With the slow drum beat of autumn football getting a little bit louder every week, I wanted to take a few more chances to look back in time before we really get focused on 2017 and what this team can accomplish. Today, that means the running backs, and some of the best seasons we’ve witnessed in the last 25 years.
Not so coincidentally, one of the guys we are all expecting to have a big year in 2017 is Chris Evans, who’s got the speed and catching ability to be a breakout star in the Big Ten and around the country. From a talent perspective and leadership-wise as well, he’s been everything Michigan has asked for and then some.
We’ll see if he can top some of these guys, though.
1992: Tyrone Wheatley
His sophomore year was his best, as the guy we now refer to as Coach rushed for 1,357 yards (on 7.3 yards a carry!) and scored 16 touchdowns total with 1,502 yards from scrimmage.
The Wolverines went 9-0-3 that year under Gary Moeller, including ties against Notre Dame and Ohio State. The ending was sweet, though, with a Rose Bowl victory over Washington - in which Ty Wheatley rushed 15 times for 235 yards.
After the ‘93 season in which he picked up another 1,129 rushing yards, Wheatley postponed the NFL for a chance to finish his degree and compete for a Heisman trophy. Despite another solid campaign, though (1,144 yards his senior year), the Heisman went to another running back, Colorado’s Rashaan Salaam. And Wheatley handed off the ball to a guy named Biakabutuka.
1995: Tshimanga “Tim” Biakabutuka
Tim Biakabutuka was a back-up behind Wheatley for two seasons, but got his big chance in ‘95. He took advantage with 1,724 rushing yards and 12 TD’s on 6.2 yards a carry. His season was so good, in fact, he declared for the NFL and became the first person from Zaire to play in the NFL.
1999 & 2000: Anthony Thomas
The A-Train! Anthony Thomas had two seasons worth mentioning here, but there’s no doubt his senior year stands taller. He put up 1,257 rushing yards and 16 TD’s his junior year, and 1,551 rushing yards and 17 total TD’s the next. Over those two seasons, Michigan never lost a game by more than 6 points.
Thomas went on to have two 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL, and retired after 2007. He’s now being a dad and taking care of his body.
2003: Chris Perry
Statistically, it’s hard to top this one - 1,674 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns, 5.0 yards a carry, 367 receiving yards, 2 more touchdowns through the air, 2,041 yards from scrimmage and 20 TD’s. Damn.
Perry actually resembles Chris Evans in a lot of ways, although he’s a slightly bigger back at 6’0”, 225 pounds. (Evans was 5’11”, 200 pounds last season, and reports are he’s bulked up a little bit.) Perry had some great gliding speed, and “made the game look easy” with his ability to cut and avoid defenders. (See 1:37 in the highlights above for a great example of that.)
2004, 2006 & 2007: Mike Hart
We all know he’s the all-time rushing leader. In fact, his only year getting less than 1,000 yards was 2005, when he still managed to scrape together 816 yards from scrimmage and 5 touchdowns. The other three seasons - well, he was all right.
2004: 1,455 rushing yards, 5.2 ypc, 9 TD’s, 1,692 yards from scrimmage, 10 TD’s
2006: 1,562 rushing yards, 4.9 ypc, 14 TD’s, 1,687 yards from scrimmage, 14 TD’s
2007: 1,361 rushing yards, 5.1 ypc, 14 TD’s, 1,411 yards from scrimmage, 14 TD’s
He was about as steady as they come. Unfortunately for Michigan, the only back to get 1,000 yards rushing after him was Fitz Toussaint in 2011. Brandon Minor, Vincent Smith, Fitz Toussaint and De’Veon Smith have all failed to take the baton as great Michigan running backs.
So, what was the best season out of all these exemplars? And will Chris Evans be the next to break 1,000 yards in a season? To help with the first poll, I’ve organized all the possible information here.
What was the best running back season in the last 25 years?
This poll is closed
1992: Tyrone Wheatley, Sr.
1995: Tshimanga "Tim" Biakabutuka
1999: Anthony Thomas
2000: Anthony Thomas
2003: Chris Perry
2004: Mike Hart
2006: Mike Hart
2007: Mike Hart
How good of a season will Chris Evans have this year?
This poll is closed
Not bad, but his back-ups will have something to say about how much he plays
Good; around 1,000 yards from scrimmage
Very good; at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage
Extremely good; at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage