White and Gordon

Wisconsin Badgers aren’t ‘Running Back U’? We say hogwash

ESPN’s college football bloggers are taking a look at the top schools at each position group this week and on Tuesday they came out with their ‘Running Back U’s‘ of the 2000’s. Topping that list wasn’t Wisconsin, nope. It was…wait for it…Arkansas!

We’re not kidding you.

According to ESPN, the best running back group so far in the 2000’s are the Razorbacks. It led their point system with 104 points, topping not just Wisconsin but also Oklahoma, Alabama and Auburn (tied with UW).

Now that you are finished laughing, it does also merit some discussion too. Now, I follow college football on a pretty insane basis (otherwise why am I writing this), and if I was asked to come up with a list of schools that produce the best running backs in college football the Razorbacks would maybe crack the top 10 at best. So, how did Bielema’s WPS bunch become the ‘Running Back U’ titleholders?

The answer and problem lies in ESPN’s system. It never bothered to measure production of running backs or anything other than arbitrary postseason awards and NFL Draft status — because, you know…that’s what ultimately matters when talking about running backs.

You bet those things are part of the equation, but ESPN’s David Ching (who wrote the entire series) acts as if that’s the only measure of what makes a program good, great or the best.

So, we’re here to decide the truth behind ‘Running Back U’ by taking a look at the actual production of the units from the 2000 season to now, just like good ‘ole ESPN.

What you will see next shows just how ridiculous ESPN was with coming up with this system. Then again, the guy coming up with it does cover LSU and the SEC and we all know the vested interest the network now has in the SEC, as well as individual awards and the NFL Draft.

It’s time to prove that production on the football field matters more than opinions of award voters or NFL Draft position.

So, how do we measure production? We’ve decided that there are three categories that are nightly important when comparing production. They are: number of 1,000-yard rushing seasons, rushing touchdowns per year, and rushing yards per game.

We’ve poured over the numbers for all five teams in consideration. So, let’s stop writing and start giving you the statistical truth.

The first such truth — Arkansas can’t hold a candle to the Badgers on the field.

*all stats courtesy sports-reference.com.

1,000-yard rushing seasons by individual players:

Arkansas: 10
Wisconsin: 14

Rushing TD’s per season:

Arkansas: 17.6
Wisconsin: 26.8

Team Rushing Yards per game:

Arkansas: 161.4 yards
Wisconsin: 190.2 yards

UW wins the war, and it’s not even close. Behind those three numbers are also some staggering facts in Wisconsin’s favor. Wisconsin backs have produced four seasons with 30-plus touchdowns to Arkansas’ one. UW led in 3,000-yard seasons by the running backs (three to two) and RB’s averaging 200-plus yards per game (five to three). It’s also pertinent to point out that exactly half of the 10 1,000-yard seasons at Arkansas came from just two running backs — Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, and in just a three-year span. The Badgers also had just two years without a 1,000-yard rusher while the Razorbacks have had six to date.

That’s pretty conclusive evidence of who’s been better on the field, huh? But let’s examine the other big-name schools that ESPN believes are better than the Badgers.

UW vs. The Rest of the Field:

1,000-yard rushing seasons by individual players:

Alabama: 9
Auburn: 10
Oklahoma: 8
Wisconsin: 14

Rushing TD’s (average since 2000):

Alabama: 21
Auburn: 20
Oklahoma: 22.6
Wisconsin: 26.8

RB Rushing Yards (season average since 2000):

Alabama: 163.9
Auburn: 162.6
Oklahoma: 157.7
Wisconsin: 190.2

What was most shocking in this area was that Oklahoma, while producing someone by the name of Adrian Peterson, didn’t really produce on the field on a consistent basis. The school has had just two seasons averaging 200-plus yards per game, while UW’s backs have produced 200-plus averages for each of the last four seasons alone and five seasons in total.

UW’s current nine-year streak of 1,000-yard rushers is good enough to be equal to all but the entire totals for two teams. If that’s not consistency on the field, please show it to me. The only thing Wisconsin didn’t lead in was best single-season average, which went to Arkansas in the 2007 season. That was the year where Darren McFadden and Felix Jones combined for 2,992 yards themselves.

Tell me again how Wisconsin isn’t ‘Running Back U?’

Let’s take it one step further in this case and come up with a point system a la ESPN’s rankings.

Points for each category:
1st = 10
2nd = 8
3rd = 6
4th = 4
5th = 2


1. Wisconsin – 30 points (led all three major categories)
2 (tie). Alabama – 18 points
2 (tie). Auburn – 18 points
4. Arkansas – 14 points
5. Oklahoma – 12 points

To be fair, ESPN’s ratings have a point because being part of ‘Running Back U’ is producing individuals that win awards and head off to the NFL. Ignoring completely the production of total units, as well as individual performances just doesn’t make sense either.

Even if you put the two systems together, UW comes up as nearly the best of all five of these schools. Adding our totals to ESPN’s gives you this:

1 (tie). Alabama – 118 points
1 (tie). Arkansas – 118 points
3. Wisconsin – 116 points
4. Oklahoma -114 points
5. Auburn – 104 points

Production matters just as much as awards, and there is one unquestioned leader where production from running backs is concerned and as the saying goes, when you say Wisconsin, you’ve said it all – at least when it comes to being ‘Running Back U.’

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com