While most of the Big 12 spent the past 20 years slinging the ball through the air—and yes, Kansas had one of the greats at doing that, too—the Jayhawks have been stronger on the ground. During many of the non-Todd-Reesing years, the running back has been KU’s most dynamic offensive player (Steven Sims Jr. being an exception).
To that point, Kansas has had 12 backs rush for more than 2,000 yards for their career. Five of them started their career after 2000. If you look at the top 12 receivers in terms of receiving yards, six of them started their careers after 2000, but three of those had the benefit of playing with Reesing (only Jake Sharp can say that from a running back perspective).
The point being that despite quite a few bleak years offensively, the running back position has been a fairly consistent bright spot with a handful of dominant performances. That’s what this series is setting out to accomplish—revisit and recognize some of these great backs over the past 20 years who have either carried struggling teams or complemented bowl teams.
Deciding who fits the definition of a “great back” is obviously subjective and open to interpretation. We have to set a cutoff point somewhere, so I’m going to use 2,000 career rushing yards as the threshold for consideration. However, I will also make an exception for a truly great statistical season that I’ll set as 1,000+ yards and 10+ touchdowns (you might already know who this is for).
So, while I always loved watching early-career Tony Pierson run in the open field, he did not make the cut for this series. That doesn’t mean I still won’t use this paragraph to call out some of his great and memorable runs.
What this series is not is a ranking. For one, Mike already did this a few years ago and I’m not trying to replicate it. Plus, any ranking could immediately be out of date depending on if/how Pooka Williams plays this season. He’s already No. 12 on the all-time rushing list and another season like his last would put him fourth.
Instead, we’re going to recognize guys in chronological order, which means first up is No. 5 on the all-time rushing list, Clark Green. Stay tuned.