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AAC Preseason Position Reviews: Running Back

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Plenty of depth in the AAC means defenses will need to worry about multiple threats out of the backfield.

NCAA Football: Houston at Southern Methodist Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Our AAC preseason position reviews continue, and today we take a look at the running backs in the conference. We split the quarterbacks into four groups, and the running backs will be the same: Elite, Second Tier, Wait and See and Room for Improvement.

“Room for Improvement” means exactly what you think, this team needs to get better or maybe has one returner but a lot of questions behind him.

“Wait and See” are teams that we’re not sold on, but have the talent or experience to be good. These teams just need time to get their players up to speed during fall camp/beginning of the season.

“Second Tier” are for teams that return valuable experience, but the depth behind them is questionable, and an injury to the starter could spell trouble.

“Elite” will be the top teams who have all-conference talent, and also have depth behind that talent who can step in should an injury occur.

Previous positions: Quarterback

Elite

1. SMU: Chad Morris enters his third year with a full stable of backs who will compete for the starting spot. Braeden West finished 2016 as the leading rusher with 1,036 yards and six touchdowns. Ke’Mon Freeman was solid as a freshman, and added 651 yards and four scores as a freshman. Xavier Jones began last season as the starter, and showed some flashes before injuries derailed his season. All three will be healthy heading into fall camp and will be difficult to stop.

2. Memphis: Depth won’t be an issue for the Tigers at this position, and this young group should improve on a solid 2016 season. Doroland Dorceus is the vet, and returns 810 yards and 6.1 yards per carry average. Sophomores Patrick Taylor Jr. and Darrell Henderson received valuable experience as freshman. Taylor Jr. should become more consistent with more carries (four games above 8.0 ypc and three games under 3.0 ypc in 2016). Henderson provides versatility and caught 20 passes last season in addition to 87 carries.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Ohio State
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Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

3. Tulsa: D’Angelo Brewer produced 1,425 yards and seven touchdowns while sharing the backfield with James Flanders. Flanders is not gone, leaving Brewer to be the featured back. The question will be if they go to a two back system, but there were plenty of options in the spring game. Corey Taylor, Javon Thomas, Ramadi Warren, and Rowdy Simon all performed well and could spell Brewer during the season.

Second Tier

4. Temple: Ryquell Armstead is the starter without question, and he almost outrushed his predecessor in “backup” duties last season. Jager Gardner and Tyliek Raynor made solid impressions during the Cherry and White Game, and will need to continue performing well in the fall. An injury to Armstead could be a major issue.

5. USF: Quarterback Quinton Flowers knows that his Heisman chances hinge on the playmakers around him, starting with running back. D’Ernest Johnson returns 543 yards and eight touchdowns, but will need help replacing Marlon Mack. Since Johnson was a scratch in the spring game, Darius Tice and Elijah Mack were provided opportunities to show what they can do.

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6. Houston: The Cougars finished 11th in the conference in yards per attempt rushing and 8th in total yards. Greg Ward is no longer around and Kyle Allen (should he win the job) will need some help. Duke Catalon has the talent to be the best back in the conference, and his versatility makes him a threat in the passing game too. Dillon Birden returns as the backup but will receive some pressure from Patrick Carr. Carr separated himself from the rest of the pack in the spring game, and could see the field in the fall.

7. Navy: It’s difficult for any multi-back team to feature one player, and Navy is no exception. 18 players ran the ball for the Midshipmen last year, and that could be the case again in 2017. Chris High and Darryl Bonner are the top two returning rushers who will compliment quarterbacks Zach Abey or Malcom Perry in the rushing attack. Perry may also play some wing back as well. Navy could easily end up being one of the elite, but for now, they just need time to find their new playmakers.

Wait and See

8. Tulane: Dontrell Hilliard finds himself with a little more breathing room after sharing a crowded backfield in 2016. He led the team with 135 carries for 759 yards (5.6 ypc) an nine touchdowns, but needs his backups to develop in case he should be injured. Sherman Badie returns with the second most experience, but will have to battle others for carries. Darius Bradwell, Miles Strickland, Stephon Huderson, and Texas Tech transfer Corey Dauphine all had opportunities in the spring game to audition.

9. UConn: New offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee knows how to get his running backs going, just ask Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson. Senio Arkeel Newsome figures to get the most looks in 2017 with the transfer of fellow senior Ron Johnson. Lashlee will need Newsome to establish a running game in order to keep potential starter, and often injured, Bryant Shireffs on the field.

10. UCF: A lethal rushing attack was a staple for Scott Frost when he was the offensive coordinator at Oregon, and he will need to improve in that area heading into this season. The Knights finished 10th in the conference and tied for 100th in the nation. Jawon Hamilton and Adrian Killins are the top two returners, but neither eclipsed 500 yards rushing last year. If the run game can get going, the Knights offense will be dangerous.

Room for Improvement

11. Cincinnati: Mike Boone appeared to be ready for a breakout season in 2016, but ended second on the team with 388 yards rushing while missing the last three games due to injury. Behind him, no returning back had more than ten carries last year, meaning the race will be wide open. Redshirt freshman Jerrid Doaks looked decent in the spring game, but it’s safe to say that whoever wins the backup job will be inexperienced.

12. ECU: The Pirates attempted the least amount of rushes in the conference last season, and they lose their leading rusher this year. While there is a lot to fix offensively, the Pirates could still improve with the returners. Anthony Scott and Devin Anderson return, but should still expect some pressure heading into fall camp.