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StatTiger

Super Backs from the 1970's & 1980's

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My introduction to college football as a youth came through my father, who was born and raised in Nebraska. He was and remains a Nebraska fan, and I have many fond memories of watching college football on television with my father. College football though the decade of the 70's and 80's was great, especially during an era of great running backs, wearing tear-away jerseys. Though he was a Nebraska fan, I was raised in Georgia as a child, and my father's favorite SEC team was Auburn. In 1978, my older brother transferred to Auburn and in 1982, I myself was accepted to attend Auburn University. As a college football fan, my favorite position was the running back position. Even today, I am biased when it comes to running backs and strong running offenses.

Over the past four decades, I have seen a lot of great running backs at the collegiate level, many moving on to the NFL for successful professional careers. The game has changed over the years regarding rules, schemes and strategy but a great running back is still fun to watch and appreciate. I judge explosive players as the type of player that makes you "hold your breath" for a brief second the moment he touches the ball. He is the caliber of player capable of scoring anywhere on the field or the type who can take over a game. Because the running back position touches the ball more than the majority of offensive players, it's understandable to gravitate towards an incredible performance. Bo Jackson, Brent Fullwood and James Brooks are the only three Auburn running backs that made me anticipate their next carry.

Here are my top-five (Super Backs) from the 1970's and 1980's

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Bo Jackson (6-1, 230) 1982-1985:

Auburn's Bo Jackson appeared in 41 games during his career, rushing for 4714-yards and 48 touchdowns. He averaged 115.0 yards per game on 6.41 yards per attempt. During his career, Jackson was a primary reason Auburn won the SEC Championship in 1983 and should have been voted No. 1. He topped off a brilliant career by winning the Heisman Trophy his senior year (1985). His touches were limited during his first three seasons, playing in a wishbone offense. Coach Pat Dye swapped to a Power-I in 1985, after Jackson suffered an injury, robbing Jackson of more than half of the 1984 season. He was a "game-changing" type of player but for various reasons Jackson was showcased in less than 30 percent of the games he played.

Jackson ran for over 100-yards 23 times, averaging 155.3 yards on 7.1 yards per carry when he cracked the century mark. Looking at his top-11 games of his career, Jackson averaged 197.7 yards per game on 7.2 yards per rush. Despite appearing in 41 games, Bo Jackson only had 12 games where he carried the football at least 20 times. During those 12 games, Jackson averaged 182.8 yards per game on 6.8 yards per attempt. Jackson faced 29 FBS teams with a winning record, averaging 111.3 yards per game on 6.1 yards per carry. His combined size and speed made him one of the most explosive and dangerous running backs in the history of college football. There is no telling what he could have accomplished had he remained healthy and averaged 20-25 carries per game during his entire career. Bo Jackson averaged 18.1 carries during his 41 games as an Auburn Tiger. Jackson began his professional career as a baseball player (KC Royals and Chicago White Socks and California Angels) and later signed with the Los Angeles Raiders as a two-sport star. A hip injury later ended is professional career.

Herschel Walker (6-1, 225) 1980-1982:

Like Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker combined size, power and speed. During his three years at Georgia, the Bulldogs went 33-3, winning three conference titles and a National Championship. Walker averaged 155.4 yards per game on 5.2 yards per attempt. He averaged 30.1 carries per game, which made him one of the most if not the most durable running back in the history of college football. Herschel Walker rushed for over 100-yards on 30 occasions, averaging 173.9 yards per game on 5.4 yards per attempt. During his 36 game career, Walker had at least 20 attempts in 33 games. During his games of 20 carries or more, Walker averaged 165.5 yards per game on 5.2 yards per rush.

Walker rushed for 5596-yards on 1083 carries for 57 touchdowns as a Georgia Bulldog. During the top-11 games of his career, Walker averaged 224.4 yards per game on 6.2 yards per carry. During his top-20 games of his career, Walker averaged 197.5 yards per game on 5.6 yards per attempt. Throughout his 18 career conference games, Georgia never lost a game behind Walker's 168.9 yards per game on 5.2 yards per carry. Coach Vince Dooley cashed in on his prize running back as Walker averaged 32 carries per game in conference play. Through 36 games, Walker faced only 15 FBS opponents with a winning record but did average 150.2 yards per game on 4.8 yards per attempt. Herschel Walker was ineligible his senior year due to an NCAA violation going on to play in the USFL and NFL.

