Both of these guys easily passed their first-round tests, with Riggins ousting Wade Stinson and Smith taking out L.T. Levine. Time for a battle of two Kansas natives!
(2) John Riggins
Centralia-raised Riggins ran for Kansas from 1968-70, and I mean he ran and ran and ran. In 31 games for the Jayhawks, he averaged 5.1 yards per carry, finishing his Kansas career with 2659 rush yards, a mark that at the time broke Gale Sayers’ rushing record and still ranks 7th in the KU record books.
He was part of the 1968 Orange Bowl team, a year in which he was named first team All-Big 8. His senior year of 1970 also saw him pick up first team All-Conference honors. Both of his All-Big 8 honors had him listed at fullback.
Riggins was drafted 6th overall by the New York Jets in the 1971 NFL Draft. He spent five years with the Jets before signing as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, where he would spend the rest of his NFL career. If you’ve got some free time, his contract dispute a few years later with the Redskins is an interesting story. He wanted to renegotiate his deal, the Redskins refused, and he sat out the 1980 season. Joe Gibbs came to Kansas to re-recruit Riggins, and click the link if you want to find out what happened.
Riggins finished his NFL career with, well, a lot of NFL records - 20 if you believe Wikipedia. He totaled 11,352 rushing yards and 104 TDs. In addition, he was the MVP of Super Bowl XVII and an NFL Hall of Famer, class of 1992.
All of his success led to not only having his own ballad but several pretty cool nicknames, including “The Big Rig” and “The Diesel.” In addition, Riggins is enshrined in KU’s Ring of Honor at Memorial Stadium.
(7) Laverne Smith
Wichita-raised Laverne Smith may be one of the best running backs at Kansas that you hadn’t heard of before this bracket began. He even called himself a "forgotten player" in 1991.
Smith ran for the Jayhawks from 1973-76. In his college career, he put up 3192 rushing yards, but that may not even be the best part. He did that on only 488 carries, which means his YPC was 6.5. Only two Jayhawks have averaged over 6 yards per carry; the other one is Gale Sayers. Smith’s career numbers for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns still rank fourth (for both) in school history.
Smith was a three-year starter at Kansas and earned first team All-Big 8 recognition in 1974. One of the fastest backs Kansas has ever had, Chuck Woodling once wrote: "For pure speed, he is unsurpassed. Yes, the Wichita native was faster than even Sayers." In addition, his senior year he won Big 8 championship in the 100-meters and 400-meter relay.
He was drafted 99th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1977 NFL Draft. He impressed Steelers coaches right away, but in the 7th game of his rookie year suffered a broken leg - actually a shattered leg, broken in five places. One writer called it a "crushed hip" if that helps clarify the severity of the injury. He was able to rehab the leg, but was looked at as damaged goods, and no team would take a chance on him. His career ended after just those 7 games, and Smith moved back to Wichita and took a job in the aircraft industry.
Who was the greater Jayhawk? Log your vote in the comments. Check out the other matchups here.