The turnover of quarterbacks in the FBS this season has been mentioned on occasion here on Saturday Blitz, but the turnover of top-notch running backs isn’t far behind. This is no different at the lower levels of the FBS, where the likes of Western Kentucky superstar Antonio Andrews and Colorado State’s sophomore sensation Kapri Bibbs won’t be on college campuses next season. Have no fear, as the next generation of stars were making their presence felt last season, while the remaining established stars were doing their thing. The likely breakout stars will have to wait their turn, and you will see an article covering them at a later date, but for now we will look at those who’ve already entered the limelight, or have spent the last couple of years paving the way for a big 2014.
Jay Ajayi, Boise State
After being brought along slowly as a freshman (82-548-4) while backing up senior D.J. Harper, coach Chris Petersen unleashed Ajayi on the Mountain West last season. The sophomore gained over 100 yards 6 times, on the way to 1425 yards and 18 TDs on 249 carries. Even more impressively, he was pulled early in some blowouts, and could have had even higher totals. At 220 pounds, an impressive 30 pounds up from his high school size, Ajayi packs a wallop between the tackles, but he’s fast enough to threaten the edges or burst a long run on occasion. He’s also developed as a receiver, catching 22 passes for 222 yards and a score last year. There is a minor concern with a rebuilt offensive line, but there is plenty of talent of talent at the skill positions.
Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
Dixon had a stellar season as a freshman in 2012, rushing for 1194 yards and a massive 27 TDs on just 200 carries as the Bulldogs tore up the WAC and beyond en route to a 9-3 record. With the dissolution of the conference, Louisiana Tech moved to CUSA, but also took on a new head coach as well as suffering a cleanout, returning just 7 starters in total. Dixon and the Bulldogs were expected to slip a little, and the team obliged, dropping to 4-8. Dixon wasn’t as effective, thanks to the offensive struggles, but he still played well. Despite some tough games, and being banged up much of the season, Dixon churned out 917 yards and (just) 4 TDs on 151 carries in 10 starts. He’s an imposing runner who likes to finish plays with a bang, but his style did lead to his injury problems. He was knocked out for the year early against Rice, but he should be back with a vengeance in 2014.
Travis Greene, Bowling Green
Greene is the exception on our list, as he basically came out of nowhere to finish 11th in the FBS with 1594 yards last season. After just 1 carry for 10 yards in 2012, the former receiver had 279 attempts and 11 TDs last year. He was a happy discovery for a team that had lost star rusher Anthon Samuel, who transferred to FIU. Despite weighing in at a relatively slight 181 pounds, Samuel averaged 20 carries a game (that’s 14 games, people), and was only held to less than 88 yards twice (Indiana and Pitt), notching 9 100-yard games along the way. Despite his size, he was at his best between the tackles, and his ability to consistently gain yardage opened up the passing game, a bonus when you’ve a freshman quarterback. Greene has already broken the team rushing record (Fred Durig, 1444 yards in 1951) – let’s see what he can do with offensive-minded coach Dino Babers at the helm.
Alonzo Harris, Louisiana-Lafayette
Harris has been a good runner for the Ragin’ Cajuns, gaining a respectable 2523 yards and 32 TDs on 532 carries over the last 3 seasons. Now he could be on the verge of becoming a great one. Already known as a powerful rusher, the senior has worked hard in the offseason with strength-and-conditioning coach Rusty Whitt, improving his muscle tone and conditioning, but not at the expense of speed or quickness. Now Harris, who’s only missed 2 of a potential 39 games in his career – impressive for a power back – should be even more effective running over Sun Belt defenses. His biggest competition next season may be speedy sophomore Elijah McGuire – the lightning to Harris’ thunder last season – who rushed for 863 yards in 2013. Even if Harris loses carries to his teammate, he should be even more effective, and still one of the best mid-major backs out there.
Jordan Parker, Middle Tennessee State
Parker started to show his potential late in 2012, his freshman year, when he topped 141 yards in 3 of his last 4 games as he shouldered an increased workload. In those 4 games, he racked up 517 of his 851 yards, with a season total of 166 carries and 3 TDs. He started well in 2013, including 109 yards and a score against North Carolina, but a tough 3-game losing streak against BYU, ECU and UNT saw him gain just 77 yards on 29 carries. He bounced back with 127 yards and a TD in a big win over Marshall, but he missed a couple of games due to injury, and carried the ball just 10 times over the final 3 games (92 yards, TD). Parker finished the season with 731 yards and 6 TDs on 146 carries. While he’s not the fastest of running backs, he runs with authority, and should see increased carries next season with senior quarterback Logan Kilgore gone.
Tags: Alonzo Harris Boise State Broncos Bowling Green Falcons Jay Ajayi Jordan Parker Kenneth Dixon Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders Travis Greene