Much like the story about G5’s all-time passers, the Underdog Dynasty teams’ running backs have churned out some incredible seasons on the ground. There were so many great seasons I honestly could’ve compiled a list of the top 30 all time rushing seasons and it still would’ve looked impressive from 30 to 1. But alas, for the sake of time and patience, only the top-10 will be presented. But that’s not to take away from any accomplishments or accolades from the players whose seasons did not make the top ten.
So many great backs have come from our G5 teams. Granted a lot of them earned their yards while representing college football at different levels, divisions or leagues and some backs' stats are not impressive by today’s standards but that shouldn’t diminish these legendary players’ legacies.
Here’s a list of guys who barely missed the cut: North Texas’ Jamario Thomas and Patrick Cobbs during the Mean Green’s early millennium success in the Sun Belt, the original thunder and and lightning combo of Doc “Mr. Inside” Blanchard and Glenn “Mr. Outside” Davis and their back-to-back Heisman wins during Army’s heyday, the “Pony Express” years of Craig James and Eric Dickerson, Doak Walker award winner Trevor Cobb of Rice, one of New Mexico State’s greatest players Larry Rose III, the Southland Conference player of the decade Texas State’s Claude Mathis, Western Kentucky’s future Super Bowl champion Bobby Rainey, Navy’s Napoleon McCallum and rushing touchdown all-time leader quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
10. Jayson Foster/Georgia Southern 2007
The most versatile player on this list, Foster started his career at wide receiver before moving under center during his sophomore year and ended up being the first and only Eagle to score a touchdown passing, running, receiving, and punt/kick return. During his senior year he threw 1,203 yards and six passing touchdowns to go with 1,844 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns. He finished his 2007 campaign as the recipient of the Walter Payton award and piled on 3,047 yards of total offense, a school record.
9. Paul Palmer/Temple 1986
The 1986 All-American had a very up-and-down season. His 1,866 yards were good enough to warrant the above All-American recognition and Palmer’s accolades continued when he was the runner-up for that season’s Heisman Trophy. But he signed with an agent before his college eligibility expired, causing his 1986 season and six wins to be stricken from Temple's record. Despite this he is still Temple’s all-time leading rusher without this stellar 1986 season.
8. Adrian Peterson/Georgia Southern 1998
The original Adrian Peterson ran wild as a freshman for Georgia Southern with 26 total touchdowns. The 1998 Eagles squad ran through the schedule for 14 straight wins before falling to UMass in the I-AA championship game but fortunately for the Eagles this was just the beginning of the Peterson era.
7. DeAngelo Williams/Memphis 2004
DeAngelo’s first appearance on this list is his junior campaign in which he gained over 2,000 yards of total offense and a career high of 23 touchdowns. Williams eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 10 of 12 games that season and had three games where he would score four times.
6. Steve Baylark/Massachusetts 2006
The 2006 A-10 Co-Offensive player of the year and All-American concluded his senior year with not only his fourth consecutive 1,000 yard season but a season good enough to be number six on our list. His monster 2006 season helped the Minutemen reach the national championship game and his post college career saw him try out in the NFL and notch two seasons in the United Football League.
5. DeAngelo Williams/Memphis 2005
The numbers that Williams put up his junior year would be most backs’ magnum opus but the 5’9” power runner showed up his 2004 epic season with an even better season in 2005. The season started off with a paltry (for Williams’ standards) 24 carry, 85 yard performance in a 10-6 loss to Ole’ Miss but after that he broke off three straight 200+ yard games in which he averaged 7.8 yards a carry and scored eight touchdowns in that span. He saved the best for last with a season high 238 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns in a bowl win over the Akron Zips.
4. Adrian Peterson/Georgia Southern 2000
The first back on our list to crack the 2,000-yard mark is also the second appearance of the Georgia Southern back. His junior year saw him reach a career high in yards and further cemented his legacy at not only Georgia Southern but college football in general as the FCS’s offensive player of the year award is named after him.
3. Matt Forte/Tulane 2007
Up until Forte’s junior year he had a so-so college career with moderate stats. During his junior season he suffered a season-ending knee injury but he shattered every stat he had put up to that point in his 2007 senior year. His monster 2007 season included a 342 and 303-yard performance versus SMU and Southeastern Louisiana, respectively. The numbers he put up made him a semifinalist for the Doak Walker and Maxwell Awards and eventually allowed him to be drafted by the Chicago Bears as the 44th overall pick where he would make two pro bowls.
2. Marcel Shipp/Massachusetts 1998
Not only was Shipp’s historic 1998 season jaw-dropping but it was monumental for the UMass Minutemen as Shipp’s 2,542 yards on the ground helped propel Massachusetts to a I-AA National Championship win. The Minutemen that year had previously been cellar-dwellers but notched an improbable win over Georgia Southern in the championship game.
His career saw him lead UMass in scoring in all four of his years of eligibility and he would eclipse the 1,000-yard mark three times. He would also notably be the New York Jets running back coach for our number three entry Matt Forte in 2016.
1.Kevin Smith/Central Florida 2007
2007 Was a tremendous year that saw teams rise up the rankings only to fall as players across the country put up ridiculous stat lines. Enter Kevin Smith’s 2007 campaign. In a season that saw him register 13 100-yard games, the talk toward the end of the season was Smith chasing Barry Sanders 2,628 yard mark.
Alas, during the last game of the season Smith came up 61 yards shy of the record but Smith still managed to make a few Heisman candidates lists and finished his college career as a first team All-American. Coincidentally he would be drafted by the Detroit Lions just as Barry Sanders did, the man whose stats he chased in college.