The old adage that to win in college football, you have to run the ball and play defense still holds true. Sure, the game has evolved into a much more wide-open version that looks more like the CFL than the “three-and-a-cloud-of-dust” version that dominated through the early 1990s, but teams have to establish the run to open up those passing lanes and allow quarterbacks to stretch the field deep. There are plenty of backfields ready to shoulder that load in the 2022 season.
A great running game starts with a workhorse but isn’t effective unless there is at least one other versatile back who’s capable of staying involved in the game plan in a variety of ways. Which running back rooms are the best in college football heading into the 2022 season? Let’s break them down.
Texas won’t be “back” until it truly contends for a College Football Playoff berth, but there’s no doubt that its backfield will be terrifying this fall. No. 1 back Bijan Robinson is tied for the best Heisman Trophy odds among running backs (+3000), according to Caesars Sportsbook, and is fresh off a 2021 season in which he rushed for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns in 10 games. Veterans Rocshon Johnson and Keilan Robinson — the Longhorns’ second- and third-leading rushers from last year, respectively — also return and provide incredible versatility for second-year coach Steve Sarkisian. Texas will likely be breaking in Quinn Ewers at quarterback this year, and his ceiling is high enough to bring Texas back into the national spotlight. He’ll have a great running back corps to fall back on, which puts Texas in a great spot to become relevant in the Big 12 once again ahead of its impending move to the SEC.
The Buckeyes will likely be picked to make the playoff by several pundits heading into the season, and the running back room is a big reason for that optimism. TreVeyon Henderson is also +3000 to win the Heisman Trophy after a stellar freshman campaign that saw him run for 1,255 yards and 15 touchdowns. He added 312 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns while proving just how versatile he can be in that wide-open offense. Miyan Williams is an incredible changeup option who led the Big Ten in yards per carry (7.14) among qualified ball-carriers. Evan Pryor will add even more versatility after showing flashes of brilliance in the spring game.
Surprise, surprise … Wisconsin lands on this list. The Badgers are loaded at running back this season, led by sophomore Braelon Allen, who rushed for 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns a year ago. The 6-foot-2, 238-pounder has the size to be a beast between the tackles and is quick enough to do plenty of damage outside. Senior Chez Mellusi will serve as “1B” for the Badgers. He rushed for 815 yards and five touchdowns in nine games last year but is coming off an ACL injury, which is something to monitor. However, there’s no doubt that coach Paul Chryst will be able to pound the rock in a variety of ways this fall.
4. Utah Utes
Coach Kyle Whittingham has established his program as the most physical team in the Pac-12, and he will have a brutal one-two punch at running back again in 2022. Tavion Thomas is one of the best running backs in the country but doesn’t get the respect he deserves after rushing for 1,108 and an FBS-best 21 touchdowns last season. Micah Bernard will back him up after he ran for 529 yards and two scores during his redshirt freshman campaign last season. Pac-12 defenses aren’t used to taking that kind of punishment, but Utah is ready and willing to dole it out on a weekly basis this fall.
Mohamed Ibrahim is back after suffering a season-ending injury in the opener last season, but he should immediately regain his position atop the depth chart. Ibrahim has 3,003 yards and 33 touchdowns in 28 career games and stars in an offense under coach P.J. Fleck that is perfect for his skillset. Sophomore Trey Potts stepped into more of a feature role in the running back rotation after Ibrahim’s injury last year and gained 552 yards with six touchdowns in just five games. He, too, is recovering from a season-ending injury. However, it’s clear that, when healthy, Fleck has two true No. 1 running backs to lead his offense this fall.