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Brash Baylor RB Portends Conference Trend

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Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Let history remember that it was Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk who threw the first punch that may define the direction of the Big 12 in 2013.

“I'm going to win the Heisman,” he told the Sporting News in December 2012. “I'm going to win it in 2013.”

This the same Seastrunk, the same transfer from the University of Oregon, who had but 29 carries, 181 yards and a touchdown in the first seven games of his sophomore year last season. Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle and West Virginia’s Andrew Buie had each more yards and scores against Texas.

Yet Seastrunk was a volcano defenses couldn’t contain the rest of the way. He overwhelmed in the final five games and finished with 1,012 yards and seven touchdowns for the season. In the final six games, he had no fewer than 91 yards and topped 100 six times.

And given that he’ll be in that prolific, borderline ridiculous Baylor offense, well, why not?

“If I don't, I'm going to get very close,” he told the Sporting News. “I'm shooting for that goal. I will gladly say it.”

He’s as bold as he is fast. The Heisman Trophy hasn’t been a running back’s award in recent years. In fact, running backs have forfeited as many Heismans (Reggie Bush in 2005) as they have won (Mark Ingram in 2009). Running backs won the trophy in 1998 and 1999, but Bush and Ingram are the only ones since.

We’re looking at the likelihood where a defensive player, namely South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, wins it before a running back. In each of the last six votes, there has been at least one defensive player in the top 10. In 2006, there were there were two defensive players and two running backs. Last year, there were two defensive players and just one running back — and Oregon’s Kenjon Barner was ninth.

Seastrunk’s candidacy would seem to be further weakened by playing in the Big 12, which is known for quarterbacks and receivers. Since starting in 1996, the conference’s offensive player of the year award has gone to a running back three times and not since Colorado’s Chris Brown in 2002.

The tide may be changing, though. Five teams graduated their quarterback and three others have to pick a starter out of a group. Ten of the league’s 15 leading receivers from 2012 are gone, as well.

This could be a running back’s league in 2013. Fifteen of the 17 leading rushers at the position are back in 2013, led not by Seastrunk, but by Kansas senior James Sims, who missed the first three games of the season and had one more yard than Seastrunk for a 1-11 team.

The Jayhawks are excited about BYU transfer Jake Heaps at quarterback, but there are limited veteran options at receiver, while Sims will be joined again by Tony Pierson (760 yards, 6.5 yards per carry in 2012) and Taylor Cox (464 yards, 5.1 yards per carry).

Oklahoma has Damien Williams, who last year had 946 yards and 11 touchdowns and averaged 5.4 yards per carry in his first season out of junior college. The Sooners graduated quarterback Landry Jones and lost their two leading receivers. Blake Bell may replace Jones as a running quarterback, which would further elevate Williams.

Texas has the greatest depth of talent with its three leading rushers back. Jonathan Gray led the team with 701 yards, Joe Bergeron scored a team-high 16 touchdowns and Malcolm Brown was tops with a 5.3 average per carry. Kansas State lost quarterback Collin Klein, but John Hubert (952 yards, 5 yards per carry, 15 touchdowns) is back as are the five starters on the offensive line.

TCU will have B.J. Catalon, who led the team with 584 yards as a true freshman, but didn’t score last season. He was pressed into action after Waymon James, who led the team with 875 yards and 7.2 yards per carry in 2011, was lost early in 2012 with a knee injury. He returns for 2013 and there’s also room for Aaron Green, a transfer from Nebraska. Green was a top 25 recruit in 2011 who carried just 24 times as a freshman.

Texas Tech has Kliff Kingsbury as the coach and he figures to install his version of the Air Raid, but despite the name the offense has been friendly to quarterbacks, whether run by Mike Leach, Dana Holgorsen or Kevin Sumlin. The Red Raiders have junior Kenny Williams back (824 yards, 5.76 yards per carry) as well as versatile SaDale Foster (451 yards, 4.96 yards per carry).

Holgorsen’s Air Raid will be influenced this season by the leading rushers in 2011 (Dustin Garrison, 743 yards, 5.5 yards per carry) and 2012 (Buie, 851 yards, 4.8 yards per carry). Garrison had a 291-yard game in 2011 and Buie a 207-yard game last season. They’ll be pushed by junior college transfer Dreamius Smith, a larger back who ran for 982 yards, averaged 8.2 yards per carry and scored 17 times last season at Butler Community College.

Iowa State welcomes back James White (505 yards, 5.1 yards per carry) and Shontrelle Johnson (504 yards, 4.4 yards per carry). He won’t practice during spring football because of a knee injury last season and that’s created a chance for Iowa Western Community College transfer Aaron Wimberly, a speedster who combined for more than 2,000 yards in two junior college seasons, including 1,150 yards in 2012.

The only top rusher to leave the conference was Randle, who had more yards than anyone else. He opted against a senior season with Oklahoma State and took his 3,086 yards and 40 career touchdowns to the NFL. That frees up senior Jeremy Smith, who’s waited behind Kendall Hunter and Randle, but made the most of his attempts. In 232 career carries, he’s scored 25 touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per carry.

Only one Cowboys running back has had a better career average and Barry Sanders (6.8) was a pretty good player, good enough to win the Heisman.