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U-Who? Miami, Cal top contenders for title of 'Running Back U'

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Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
Willis McGahee was selected to two Pro Bowls over 11 NFL seasons after starring at Miami.

The next group in our "U-Who?" series is running back. While running back, to an extent, has been devalued in the draft -- there were two backs taken in the first round in the 2015 draft, but zero in the first round in 2013 and '14 -- every team wants a bell-cow back. Lately, though, they just haven't wanted to find him in the first round.

So, which school is "Running Back U.," based on a 15-year history of their NFL draft picks at the position and factoring in the overall quality of the group? Read on to find out.

15 for '15:
CFB 24/7 counts down the best of what college football has to offer in varying categories for 2015.

10. Oregon

First-round picks past 15 years: 1
Top three rounds: 3
Total drafted: 6
The skinny: The six draftees is tied for 12th-most in our span, but the quality is a bit better than three schools who have had more draftees. Jonathan Stewart is the only Oregon first-rounder in our time frame, and, along with DeAngelo Williams, was part of a solid duo with the Carolina Panthers. Maurice Morris, a second-rounder in 2002, has been the second-best Oregon back in our span, and fourth-rounder Onterrio Smith was OK during his brief career. But second-rounder LaMichael James has been a big disappointment.

9. Arkansas

First-round picks past 15 years: 2
Top three rounds: 3
Total drafted: 6
The skinny: As with Oregon, the six draftees is tied for 12th-most in our span, but the quality is a bit better than three schools who have had more draftees. Both first-rounders came in the same draft -- 2008, with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. The injury-prone McFadden will get one more chance to live up to his draft hype this season with the Dallas Cowboys. Seventh-rounder Peyton Hillis provided excellent value, but third-rounder Knile Davis has been a disappointment.

8. USC

First-round picks past 15 years: 1
Top three rounds: 3
Total drafted: 11
The skinny: The Trojans are No. 2 when it comes to sheer draftees at the position, but almost half (five of the 11) were taken in the fifth round or later. And there haven't exactly been a lot of hits, either. The only first-rounder in our span is Reggie Bush, and he is the only notable Trojans back of the past 15 years in the NFL.

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7. Ohio State

First-round picks past 15 years: 1
Top three rounds: 3
Total drafted: 8
The skinny: The eight draftees is tied for fifth-most. The lone first-rounder in our span is Beanie Wells, and he also is the most notable Buckeyes back in the NFL in our span. Sixth-rounder Dan "Boom" Herron has had a few moments, and there are high hopes for Carlos Hyde, a second-rounder by San Francisco in 2014.

6. Oklahoma

First-round picks past 15 years: 1
Top three rounds: 2
Total drafted: 7
The skinny: The seven draftees means OU is tied for seventh in our span. The two that were taken in the first three rounds -- first-rounder Adrian Peterson and third-rounder DeMarco Murray -- have become NFL stars; in Peterson's case, when he has been eligible and/or healthy, he has been the best back in the league. Three of the seven draftees have been fullbacks.

Take a look at the top 10 players from LSU to play in the NFL.

5. LSU

First-round picks past 15 years: 1
Top three rounds: 4
Total drafted: 12
The skinny: LSU has had the most running backs drafted in the past 15 years, but the lone first-rounder, Joseph Addai, also is the only one who became a star. Half of the 12 were drafted in the fifth round or later, including four sixth-rounders. Third-rounder Stevan Ridley has been solid, and second-rounder Jeremy Hill looks to have a nice upside. It definitely has been quantity over quality, though.

4. Alabama

First-round picks past 15 years: 2
Top three rounds: 5
Total drafted: 9
The skinny: Somewhat fittingly, Alabama is tied for third with in-state archrival Auburn with nine picks in the past 15 years. First-rounder Mark Ingram has been solid; the same can't be said for fellow first-rounder Trent Richardson, who hasn't come close to living up to the expectations that follow a guy who was selected third overall. Second-rounder Eddie Lacy has had two good seasons, and rookie second-rounder T.J. Yeldon looks as if he will have a great opportunity to be Jacksonville's lead back. Fourth-rounder Le'Ron McClain was one of the NFL's best blocking backs for a three- or four-season stretch.

Take a look at the top 10 players from Auburn to play in the NFL.

3. Auburn

First-round picks past 15 years: 2
Top three rounds: 6
Total drafted: 9
The skinny: Auburn's total of nine is tied for third-most in our span. Both first-rounders came in the same draft when Ronnie Brown went second overall and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams fifth overall in 2005. Injuries hurt both players, though both were 1,000-yard rushers when healthy. The best Tigers back in the NFL in our span was fourth-rounder Rudi Johnson, who had three 1,000-yard seasons. Second-rounder Ben Tate is a solid journeyman back, and third-rounder Heath Evans, an NFL Network analyst, was a solid fullback for a decade. Third-rounder Tre Mason could stick for a while because of his versatility.

2. California

First-round picks past 15 years: 2
Top three rounds: 4
Total drafted: 6
The skinny: There's not all that many (the six draftees is tied for 12th in our span), but the six Golden Bears running backs in our span generally have been productive. The top Bear and the main reason Cal is ranked second is Marshawn Lynch, who is one of the two Cal first-rounders in our span and one of the NFL's top players. The other first-rounder was Jahvid Best, who had to retire because of concussion issues. It took a while, but seventh-rounder Justin Forsett has paid off in a nice way, and second-rounder Shane Vereen has been a steady producer. Second-rounder J.J. Arrington had a brief run as an effective third-down back.

1. Miami

First-round picks past 15 years: 1
Top three rounds: 5
Total drafted: 8
The skinny: The eight draftees are tied for fifth-most in our span. Third-rounder Frank Gore, second-rounder Clinton Portis and first-rounder Willis McGahee either are or were NFL studs. They have combined for 29,470 yards and 18 1,000-yard seasons. But all three were drafted in 2005 or earlier. Fourth-rounder Lamar Miller was a 1,000-yard rusher for the Miami Dolphins last season. There are high hopes for rookie third-rounder Duke Johnson in Cleveland. Sixth-rounder Mike James, fourth-rounder Najeh Davenport and third-rounder James Jackson all have enjoyed a few moments in the sun, too.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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