|Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement form one of the strongest running back tandems in the nation.|
This is the first in a series looking at the best positional tandems in college football in each conference, taking into account both college production and pro potential. Today it is the best pair of running backs.
Louisville: Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer.
Brown (6-foot-2, 233 pounds), a senior, is a physical, downhill runner who led the Cardinals with 825 rushing yards last season. He also is an effective receiver who could thrive in that role in new coach Bobby Petrino's offense. Dyer (5-9, 213), another senior, might be the most talented running back in the entire ACC. He began his career at Auburn and was a key component on Auburn's 2010 national title team. But he has had off-field issues, and his character and maturity have been questioned. At his best, he has great explosiveness and power. The question: Is he going to be fully invested this season? If so, he has a chance to be the starter and to rush for 1,000 yards. In that scenario, he also would re-invigorate his pro hopes.
Last time an ACC running back duo was selected in the same draft: Well, technically, it's Clemson (first-rounder Terrence Flagler to San Francisco and second-rounder Kenny Flowers to Atlanta), in 1987. But current ACC member Pittsburgh had two backs taken in the 2009 draft (second-rounder LeSean McCoy and seventh-rounder LaRod Stephens-Howling), when Pitt was in the Big East.
Big TenWisconsin: Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement.
Gordon (6-1, 206), a junior, is one of the top two backs in the nation heading into the season. He has good speed and is a perfect fit in Wisconsin's run-heavy offense. He can turn the corner, yet also is at home running between the tackles. He wore down some in the second half of last season, when he shared carries with eventual draft pick James White, and that is something to watch this season, when Gordon will get the bulk of the carries. If everything goes right, he should top 1,800 yards. One facet of his game that is a question mark is his ability as a receiver: He has three receptions in his career. Clement ran for 547 yards on 67 carries as the Badgers' third-string back last season as a true freshman. Look for him to more than double his number of carries this season. Clement was impressive last season, but his production usually came against worn-down defense. There will be more pressure on him this season, but he has the natural talent to fit nicely behind Gordon, then take over as the lead dog in 2015.
Last time a Big Ten running back duo was selected in the same draft: Michigan (third-rounder Chris Floyd and fifth-rounder Chris Howard), in 1998. Nebraska had two in the 2001 draft, but was not a Big Ten member at that time.
Texas: Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown.
Even with the dismissal of Joe Bergeron, the Longhorns have a backfield to rival just about anybody thanks to this one-two punch of former prep five-stars. That's probably a good thing considering Texas' quarterback situation. Gray (5-11, 210) is coming off an Achilles injury but looked like a 1,000-yard-plus rusher last season and is one of the most complete backs to come through Austin in the last couple of years. Brown (6-0, 225) is no slouch, either, as a bigger option to run the ball downhill and nearly reached the 1,000-yard mark himself after a strong finish in Grey's absence down the stretch.
Last time a Big 12 running back duo was selected in the same draft: You'd have to go all the way back to 2002, when Kansas State's Josh Scobey was taken in the sixth round by the Arizona Cardinals and Rock Cartwright was picked in the seventh round by the Washington Redskins. New league member West Virginia did have Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt taken together in 2008, but they were in the old Big East at the time.
Oregon: Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner.
The Ducks have probably had the best combo of tailbacks in the conference each season for nearly a decade, and that will certainly be the case in 2014. Marshall (5-10, 205) is the primary ball carrier for Oregon and is coming off a 1,038-yard season that saw him average 6.2 yards per attempt. He's not the biggest nor fastest player you'll find at the position, but he's still somebody who will make you pay if he sees a sliver of daylight as somebody who is well-rounded and excels in just about every area. However, he'll be pushed by Tyner (5-11, 215), who was more productive as a true freshman last year than De'Anthony Thomas was for Oregon. Tyner is a tad bigger than Marshall and might be one of the fastest players on the roster after excelling as a prep track athlete. Throw in Marcus Mariota's running ability and you can see why the team's backfield is stacked.
Last time a Pac-12 running back duo was selected in the same draft: While such a feat has not happened since the conference expanded to 12 members, it did occur just beforehand when the league was the Pac-10, as USC's Allen Bradford (sixth-rounder to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Stanley Havili (seventh-rounder to the Philadelphia Eagles) were both taken out of the same backfield. Technically, Bradford also played linebacker in the league and Havili played fullback in college, so if you want to be strict about things, the Trojans also had Reggie Bush and LenDale White taken in the first 45 picks back in 2006.
Georgia: Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
The SEC's biggest star at the running back position wouldn't figure to have a prominent complement in the same backfield, but that's exactly what Gurley has in Marshall. Injuries limited both last year, particularly Marshall, who suffered a season-ending knee injury after just 55 carries. But when both were healthy in 2012, they combined for 2,144 yards with 25 touchdowns, and both averaged better than six yards per carry. Marshall is expected to be fully healthy this fall, and a return to 2012 form for the duo would take much pressure off new starting quarterback Hutson Mason. The Arkansas duo of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, which rushed for a combined 1,926 yards last year, makes for a stout runner-up tandem.
Last time an SEC running back duo was selected in the same draft: It's been a really long time -- 10 whole weeks. LSU's Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue were chosen in May by the Cincinnati Bengals (second round, 55th overall), and the Houston Texans (sixth round, 181st overall), respectively. One could make a technical argument for 2014 Auburn draftees Tre Mason and Jay Prosch, as well, but Prosch is really a fullback.
AAC: Houston (Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson).
Conference USA: Middle Tennessee State (Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley).
MAC: Northern Illinois (Cameron Stingily and Akeem Daniels).
MWC: Fresno State (Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller).
Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette (Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire).