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NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Louisiana State vs Central Florida

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2019 AAC Preseason Position Previews: Running Back

There’s depth everywhere, and tons of potential too.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of talent, the AAC doesn’t get enough credit for their talented running backs. Even with Darrell Henderson going to the NFL, there’s a ton of skill around the league. Patrick Taylor Jr. takes over for Henderson at Memphis, and has the potential to be even better than his former teammate. UCF and Cincinnati are loaded, USF along with Tulane and Tulsa have solid options, and there’s even more potential near the bottom of the conference. Let’s take a look at how these teams stack up within each category.

Room for Improvement: Your team can definitely get better. Even if your team has a returning starter, there’s still plenty of room for growth.

Wait and See: Most likely, your team is going through a transition to a new starter. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just means the new face has to prove themselves.

Second Tier: Good not great. The position isn’t elite yet, but may be right on the doorstep.

Elite: The best of the best. Most likely competing for an All-Conference spot. Also helps to have depth at the position.

OTHER POSITIONS: QB, WR/TE, OL, DL, LB, DB, S/T


Elite

1. UCF: Pick your poison when it comes to the Knights’ tailbacks. Greg McCrae, Adrian Killins and Otis Anderson are all capable of taking any play to the house as they each racked up over 6.6 yards per touch last season, and all finished with seven or more touchdowns. With a quarterback situation that’s up in the air, expect all three to put up similar, if not better, numbers this season.

2. Cincinnati: Michael Warren was the breakout player at running back last season. He built off a solid freshman campaign by finding the end zone 20 times last season, while putting up 1,561 of total offense, 1,329 of which came on the ground. UCF’s three-headed monster could limit their all-conference bids, but it would be stunner if Warren is not on the list come late November. He’s that good. Throw in the team’s 2017 leading rusher in Gerrid Doaks and the depth looks good for the Bearcats.

NCAA Football: Birmingham Bowl-Memphis vs Wake Forest
Taylor gets a backfield to himself, and has 2,000 yard potential.
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

3. Memphis: Most teams would be devastated to lose an All-American to the NFL, but the Tigers have a more-than-reliable replacement. Darrell Henderson was the main attraction, and deservingly so, but Patrick Taylor Jr. also posted a 1,000-yard season, with 19 touchdowns of his own. With Tony Pollard also going pro, the job is all Taylor’s and it would not be a surprise if he flirted with 2,000 yards on offense.

Second Tier

4. USF: It was tough not to include the Bulls in the “elite” as Jordan Cronkrite and Johnny Ford were a dynamic duo in the first half of last year. However, they tailed off as the season came to a close and that’s typically when a team’s ground game gets stronger. Not going to lie, kind of hoping they prove us wrong. Ford will also see time as a slot receiver, giving the Bulls a chance to have both of them on the field at the same time.

5. Tulane: Darius Bradwell and Corey Dauphine are a solid one-two punch for an offense that is expected to post even better numbers with Mike Hall at offensive coordinator. If that is the case, the Green Wave should go bowling again.

6. Tulsa: Neither Shamari Brooks or Corey Taylor went over 1,000 yards of offense, but if the quarterback play improves in 2019, there is no reason one, if not both, breaks the mark. This is a group that could trample last year’s numbers if they get better production at quarterback.

Wait and See

NCAA Football: Texas at Maryland
Porter has a legitimate chance to win Houston’s starting job.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

7. Houston: Four seniors return for the Cougars, but only two will see time regularly. Patrick Carr took over the starting job last year, and looked solid. Mulbah Car isn’t a bad backup to have, but it’s the transfer that might beat out both of them. Texas transfer Kyle Porter decided to join Dana Holgorsen in Houston, and has the skills to win the job. D’Eriq King and the receivers will receive plenty of attention, so a dangerous running game only makes this offense more terrifying.

8. SMU: It became evident that a three man backfield wasn’t working for the Mustangs, but it’s less crowded now. Xavier Jones and Ke’Mon Freeman return, and should both improve their production. Jones rushed for 1,000 yards two years ago, but slumped down to just 311 yards last year. Freeman had over 130 carries each of the last two years, but only had 75 last year. If both can stay healthy, SMU’s in good hands.

9. UConn: Last year, the Huskies had two 1,000 yard rushers: Kevin Mensah and quarterback David Pindell. Pindell’s gone, and the offense leans on Mensah. After nearly doubling his production from 2017, he’ll most likely eclipse last year’s production in 2019.

Room for Improvement

10. ECU: The Pirates didn’t have a single rusher above 600 yards last year, which was a huge disappointment. Hussein Howe and Darius Pinnix were expected to show improvement, but both saw their production decrease. Holton Ahlers can’t do everything by himself, and he already has to worry about finding chemistry with his receivers. ECU’s offense can be explosive, but the running game must get better.

11. Navy: We’re sure that Navy will be just fine running the ball, but right now they need to find options. The top returning rusher, Malcolm Perry, moved back to quarterback. Nelson Smith rushed for 411 yards (5.3 ypc) and three touchdowns last year, but others need to emerge. If Perry struggles again, he could move back to running back like last year, but that doesn’t solve the bigger issue.

12. Temple: Losing Ryquell Armstead hurts, but no one thought it would hurt this much. Jager Gardner returns just 345 yards rushing from last year, and there will be plenty of competition for the starting spot. The Owls are going through transitions at multiple positions and with their coaching staff, so stay tuned on what the offense looks like this year.

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