Although likely its best and deepest position on offense, Maryland football will have its hands full defensively trying to stop their opponents’ rushing attacks.
Having to withstand rushing stampedes from the likes of Miles Sanders, Karan Higdon and J.K. Dobbins last year, the Terps’ defense allowed 183.9 rushing yards per game, ranking 85th in the FBS, and finished 86th in defensive rushing S&P+. Losing two leading tacklers in Tre Watson and Darnell Savage Jr. makes improving on that even tougher, as Maryland is slated to face another talented crop of backs next season.
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
2018 stats: 230 carries, 1079 yards, 10 TDs
Of all the running backs Maryland is set to face, Dobbins figures to cause as many problems as anyone. The rising junior has racked up 2,456 yards in his first two seasons, becoming the first player in program history to rush for over 1,000 as both a freshman and a sophomore.
Although he only rushed for over 100 yards three times in 2018, one of those instances came when the Terps allowed Dobbins to rush for a career-high 203 yards and a score in Maryland’s 52-51 overtime loss to Ohio State last season. The season before, Dobbins ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries (7.4 yards per attempt) on the Terps defense. Until Maryland figures out a way to slow Dobbins down, he’s the top guy for Maryland to worry about at halfback next season.
Mohamed Ibrahim/Rodney Smith, Minnesota
Ibrahim’s 2018 stats: 202 carries, 1160 yards, 9 TDs
Smith’s 2018 stats: 25 carries, 154 yards
After redshirting in 2017, Ibrahim stepped in and had a monster season in his first season of action with Minnesota. He was thrust into a serious role at halfback after redshirt senior Rodney Smith suffered a season-ending leg injury in the Gophers’ second game of the season, allowing Ibrahim to step into the starting spot. Despite missing three games to injury, