Position Rankings: Southland Runningbacks

We've continued our position rankings for the Southland with our list of runningback units.

A couple of things, as we discussed with our FBS rankings, we took quarterbacks and wide receivers out of the equation unless the receiver had 10 or more carries.

Quarterbacks are excluded because they count in the quarterbacks list. If they counted here, we'd probably have to count them in the wide receiver list as well and then we'd have to count them as punters if they...you know...punted.

Also because there aren't really advanced FCS stats, we dropped opportunity rate. Just when you thought this list couldn't get anymore bootleg, try this on, there is high roster turnover, so for returning player numbers we did our best, but rosters are being updated everyday. Some only have their 2013 version, we're looking at you Abilene Christian.


1. SFA

RETURNING CARRIES  % of Carries Returning  Yds. Returning  % of Yards Returning  Yds. Per Carry 
304   78.76%  1744  80.74%  5.74 

Let's start here, Gus Johnson is arguably the best returning running back in the Southland. Johnson averaged 6 yards a carry, rushed for over a thousand yards, and had a nose for the endzone. That's not a bad place to start for the Lumberjacks.

Joshawa West and Fred Ford each contributed 50 or more carries last season, with West also averaging 6 yards a rush. Stephen F. Austin fell apart down the stretch last season and ended up attempting more than 600 passes. In other words they were pass first. Heavily pass first. Still Johnson and crew took advantage of the scraps they were given.

Clint Conque and UCA were similarly pass first, but mainly because they're running game was dead freaking last in the Southland. Conque has raved about Johnson and the Bud expects Conque to use him.

2. Southeastern

RETURNING CARRIES  % of Carries Returning  Yds. Returning  % of Yards Returning  Yds. Per Carry 
406   100%  1870  100%  4.61 

If we considered Bryan Bennett as a runningback, this would be a no brainer, Southeastern would top the charts. Rules are rules and in spite of Bennett's prolific rushing ability, we slot the Lions second. But not by much.

The Lions return just about everyone who carried the ball last season, including Rasheed Harell and Xavier Roberson. Those two combined for over 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns. They list Roberson as a receiver, they should list him as a "weapon" because he's dangerous, anywhere and anytime.  He accounted for over 900 return yards last season as well. Add to the mix Kody Sutton who was one carry short of 100 and the Lions are stacked.

3. McNeese State

RETURNING CARRIES  % of Carries Returning  Yds. Returning  % of Yards Returning  Yds. Per Carry 
187   40.13%  1109  42.01%  5.93 

McNeese lost a lot of talent in the backfield including 1,000 yard rusher Marcus Wiltz but this is now Kelvin Bennett's backfield. In 2013, Bennett rushed 108 times for 774 yards, that's over 7 yards a pop. The junior from Newton is expected to step into the bulk of carries in Lake Charles. His 7 yards per carry was actually down from his 2012 average of 8.

The Cowboys will get some reinforcements from the FBS level with Arkansas transfer Nate Holmes and Mississippi State pickup Derrick Milton. Milton has a bit more size and Bennett looked like more a home run threat in the spring. Head coach Matt Viator spent the spring sorting out roles and carries and he has plenty of options come the fall.

4. Sam Houston State

RETURNING CARRIES  % of Carries Returning  Yds. Returning  % of Yards Returning  Yds. Per Carry 
131   27.18  767  26.68%  5.85 

Sam lost do-everything back Tim Flanders and runningback/receiver/wildcat-quarterback Richard Sincere coming into 2014. The entire backfield will look new. Keyshawn Hill is the one familiar face.

Hill rushed for 536 yards on over 80 carries last season for the Bearkats. He's a preseason all Southland pick and he'll have a lot on his shoulders this season. Not only will Hill be the primary ball carrier for Sam Houston, he'll also be learning, along with everyone else, a new offense. Sam was a smash mouth squad the few last seasons, leading the Southland in rushing and getting to two straight FCS title games. The 'Kats will look different in 2014 as they go to the Air Raid

Hill also returns kicks, though there's some thought that K.C. Keeler and his staff might want to work to limit some wear and tear on the senior and limit those chances. De'Chaar Greer, a redshirt freshman out of Waco Midway looked very sharp in the the spring. Sam Houston will need someone to come through and provide depth in the backfield.

5. Northwestern State

RETURNING CARRIES  % of Carries Returning  Yds. Returning  % of Yards Returning  Yds. Per Carry 
256   76.64%  1265  77.04%  4.94 

If you're looking for a dark horse in the Southland it might be Northwester State. The Demons return a slew of skill talent and a quarterback. I think the runningback unit is a few steps behind the top four but given what the Demons do offensively, it's serviceable.

Garrett Antzenweiler is a thumper at 220 pounds and he's first up on the depth chart for 2014 but the Bud expects Daniel Taylor to do some heavy lifting. Antzenweiler (I don't want to type that name again) ran for 100 yards on 15 carries against FBS opponent UAB last season. The Demons are fairly balanced offensively and like most teams on this list they're going to spread things around in the run game. De'Mard Llorens had 50 carries in 2013 and figures in the mix as well.

6. Central Arkansas

RETURNING CARRIES  % of Carries Returning  Yds. Returning  % of Yards Returning  Yds. Per Carry 
235   90.30%  1046  %89.94  4.45 

Last year the Bears couldn't run. Dead last in the Southland Conference. That's one reason a perennial Southland contender went 7-5. So many components contribute to offensive success in any single facet that it's almost impossible to pin the failure on one thing. The 2013 Bears lost their starting quarterback and had a slew of offensive line combinations. Bottom line, the Bears couldn't push other guys around.

In 2014, Willie Matthews grabbed the position in the spring, after having a great camp. Blake Veasley and Danzel Williams will offer some depth. The key is the offensive line. Even in the spring the line was patchwork at best due to injury.

If the Bears want to improve, they may have the horse to do it in Matthews, but if he's got nowhere to go the results will look more like they did in 2013.

7. Lamar

RETURNING CARRIES  % of Carries Returning  Yds. Returning  % of Yards Returning  Yds. Per Carry 
199   64.40%  934  64.59  4.69 

Lamar boasts the 2013 Southland Conference Freshman of the Year in Kade Harrington. Here's what Lamar is hoping: Harrington's freshman year wasn't a fluke. Harrington was impressive, though in the spring he was held out with ankle issues.

The Cardinals expect Harrington to be back at full speed for the start of fall camp. Emmit Raleigh, a sophomore from Westfield and Carl Harris, a Woodrow Wilson grad by way of Memphis, both saw time in the spring. Raleigh arguably had the better reps but both will be called on to carry the ball for the Cardinals.

With Caleb Berry and so many receiving weapons back, lanes should be available for Cardinal runningbacks.

8. Abilene Christian

RETURNING CARRIES  % of Carries Returning  Yds. Returning  % of Yards Returning  Yds. Per Carry 
127   46.69%  699  43.55%  5.50 

We've been tantilized by the thought of Hershel Simms before. After a stellar career out of Abilene High, he was set to contribute at Oklahoma State. That didn't pan out. He went to Lamar. How could a big fish in that pond fail? Now he's back home at ACU.

We won't be fooled again. Right? Either way, there's great potential in the ACU backfield.

Redshirt Freshman De'Andre Brown looks promising and Adrian Duncan served as a backup last season. The shoes that everyone is trying to fill are those of Charcandrick West, he of the 900 yard season and 6 yards a rush attempt.

Can Simms or Brown or Duncan or some combination of all three fill in and bring a running game to the Cats? We're about to find out.

9. Nicholls State

RETURNING CARRIES  % of Carries Returning  Yds. Returning  % of Yards Returning  Yds. Per Carry 
60   26.55%  281  25.99%  4.68 

If Nicholls State can't run the ball there isn't much hope. Quarterback Tuskani Figaro was the best option in 2013. He's back, is there any help?

Only a quarter of the 2013 carries return. That might not be bad news as some new blood might be just what the Colonials need. Michael Henry and Reggie Wilson are the two returnees with the most experience. Henry average 5.4 yards a carry last season.

There are options coming onto campus, JC Transfer Tobias Lofton and three freshman. Everyone will get a look and there may even be a position change for one of the talented quarterbacks on the roster to get the best Colonels the most touches.

10. Incarnate Word

RETURNING CARRIES  % of Carries Returning  Yds. Returning  % of Yards Returning  Yds. Per Carry 
267   88.41%  1406  88.10%  5.27 

If they'll bite as a pup they'll bite as a dog. Darrell Royal said those words about young football players or dogs. We're not sure which. Let's assume the former. If that's the case then UIW should have a passel of biters. Broderick Reeves and Junior Sessions were a decent 1-2 combination, stepping in for the academically ineligible Joseph Saddler last season.

Now all three return for their sophomore seasons. Saddler set a national scoring record at Devine High School before coming up I-35. How he'll fit into the mix with Sessions and Reeves is anybody's guess.

UIW's infrastructure up front and their upgrade in schedule is what has to be of concern. ACU and HBU have the same feeling. The Cardinals are young and talented but the seasoning isn't enough to rank them higher.

11. Houston Baptist

RETURNING CARRIES  % of Carries Returning  Yds. Returning  % of Yards Returning  Yds. Per Carry 
233   100%  1148  100%  4.93 

The best news coming out of Houston is the increased competition on the squad, everywhere. With every recruiting class Vic Shealy brings on board the talent level, speed, and size increase to compete in the Southland. But the Huskies aren't there yet. That being said, B.J. Kelly is a fast riser on this list. Kelly averaged almost 6 yards a carry and 91 yards a game in only 6 games. (The Huskies played 7 games total)

From there the depth chart gets pretty ordinary pretty fast. Players like Craig Bell, Larry Day, and Jackie Robinson Jr. all made contributions, however none of them set the world on fire.

Steven Thompson and Terrence Peters, both from the Houston area arrive on campus this fall to push for playing time. As was the case with Incarnate Word, Houston Baptist will experience growing pains making a HUGE jump to the Southland. That move makes projecting the success of the position difficult, other than to say things will be tough on the Huskies.

More on the Southland...