ATK Roundup: RB Preview
The next round of position previews revolves around the runningback, a position that both schools remain committed to even as teams around college football seems to move away from it:
The Badgers have sent a steady stream of high caliber backs to the NFL every year, and this year will be no exception. In an era of spread offenses that have led to a seemingly devalued runningback position, Wisconsin has stayed committed to the power run game and remained one of the strongest rushing offenses in the country each year. In 2014, Melvin Gordon returns to become the feature back and will run behind yet another incredibly talented offensive line as the Badgers have their sites set on a national title run.
Gordon became yet another in a line of Badgers runningbacks to top 1,000 yards in 2013, finishing the season with 1,609 yards rushing and adding 12 touchdowns. The explosive redshirt junior led the nation in rushes over 70 yards (3) and had 50 carries of over 10 yards. Those would be impressive numbers in and of themselves, however he did all this while splitting carries another talented backfield mate in James White. Gordon’s 206 carries were actually second on the team to White’s 221, as White made the majority of the starts and began to take the load in the second half of the season.
That won’t be the case in 2014, and Badger fans should hope that Gordon can repeat a strong 2013 start in which he rushed for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Badgers’ first 7 games. Luckily for Gordon the Badgers’ perennially strong offensive line returns mostly intact. A legitimate 2014 Heisman contender, Gordon will have a great opportunity to start his campaign off with a nationally televised showdown against the stout Tiger defense.
As has been the case in Madison for most of the last decade, another talented running back is waiting in the wings to share the workload. Clement picked up 547 yards and seven touchdowns last season, playing as a true freshman in spot duty behind Gordon & White. The 5’11”, 210 pounder averaged over 8 yards a carry, showing the explosiveness that allowed him to run for over 6,200 yards in his high school career, including the New Jersey single game rushing record with 479 yards.
Given the Badgers’ tendency to share carries (Gordon & White set the NCAA record for single-season rush yards by teammates in 2013 while basically splitting carries 50/50), Clement is sure to have an impact in 2014. Also keep an eye on dual threat potential starting quarterback Tanner McEvoy as another rushing option (pun intended) out of the Badger backfield.
What they’re saying: “We just got done playing South Carolina to finish out and to open up with another SEC team, it definitely brings out the urgency with the team…I know I’m excited to go up against them because I know it’s going to be a dogfight.”
– Gordon on the opener against LSU
The Tigers have enjoyed a wealth of talent at the runningback position over the last few years, continuously rotating in talented prospects at the position each year and punishing opposing defenses with a strong ground game. This year will be no different, as the consensus top freshman RB in the country joins a stable of talented backs in the Tiger backfield.
Leonard Fournette III
Arguably the Tigers’ most hyped recruit in history, Fournette rose to the top of ESPN’s 2014 recruiting rankings before committing to the Tigers at the Under Armor All American game last January. The 6’1, 226 pound true freshman ran roughshod on Louisiana high school defenses, accumulating 7,619 yards and 88 rushing touchdowns while playing all four years for St. Augustine High School.
Fournette possesses unbelievable athleticism for his size, clocking in with a 4.35 in the 40 yard dash and an even more ridiculous 10.68 in the 100 meters, a time that was good enough to place first in the 2013 Louisiana Class 4A regional track meet. He’ll make the short trip down the road to Baton Rouge in June to start summer workouts and should compete for a starting spot immediately.
Magee was the Tigers’ second leading rusher in 2013, accumulating 626 yards and 8 touchdowns while holding down the backup RB spot for the majority of the season. The 5’9″, 212 pound senior put together his best game against Texas A&M in 2013, rushing 13 times for 149 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers’ dominating 34-10 win over the Aggies.
As the top returning rusher, Magee is likely to see a number of carries this fall, even with the expected contributions from Fournette. Fellow 2013 backup Kenny Hilliard also returns and will compete with Magee & Fournette to replace outgoing star RB Jeremy Hill, drafted by the Bengals in the second round.
What they’re saying: “He can go to LSU. Be a Heisman finalist, even win the Heisman. I know that’s my expectations for him. He just has it, man. It ain’t something that you can really describe.
– Former LSU Tiger, St. Augustine graduate and current Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu on Fournette, as quoted to Sports Illustrated.
We’re keeping running list of people taking about how great our game is going to be, because we’re a pretty proud of how great our game is going to be. First up: Bleacher Report. Feel free send us more if you see them!
4. Bleacher Report (again)