Herschel Walker initially signed with the USFL, where he was a major star during his three years in the league. He later played 12 years in to the NFL, starting with the Dallas Cowboys. He also played with the Vikings, Eagles and Giants. During his 15-years as a professional football player, Walker amassed 13,787 yards and 115 touchdowns on the ground. In terms of total offense, he compiled 20,130 yards and 143 touchdowns.

Tony Dorsett (5-11, 192) 1973-1976:

Tony Dorsett of the Pitt Panthers was and remains one of the most electrifying running backs in the history of college football. He became a national sensation during his freshman year when he rushed for 209 yards against an undefeated Notre Dame. Dorsett finished his freshman season with 1689-yards rushing on 5.3 yards per carry. He became the first running back to rush for over 6000 career yards, winning the National Championship and Heisman his senior year at Pittsburgh. Dorsett finished his career with 6529-yards and 59 rushing touchdowns. Despite weighing less than 190 pounds early in his career, Dorsett averaged 24.7 carries throughout his 47 games as a Panther.

During his tenure at Pittsburgh, Dorsett rushed for over 100-yards 36 times, averaging 163.4 yards per game on 6.0 yards per attempt. His top-11 games of his career resulted in 232.8 yards per game on 7.4 yards per rush. The top-20 games of his career resulted in 202.0 yards per game on 6.99 yards per carry. He faced 25 FBS teams with a winning record, averaging 129.1 yards per game on 5.6 yards per rush. He made up for his lack of size with his vision, lateral movement, and speed. Coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys once stated Tony Dorsett was the best inside runner he ever coached because of his vision, quickness and speed. Drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Dorsett rushed for over 12,000 yards and won a Super Bowl. He was one of the rare running backs that had a luminous collegiate and professional career.

Barry Sanders (5-8, 200) 1986-1989:

Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders was only a 1-year starter but did appear in 30 games before leaving early for the NFL after his junior season. His junior year remains the greatest single season by a collegiate running back. During 1988, Sanders rushed for 2850-yards and 42 touchdowns on 372 carries. Since 1970, he is only 1 of five running backs to average over 7.5 yards per attempt during a season with at least 250 attempts. The record-setting season resulted in a Heisman Trophy and his 237.5 yards per game will likely never be surpassed. He finished his short career at Oklahoma State with 3799-yards and 53 touchdowns on 6.8 yards per rush.

Sanders rushed for over 100-yards on 16 occasions, averaging 207.9 yards per game on 7.49 yards per attempt. His top-11 games of his career resulted in 245.1 yards per game on 7.8 yards per carry. He also scored a rushing touchdown at an astounding rate of 1 every 8.7 carries. He had only 13 career games of 20 carries or more, averaging 222.3 yards per game on 7.2 yards per attempt. As a starter, Sanders was brutal against conference opponents, averaging 236.7 yards per game on 7.3 yards per carry. He averaged nearly 3.5 touchdowns per game against Big-8 competition. Like Tony Dorsett, Barry Sanders had a brilliant NFL career and would likely be the NFL's all-time leading rusher had he not prematurely retired from the Detroit Lions.

Mike Rozier (5-11, 210) 1981-1983:

Mike Rozier of Nebraska remains their all-time leading rusher, impressive considering the number of 1000-yard rushers the Cornhuskers have produced since 1970. Rozier appeared in 38 games, rushing for 5094-yards on 6.9 yards per attempt after beginning his collegiate career as a JUCO transfer. During his career, Rozier averaged 19.3 carries per game, while scoring a rushing touchdown every 15 attempts. He produced 26 games of 100-yards or more, averaging 164.4 yards per game on 7.5 yards per carry. He along with Barry Sanders was two of only five running backs to average over 7.5 yards per rush during a 250-carry or more season. Looking back at his top-11 games of his career, Rozier averaged 209.2 yards per game on 8.2 yards per rush. Playing in 21 conference games, Rozier gashed the Big-8 with 153.4 yards per game on 7.3 yards per carry.

