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2021 AAC Preseason Position Previews: Running Back

If you like watching teams run the football, the AAC has a number of exciting options.

NCAA Football: Navy at Southern Methodist Tim Flores-USA TODAY Sports

Another year of explosive AAC offenses is upon us, and the production isn’t going away. Especially not on the ground. The usual suspects remain on top minus one (Memphis), and some teams have some serious depth. If your team struggles defending the run, then you probably don’t want to see most of these teams on Saturdays.

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Elite: There’s no doubt about this position. Stud or studs in this category.

Second Tier: Solid, but not elite. Might have studs, but no depth or vice versa.

Wait and See: Either this position is bad or has too many new faces to judge.


Elite

1. SMU: TJ McDaniel got off to a hot start last year before a season ending injury put a halt to that. In stepped freshman Ulysses Bentley IV, who nearly rushed for 1,000 yards. Bentley is back to make that happen, and McDaniel returns from injury. His injry also opened the door for Tyler Lavine, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Sonny Dykes hit the transfer portal to add even more talent in North Texas’ Tre Siggers, who rushed for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns over the past two seasons.

2. Tulsa: If you’re sleeping on Deneric Prince still, you might want to stop. Prince is a beast running the football, and now there’s less competition for carries. Corey Taylor II took his talents to the NFL, and TK Wilkerson retired. Concerns about depth were lessened with Shamari Brooks returning his career 2,700 yards and 23 touchdowns from a knee injury. But it should be Prince who leads the charge. After all, he is the guy that nearly had his head ripped off and still picked up 10 more yards after that against Oklahoma State.

Tulsa also returns everyone on the line, so the running lanes should be everywhere, and Prince running free will be a scary sight.

3. UCF: All the Knights do is reload, and this group should be better than last year based off of scheme alone. Bentavious Thompson gets his first crack at being the starter, but he’ll have plenty of challengers. Speedster Johnny Richardson deserves to get a bunch of touches, as he’ll be the fastest guy on the field more often than not. New head coach Gus Malzahn also brought in transfers RJ Harvey (Virginia), Mark-Anthony Richards (Auburn), and Isaiah Bowser (Northwestern) to compete for the job.

4. Cincinnati: Jerome Ford’s about to have a monster season, so be warned now. He averaged 6.6 yards as a backup, and displayed his elite skillset often last year, including his big run against Georgia in the Peach Bowl.

Behind him, Charles McClelland and Ryan Montgomery should provide some solid depth. Neither will have Ford’s ceiling, but they’ll give his legs a break when needed.

Second Tier

5. USF: Kelly Joiner and Brian Battie are two of the more underrated players in the AAC, and both return to the Bulls. Battie averaged 7.2 yards on his 46 carries, and was on a hot streak towards the end of the year. USF also has Oregon transfer Darrian Felix on roster, who could be another solid contributor in the rushing attack. One thing’s for sure: Jeff Scott’s rushing attack will be tough to stop.

6. Tulane: The Green Wave’s leading rusher hit the transfer portal, as did their most versatile weapon, but they’re not worried. Cameron Carroll returns after rushing for 741 yards (6.1 ypc) and 12 touchdowns last year, and has a good chance of breaking 1,000 yards this season. Utah transfer Devin Brumfield has impressed the staff so far too, so he provides depth. Tulane’s offense is set to have a big year, and the running game will do more than their part to make defenses worry.

7. ECU: Other than Rahjai Harris needing to change his number, there’s a ton to like about ECU’s rushing attack. After a few years of struggles to move the ball on the ground, the Pirates moved to the youth to run the football. Harris, a freshman, rushed for 624 yards and four touchdowns last year. His backup, another freshman Keaton Mitchell, rushed for 443 yards and two scores. With the Pirates heading into another year with Holton Ahlers at the helm, the offense could be the most complete it’s been in a while.

Wait and See

8. Memphis: The Tigers rushing attack took a massive step back last year, but fortunately all four of their biggest contributors return. Rodrigues Clark, Kylan Watkins, Asa Martin, and Marquavius Weaver all return, but they’ll need to prove they can be more explosive than last year. Clark led the team with 561 yards, breaking a three year streak of 1,000-yard rushers. With a new quarterback entering the picture, they’ll need to step up to balance out the offense.

9. Houston: There’s talent on the roster, including Texas Tech transfer Ta’Zhawn Henry, but can any of them be the guy? Mulbah Car is back for one final season along with Chandler Smith, and Kelan Walker could be another contributor. Incoming freshman Alton McCaskill chose Houston over a number of Power 5 programs, including Alabama.

10. Navy: Jamale Carothers’ entrance into the transfer portal hurts, especially since the new leading returning rusher is quarterback Xavier Arline with 210 yards. Chance Warren and Tyger Goslin will play the slot backs, but they return a combined 126 yards. New faces will lead the charge for Ken Niumatalolo’s offense, and the only way to go is up for them.

11. Temple: Tayvon Ruley returns as the leading rusher for the Owls with 306 yards, but Florida transfer Iverson Clement is expected to be the starter this year. Running the ball has been a strength of Temple in the last few years, but lately that strength has become a weakness.