Our preview series rolls on as we shift our focus to the running backs. Last year this league posted two thousand yards rushers as well as seven other individuals that recorded at least 700 yards on the ground. There is plenty of talent returning to campus as some future playmakers that will make an impact this fall.
Here is our breakdown of the running backs in the Fun Belt.
Top of the Food Chain
Jalin Moore is back in Boone for his senior season after rushing for a combined 2,439 yards (needs about 2,000 yards to become the program’s all-time leading rusher) and 22 touchdowns in the last two seasons. Under Scott Satterfield, the Mountaineers have plowed their way to a 31-9 league record and each season has featured a thousand yard rusher. For depth purposes, Marcus Williams Jr. is back after rushing for 500 yards as a freshman. The Mountaineers’ string of solid running backs appears set to continue into the next decade.
In the first month of the season, the Ragin’ Cajuns were posting huge numbers as they recorded over 200 yards rushing in three of their first four games. Leading this charge was a collection of freshmen in Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas. Ragas finished the season with over 800 yards on the ground while Mitchell was knocked out for the year halfway through after averaging over six yards per carry. Both are back on campus in 2018 and Billy Napier has some building blocks on offense.
The Trojans lose their top two rushers from last season as Josh Anderson and Jordan Chunn combined to run for over 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns. But with a new quarterback making his debut in 2018, this could be a spot for a breakthrough. Jamarius Henderson averaged 7.9 yards per carry last fall and junior college transfer Kevin Perkins may have been the gem of the recruiting class. Success on the ground should continue for Neal Brown’s offense.
Room for Improvement
Warren Wand has been in Jonesboro for what seems like a decade and he’ll finally be a senior in 2018. The diminutive back ran for over 700 yards and six touchdowns last fall as the top back in the Sun Belt’s best offense. Jamal Jones and Armond Weh-Weh figure to be the top backups. The Red Wolves will have a solid punch on the ground in a very pass happy offense.
With an option offense, you should consistently produce top running backs in the Sun Belt Conference but that has not been the case for the Eagles in the last two seasons. Bob DeBeese takes over the offense in Statesboro after running a very creative scheme at New Mexico and he inherits a senior starter. Wesley Fields ran for over 800 yards last season and he will be utilized heavily in the new offense. Can an exciting offense return to Statesboro?
Monroe’s offense was one of the biggest surprises of 2017 as the Warhawks averaged nearly 34 points per game. Caleb Evans got all of the attention but a committee of backs chipped in on the side. Derrick Gore and Ben Luckett both rushed for over 300 yards last season but the latter decided to give up football after the season. The Warhawks will need Gore to be much more efficient this season as the Alabama transfer only had a 3.6 yards per carry average last fall.
It’s Still Ugly
In their first year as an FBS member, Osharmar Abercrombie was a solid first option as he led the squad in rushing on a 5.2 yards per carry average with seven scores. He’s now gone and no other back posted more than 300 yards. Coming out of the spring, Alex James and former Boston College back Marcus Outlow, appear to be sharing snaps as a platoon. This group has a lot to prove.
Ever since joining the FBS, the Georgia State rushing attack has consistently been one of the worst in the country and 2017 was no different under new head coach Shawn Elliott and offensive coordinator Travis Trickett. The top two rushers combined for a 3.3 yards per carry average and this ground game was anemic once again. Look for true freshman Destin Coates to get some reps this fall.
Offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield is bringing the Air Raid scheme from Troy to Mobile but one thing he must do immediately is fix the ground attack. Tra Minter is the top returning tailback and the junior only averaged 3.2 yards per carry last fall. He was a weapon in the pass game but the Jags must find answers to establish the run. True freshmen Carlos Davis and Jared Wilson could contribute immediately.
Anthony D. Taylor led the Bobcats in rushing last season and that was promising. The fact that he only put up 436 yards was not. The junior was also a really good pass catcher but he needs help from his offensive line and other backs. Robert Brown, Jr. and Anthony Smith both received valuable reps as freshmen and will need to take a step forward this fall.