been countless discussions about individually famous running backs, either in the NFL or in college. Here are a few sample links to articles.

The problem I’ve found with many of these is they concentrate on athletes who were either individually successful both in college and the NFL, but skip the consistency that many schools have shown within the NCAA for all of their running backs, whether they later became famous in the NFL or not.

So in my analysis, I simply went with whether a school had a 1,000-yard rusher year to year. Not what they did in the NFL, not what they did in a single season, but what that school was able to do year after year to produce these achievements.

I started back just four years and included this year if a school had a running back with over 300 yards. This would give a five-year stat line back to 2014. I then looked back in five-year increments to 2009, 2004 and 1999 to give a 20-year recap of which schools produced 1000-yard running backs year to year.

Here are the results

The star in the first column is including this year as those teams all have a player with over 300 yards rushing so far. If this holds true, it will be the fifth year in a row for those schools. As you can see, this will also mean that Auburn should have a solid decade of that back to 2009 and will be just one shy of most consistent team in the NCAA in the last 20 years in this respect—Wisconsin.

So are we Running Back U? Absolutely within the SEC as there isn’t any other school close to us (highlighted in their colors) back to at least 1999. We may have to concede the NCAA title to Wisconsin but not by much after this year.


  1. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..Pretty cool! I knew we had been successful at producing 1000 yard backs, but really didn’t know, nationally, how Auburn stacked up. Pretty well, I’d say. This includes an era in which the 1998 and 1999 teams could not even get anyone up to 400 yards on the ground.

  2. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    As Frank Cosell stated during a Monday Night Football game 38 years ago “with Cribbs and Brooks and Jackson in the backfield; how did they ever lose?”

  3. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    We know the answer…..Doug Barefield.

  4. zotus zotus says:

    Wow, obviously I put one right in your wheel-house, and you jacked it out like it was batting practice!

    I want to take a close look at what all you’ve done here, but at first blush I’ve got a few comments and questions.

    First the comments:
    1. I totally get your point on the methodology. You picked ‘Net running yards per season for an individual running back’ as the most important factor to consider. Then you weighted its importance at 100%. Smart. Always easy to add other factors if you want and give them a bit of the 100% weight as you add them. Then you picked the accepted gold standard (of 1,000 yds per season) as the gate the individual running back has to get through to be counted. Nobody could argue with that. It’s binary. You either make it or you don’t. You wouldn’t/shouldn’t get to be known as ‘Running Back U’ by stringing together 8-9 consecutive seasons with at least one player who ran for 975 yards on your team. And, as you point out, what a player does or does not do before or after college, does not matter.
    2. What does matter, a hell of a lot, is the consistency of a college program having running backs that get through the 1,000 yd gate, year after year after year. That’s where you nail it with your methodology.
    3. Your methodology (like all good methodologies that are a function of real facts instead of un-measurable opinions) should be “tweakable” and “scalable.” More on “tweakability” down the road … but, it has to do with the ease of adding other ‘knobs to turn’ in consideration of other factors (however minor ‘weight’ they are) in your methodology.

    Now a couple questions:
    1. Do you have access to a web site where you can download year by year, game by game, player by player stats in .csv format?
    2. If a team has 2 or more 1,000 yd backs in the same season, that still counts as “1” in your matrix for this article, correct?
    3. Do you have the data to scale this up beyond 20 years?

    P.P.S. Thanks for the article Pat, very nice piece of work.

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      Agree nice work, especially on short notice. Thanks Sully.

    • Sullivan013 Sullivan013 says:

      1. My favorite for my Tiger-Eye Review and my previous Cafe Malzahn articles. The limitation is that the data is only back to 2009. Still, it’s updated as of 0800 every Sunday, which is excellent timing for my articles. And it’s at my favorite price – freedy free dollars and freedy free cents.

      When I need to go back further than 2009, I use the following site, which isn’t as easy or as detailed as I would like, but it’s at the same price as above.

      Beyond that there is the official NCAA site which is chock full of useless advertisements but a little scant on meaningful data. It’s also updated by the cast of the DMV scene of Zootopia, rendering it almost useless for me, but some might find it useful.

      Downloads will likely cost you, but for the most part the cfbstats site has all the tabulation you would ever need. The only quibble I have is there isn’t a game by game analysis on their splash page for each team – just the cumulative for the season.

      2. Yes, teams with 2×1000 yard backs were counted as one. As fun as it was to watch Ronnie and Cadillac, it actually happens fairly often for team. But the real value is consistency, not density of running talent.

      3. The sports reference site may, but the problem is merely one of time available for me. Also, once you get far enough in the past, the conference match-ups and situations change dramatically (Tulane, Georgia Tech), meaning it becomes an apples and oranges comparison to go back to the Cribbs, Brooks, and Bo Jackson days.

      • zotus zotus says:

        Thanks, Pat, for the links to the Stats sites, I’ll be checking them out … and, BTW I get your point on the way you count 2X1000 yd backs in your ‘Running Back U’ methodology.

        P.S. The way all phases of this 2018 Auburn offense has regressed game-by-game in September, the SEC defenses left on the schedule have a chance to make Gus’ 2018 season look a lot like Gus’ 2015 season. That doesn’t bode well for Auburn’s 1000 yd back streak. Back in 2015, even with Auburn’s 2-6 SEC record, Auburn still had Barber, Robinson, Johnson and Thomas in the running back pipe-line. In 2018, Auburn has not so much.

        Keep hope alive!

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