College football is almost here. USA TODAY Sports is getting you ready for the 2018 season by identifying the best players at each position in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Next up: the running backs. This position touts one of the nation’s brightest stars in Stanford senior Bryce Love, who rushed for 2,000 yards and finished second in last year’s Heisman Trophy voting. As always, however, look for backs to explode out of relative anonymity.
From the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Pac-12 Conference and all points in between, here are the best running backs in college football for 2018.
1. Bryce Love, Stanford
Love’s 2017 campaign has the senior at the forefront of the Heisman race heading into September. His big-play ability alone places him a different stratosphere than his peers in the FBS. But Love doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to wear down defenses as the engine behind Stanford’s physical offense. He averaged 8.52 yards per carry in the second half of games a season ago.
2. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Taylor was one of college football’s great and unexpected success stories last fall. Once a largely overlooked recruit, Taylor set the FBS freshman rushing record in pacing Wisconsin’s second New Year’s Six bowl appearance in a row. The Badgers’ offensive line will be the nation’s best in 2017, so look for a healthy Taylor to again rank among the most productive backs in the country.
3. David Montgomery, Iowa State
Montgomery is beginning to be recognized for what he does best: routinely make defenders miss and churn out yardage as the centerpiece of Iowa State’s offense. What makes Montgomery’s 2017 season all the more impressive was how he gained 1,146 yards and scored 13 times despite the Cyclones’ hit-or-miss offensive front. There might be no better back at moving forward after contact.
4. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
An early season injury to Mike Weber opened the door for Dobbins last September, and there were questions about how he’d perform and hold up after missing his senior season in high school because of injury. Dobbins delivered 1,403 yards on 7.23 yards per carry to help carry Ohio State’s occasionally inefficient offense. More will be expected in 2018. But Dobbins should take on an even larger role as the Buckeyes embrace a more traditional style in the running game.
5. Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Maybe it’s because of Mason Rudolph and James Washington. Maybe it’s because few pay enough attention to Oklahoma State. But Hill has often been spectacular since grabbing the job one month into his freshman season. He’s also reliable: Hill gained at least 86 yards in every game but two last fall, ending up with a Big 12 Conference-best 1,467 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Anderson gained 82 yards on 22 carries through Oklahoma’s first six games of 2017. And then? Beginning with a win against Kansas State on Oct. 21 and ending with a Rose Bowl loss to Georgia, Anderson ran for 1,073 yards with 11 touchdowns on 6.5 yards per carry. For the second half of the year, Anderson was right with Love and Taylor among the best backs in the country. His numbers could take a step forward as Oklahoma moves toward a stronger emphasis on the running game.