Late in his freshman season, Dupree complained of playing hurt yet racked up 242-yards on 17 carries during the first half of Oklahoma's loss to Arizona State. Coach Switzer was publicly critical of Marcus Dupree after the loss, sighting Dupree's weight and poor physical conditioning. With a strained relationship from that point on, Dupree eventually left Oklahoma after five games into the 1983 season. He later transferred to Southern Miss but never played a down. Dupree eventually signed to play professional football in the USFL but would suffer a career-ending knee injury. There are those who questioned his work ethic, but he certainly had the potential to be the next Bo Jackson or Herschel Walker early on during his collegiate career.

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I would include Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson in my list, both had speed and power.

I think I would to and take Dupree off since he never reached his potential IMO.

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Nice analysis....but ...do you have some thoughts as to why there were so many really good RBs amassing huge yardage and doing it with such flare. Been lots of 1500-2000 yard rushers since those days but they are still the measuring stick for RBs.

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Other then Bo, Marcus Dupree was the one I always wanted to watch. He was a freck of nature

Video of Bo, Hershel and Marcus running highlights. I suggest you watch the entire video some fantatic runs.

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Other then Bo, Marcus Dupree was the one I always wanted to watch. He was a freck of nature

Video of Bo, Hershel and Marcus running highlights. I suggest you watch the entire video some fantatic runs.

Great video. Thanks for sharing. Growing up in Oklahoma, I loved watching Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas.

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ESPN did a thing on Marcus...something like the "Greatest Back that Never was"? Anyway, kind of a tragedy in some ways...a not too bright young guy who was manipulated by a number of people and never reached his potential.

All these guys were "freaks of nature" especially for their generation before steroids and scientific weight training.

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Other then Bo, Marcus Dupree was the one I always wanted to watch. He was a freck of nature

Video of Bo, Hershel and Marcus running highlights. I suggest you watch the entire video some fantatic runs.

I agree about Dupree. He was close to Bo and Hershel in terms of talent.

wde

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Nice analysis....but ...do you have some thoughts as to why there were so many really good RBs amassing huge yardage and doing it with such flare. Been lots of 1500-2000 yard rushers since those days but they are still the measuring stick for RBs.

IMO, During the 60's and 70's triple option styled offenses were the rage. Many teams were running the wishbone, flexbone and the veer. During the mid 70's many coaches with exceptional talent at RB decided that they could obtain the most from their featured back by placing them in an I-Formation. Pat Dye made such a change for Bo Jackson in 1984. Going into the 80's many teams were beginning to feature a specific RB and we started seeing players carrying the ball 25-30 times during a game. In today's game, the offenses are built around the QB more so than the RB. Some teams are featuring multiple backs in their game plans but there are still teams like LSU, Alabama and Wisconsin that still feature one RB.

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Nice analysis....but ...do you have some thoughts as to why there were so many really good RBs amassing huge yardage and doing it with such flare. Been lots of 1500-2000 yard rushers since those days but they are still the measuring stick for RBs.

IMO, During the 60's and 70's triple option styled offenses were the rage. Many teams were running the wishbone, flexbone and the veer. During the mid 70's many coaches with exceptional talent at RB decided that they could obtain the most from their featured back by placing them in an I-Formation. Pat Dye made such a change for Bo Jackson in 1984. Going into the 80's many teams were beginning to feature a specific RB and we started seeing players carrying the ball 25-30 times during a game. In today's game, the offenses are built around the QB more so than the RB. Some teams are featuring multiple backs in their game plans but there are still teams like LSU, Alabama and Wisconsin that still feature one RB.

Stat, pretty sure we ran the wishbone in 1984 and did not switch to the I-Formation until 1985.

wde

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ESPN did a thing on Marcus...something like the "Greatest Back that Never was"? Anyway, kind of a tragedy in some ways...a not too bright young guy who was manipulated by a number of people and never reached his potential.

All these guys were "freaks of nature" especially for their generation before steroids and scientific weight training.

In my opinion that was the best 30 for 30 so far with the '85 bears being right up there with it. (I'm not counting the one on Bo because obviously it was my favorite with me growing up an Auburn fan and he was my childhood hero. I also pretty much knew his entire story before I even watched it.) Marcus went to Oklahoma via Philadelphia Mississippi. His freshman year was 1982 as well as Bo. With Hershel coming on the scene in 1980, I think it's amazing that in a stretch of three years such amazing freaks of nature backs came out of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi respectively. If you haven't seen the 30 for 30 The best that never was, I highly recommend that you watch it.

