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Conference USA Football: Top Five Running Backs Entering 2023

Conference USA returns its share of talented running backs.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 BYU at Liberty Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The last decade of Conference USA football has provided fans with memorable moments and numerous standout athletes who have been among the players in college football at their respective positions.

This upcoming season sees four new programs enter the league as the latest incarnation of C-USA football will kickoff with FIU versus Louisiana Tech in a week zero matchup on August 26.

As six programs depart for the American, over 70% of last season’s all-conference performers are no longer part of the league — opening the door for several returning and new players to take spots among C-USA’s best.

With five months until the start of the 2023 season, we continue our annual rundown of the top players at each position in Conference USA — this time with the running backs.

5. Anwar Lewis — Jacksonville State

The Atlantic Sun Conference’s leader in yards per attempt, Jacksonville State running back Anwar Lewis looks to replicate his success from 2022 at the FBS level. After two years at Hutchison Community College in Kansas, Lewis arrived at Jax State last year and quickly assumed a role in the Gamecocks offense.

The diminutive back stands at 5-8, 180-pounds and rushed for 818 yards with seven touchdowns — with four 100-yard rushing performances including a 100-yard day in his Gamecock debut against Stephen F. Austin.

His 7.1 yards per attempt led the A-Sun and should be the main ball carrier for Rich Rodriguez’ club.

4. Deion Hankins — UTEP

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 UTEP at UTSA Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

El Paso native Deion Hankins looks to build off his 2022 campaign that saw him establish career highs in rushing yards and yards per attempt.

After signing with the Miners as part of the 2019 class following a prep career where he broke the city’s all-time rushing record, Hankins battled injuries in his first season, had a promising, but COVID-shortened sophomore year, followed by more injuries in 2021 and finally was able to put together a 12-game season in 2022.

Hankins rushed for 701 yards on 140 carries with three scores as he split time with the now-graduated Ronald Awatt. At 6-0, 230-pounds, Hankins is a proven back between the tackles, but will look to add a home-run dynamic to his arsenal.

3. Frank Peasant — Middle Tennessee State

Middle Tennessee v Miami Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

If you ask Rick Stockstill (and I have several times over the last few seasons) he’ll tell you that he wants to find more production from his running backs.

Middle Tennessee junior Frank Peasant’s 774-yard season last year was the most rushing yards by a Blue Raiders’ running back since I’Tavius Mathers’ 1,500-yard year in 2016. Hailing from the same high school as NFL Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Smith, Peasant slowly worked his way up the depth chart after arriving in Murfreesboro in 2020.

While his rushing numbers aren’t necessarily eye-popping, he’s a steady back who is primed for his first 1000-yard season — plus adds value as a receiver out of the backfield — hauling in 28 receptions for 286 yards and two scores.

2. Dae Dae Hunter — Liberty

Liberty v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The well-traveled Dae Dae Hunter takes the second spot on our list after having proved himself as an all-purpose back during his time at Hawaii and now at Liberty.

A 5-10, 190-pound Denver native, Hunter rushed for 651 yards and three scores while adding 19 receptions in 2021 — then had 854 yards and eight scores in his first season with the Flames.

For his career, he has 48 receptions for 381 yards and under new Liberty head coach Jamey Chadwell, should have an opportunity to top 1,000 yards and again be a factor in the passing game as well.

1. Marquis Crosby — Louisiana Tech

Louisiana Tech v UTSA Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Despite playing in an Air Raid offense, Louisiana Tech’s Marquis Crosby sees his fair share of carries. While Sonny Cumbie was trying to find his signal-caller, rotating through several quarterbacks due to injuries last year, the 5-10, 185-pound Crosby was the most steady source of offense for the Bulldogs in 2022.

His 197-yard outburst against Stephen F. Austin set the tone for a year where he had 918 yards and nine scores on 183 carries. As the quarterback room became depleted, Crosby’s workload increased, having three 100-yard days in the team’s last five outings — each coming on north of 20 carries.

With former Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier now in Ruston, Cumbie has his signal-caller in place and it should open up things for Crosby to push for a 1,000-yard campaign in 2023.