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Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews: Running Back

C-USA has a few All-American candidates at running back in 2018.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Western Kentucky Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews by looking at the running back position. The grading categories: “Great Shape,” “Good Shape,” and “We’ll See.”

To elaborate on the grades, “We’ll See” means exactly what it means. We have no idea if that position is going to turn out to be a plus due to a lack of proven contributors and questionable depth. At this time, there’s no way to know.

“Good Shape” means known commodities are at the position but there’s still room for this unit to improve. Depth is above average to good, with a player or two having the potential to make an All-C-USA Team.

“Great Shape” means All-C-USA performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth across the board. You obviously want your team to be here.

Great Shape

1. FAU: Devin Singletary became FAU’s first AP All-American last season after rushing for 1,920 yards and 32 touchdowns. Conference USA’s Most Valuable Player is back and could contend for the Heisman if he puts up big numbers against Oklahoma to begin the season. Behind him is former Alabama running back and four-star recruit B.J. Emmons, as well as speedster Kerrith Whyte, Jr., who averaged 6.3 yards per carry.

2. UAB: The Blazers have had productive running backs under Bill Clark and they have themselves another in Spencer Brown. Brown was named Conference USA Freshman of the Year after rushing for 1,329 yards and 10 touchdowns, breaking Jordan Howard’s freshman rushing record.

3. Marshall: Tyler King and Keion Davis makeup Marshall’s two-headed rushing attack. Each rushed for over 800 yards and combined for 13 touchdowns. King has more upside, but had some issues with fumbles as a freshman last season. With the Herd breaking in a new quarterback, these two could be featured a lot more this season.

4. FIU: The Panthers will be without their career leading rusher Alex Gardner but should still be just as productive if not better in 2018. Shawndarrius Phillips and Napoleon Maxwell each rushed for over 450 yards and combined for nine touchdowns. Prized 2017 recruit D’Vonte Price displayed a ton of potential after averaging 7.9 yards per carry on 17 attempts. I’m taking a leap by placing the Panthers here as I like Price’s potential, combined with the reliability of Phillips and Maxwell.

Good Shape

5. Old Dominion: Jeremy Cox had an up-and-down 2017 mainly due to being injured, but was productive when healthy. In nine games Cox rushed for 621 yards and four touchdowns. Cox has never had to burden the load of being the primary ball carrier but now that Ray Lawry is in the NFL, that very well could be the case this year. The depth behind him is pretty green when it comes to game experience so an injury to Cox could be dire for the Monarchs.

6. UTSA: Jalen Rhodes didn’t quite pop as I thought he would. For the second straight season he shared carries with another back and finished with 659 yards and five touchdowns for 4.9 yards per carry, numbers lower than what he produced in 2017. Injuries to the line certainly played a factor but I was expecting more. In two years Frank Wilson has preferred a time-share here so expect sophomore B.J. Daniels to become a fixture this season.

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at North Texas
Nic Smith rushed for 684 and six touchdowns last year. North Texas’ offense was on another level when Jeffery Wilson was healthy and it’ll be on Smith to pick up where Wilson left off in 2018.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

7. North Texas: The Mean Green got a head start in trying to replace star running back Jeffery Wilson near the end of the season as Nic Smith started the final three games of 2017 and performed admirably as a freshman. Smith will enter 2018 as the starter with former JUCO three-star running back DeAndre Torrey as the backup.

8. Middle Tennessee: Four running backs received at least 40 carries last year and each return. Terelle West and Tavares Thomas formed a great 1-2 punch towards the end of the season. Thomas, a former linebacker, led the team with nine rushing touchdowns as his 6’0, 238 frame really paid dividends in short yardage situations. Sophomore Brad Anderson was solid as a freshman and has the best hands of the group, something offensive coordinator Tony Franklin really values in his spread offense. The depth here is really good.

9. Rice: Nahshon Ellerbe, Austin Walter, Samuel Stewart and Emmanuel Esukpa combined for 1,300 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last season. They all return. Not exactly sure if this group possess any game breakers, but it’s a veteran core of backs that provides a solid foundation for new head coach Mike Bloombren.

10. Charlotte: Benny LeMay and Aaron McAllister were the lone bright spots on offense last season. LeMay and McAllister combined for 1,190 yards and four touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Calvin Camp had a terrific spring game to add more depth to the 49ers’ backfield.

11. Southern Miss: Placing USM here could be seen as a reach but I really like this group’s potential. With Ito Smith gone, seniors Tez Parks, George Payne and T’Rod Daniels will each have an opportunity to go out with a bang. Daniels saw limited action in 2017 as a JUCO transfer but had a solid spring game. Payne will come off an injury but has rushed for 940 yards in his career. Parks has flashed great potential in limited touches over the years and possesses terrific speed. I like Parks more than the other two backs and believe he’ll have a breakout season.

We’ll See

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Western Kentucky
Can D’Andre Ferby return to his 2015 form when he was a rising star?
Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

12. WKU: The worst rushing attack in C-USA last season will return three backs who received carries last season. Former All C-USA Freshman D’Andre Ferby is the most decorated player with Marquez Trigg and Jakairi Moses rounding out the group. Moses led the team with 4.0 yards per carry last season and probably has the most potential of the three. I don’t think this group is particularly bad, but after having ZERO rushes go for more than 20 yards in 2017 I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt.

13. UTEP: Quardraiz Wadley and Joshua Fields flashed potential last season but neither were amazing. With Sean Kugler’s pound the rock mentality a thing of the past, it’ll be interesting to see how UTEP develops their running backs under Dana Dimel.

14. Louisiana Tech: With the departures of Boston Scott and Jared Craft, there are a ton of carries to be had. Jaqwis Dancy received the first shot this spring after miraculously beating cancer a few years ago. He has some experience as he had 39 attempts for 262 yards and two touchdowns last season. Tech signed three running backs in the 2018 class so we could see a freshman emerge during fall camp.