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Nice analysis....but ...do you have some thoughts as to why there were so many really good RBs amassing huge yardage and doing it with such flare. Been lots of 1500-2000 yard rushers since those days but they are still the measuring stick for RBs.

IMO, During the 60's and 70's triple option styled offenses were the rage. Many teams were running the wishbone, flexbone and the veer. During the mid 70's many coaches with exceptional talent at RB decided that they could obtain the most from their featured back by placing them in an I-Formation. Pat Dye made such a change for Bo Jackson in 1984. Going into the 80's many teams were beginning to feature a specific RB and we started seeing players carrying the ball 25-30 times during a game. In today's game, the offenses are built around the QB more so than the RB. Some teams are featuring multiple backs in their game plans but there are still teams like LSU, Alabama and Wisconsin that still feature one RB.

Stat, pretty sure we ran the wishbone in 1984 and did not switch to the I-Formation until 1985.

wde

Correct.

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Got to add Earl Campbell and Marcus Dupree.

If Bo is 1A, then for me Walker and Campbell are 1B.

One of the ones that "could have been" was Cecil "The Diesel" Collins for LSU. Anyone else remember him?

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One of the ones that "could have been" was Cecil "The Diesel" Collins for LSU. Anyone else remember him?

The last time AU won @ Baton Rouge @ night.....

Edited by VipersStrike1

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One of the ones that "could have been" was Cecil "The Diesel" Collins for LSU. Anyone else remember him?

The last time AU won @ Baton Rouge @ night.....

Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting that. An enjoyable memory. Thank the lord we had Craig. Cecil was a beast. Had a hard life and spent a long time in prison but I hope he is doing well now. He gave us a small sampling but he was one of the best I have ever seen and may have the best nickname ever given a running back (although Sweetness was pretty damned appropriate for Walter Payton).

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Thanks for the story of your Dad and you as a child. It was a very enjoyable to read, as it really personalizes your articles.

As far as the greatest athlete in modern times... Bo Jackson; most sports fans do not realize: "Despite appearing in 41 games, Bo Jackson only had 12 games where he carried the football at least 20 times. During those 12 games, Jackson averaged 182.8 yards per game on 6.8 yards per attempt"

As Stat pointed out, can you imagine what Bo's numbers would have looked like with more carries?

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Let's not forget: During the 1986 combine at the Superdome in New Orleans, Auburn running back Bo Jackson recorded a 4.12-second 40, a feat so extraordinary it's become part of Jackson's legend, a subject for conjecture, speculation and comparison, so much so that current combine stories qualify references to the 4.12 with words such as "reportedly," attribute the time to "rumor," or describe it as an "urban legend."

Upon closer examination, the question isn't if Jackson was clocked at 4.12 seconds at the 1986 combine. It's easily verified. For example, USA Today had a front-page story about the feat.

Also, Jackson told ESPN's Dan Lebatard in 2012 that he ran a 4.13-second 40 at the 1986 combine that was electronically timed.

In recent years, Jackson's 40 has been a subject of comparison to the times of world-class sprinters to show, oddly enough, that he couldn't have run that time and that he most certainly could have.

http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2015/02/is_bo_jackson_the_true_record-.html

ESPN-Bo-Jackson-Tweet.gif

Figure 1: ESPN Tweets Bo Jackson’s 40 Time during NFL Combine.

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Advantage of being old where your memory of 30 years ago is better than about last week.

Those old AU RB....Tiucker, Lionel, Bo, Joe Cribbs etc, etc....up to Rudi.....seem like yesterday .....enjoy seeing those guys in my memory over and over...and of course every now and then someone links a grainy old video of their highlights to keep the memories alive.

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One of the ones that "could have been" was Cecil "The Diesel" Collins for LSU. Anyone else remember him?

The last time AU won @ Baton Rouge @ night.....

one of the few road games i have attended. the diesel had over 200 but if i remember correctly they had another back over a hundred too. his name escapes me. i will search it. D.C. was awesome.

edit: Rondell Mealy had 129, Collins had 232. I remember saying on the way home "Auburn will never give up rush yards like that again". i think i was wrong.

Edited by alexava

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Love this thread! We are from the same era. Bo is obviously my favorite and there is no comparison. But Hershell, Barry, and a few others during that era were "once in a lifetime" talents. There has been no one since that I would compare to those guys! No one!

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