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Thursday Morning Brews (3/26/15)

Who had America's Best Backfield in 2014? Georgia or Wisconsin?

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

America's Best Backfield

I won't lie. I didn't come up with the title, which I found on a YouTube video about Wisconsin's 2012 team, one that scored 38 touchdowns on the ground and rushed for over 3,300 yards. And, it seemed like a statement that bore a little more fruit. Who's produced the best backfields? Who's established a reputation for being elite?

If we look at the best three-headed rushing attacks over the last five years, it's no surprise that Wisconsin is in the running every year. They don't always win it, but good luck finding another rushing attack that's been better than theirs any of the last three years.

Leading rusher Option #2 Option #3
Auburn Tigers:
2010 Cam Newton, 1473 Michael Dyer, 1093 Ontario McCalebb, 810
Oregon Ducks:
2011 LaMichael James, 1805 Kenjon Barner, 939 De'Anthony Thomas, 595
Wisconsin Badgers:
2012 Montee Ball, 1830 James White, 806 Melvin Gordon, 621
Wisconsin Badgers: 2013 Melvin Gordon, 1609 James White, 1444 Corey Clement, 547
Wisconsin Badgers:
2014 Melvin Gordon, 2587 Corey Clement, 949 Tanner McEvoy, 574

In 2012, Montee Ball scored 22 times, put up 1,902 total yards, and yet it was a slump of a season after his record-breaking campaign of 2011 (40, and 2,286). But in 2011, three Oregon Ducks averaged 7.4 yards a carry with another 999 yards in the passing game and 49 scores.

In 2013, Auburn came really close again, with Tre Mason setting a school record (1,816), Nick Marshall (1,086), and Corey Grant (547) as well. Grant, who's been rumored to run some absurd 40 times, ran an unofficial 4.25 40-yard dash at the team's pro day this month.

For 2014, it was really hard saying someone other than Nick Chubb (1547), Todd Gurley (911), and Sony Michel (410) deserved being called the best backfield in the country. The stats aren't as high, but each of them enjoyed a 150-yard game at some point despite limited touches. Gurley had 773 yards in the first five games, on pace for 2,000 yards. Nick Chubb had 1,323 over the last eight games, on pace for 2,150. Both of them posted per-carry averages that would rank them in the top five in SEC history over a career. And, Chubb will now get to try and chase Herschel Walker's conference record of 1,891 yards.

But there was no denying Melvin Gordon. The redshirt junior took off large parts of the second half throughout the season, and Corey Clement got almost 1,000 yards despite getting 17 carries only once, and double-digit carries only seven times.

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So, who are the best candidates for next year? Wisconsin is a little more unproven than in years past, and Auburn's losing its top three rushers as well. Georgia loses Todd Gurley, with a lot of question marks after Chubb and Michel. Still, all these teams have great track records of replacing stars.

Oklahoma is a leading candidate. Samaje Perine broke records last year in front of a deep backfield, but this spring all the talk has been about Joe Mixon, a top-ten player in the 2014 class who was suspended all of last year. Oregon also has a young and talented group, with two more four-star backs coming in 2015. And Alabama has practically been hoarding gold-chip running backs, between Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, and Derrick Henry.

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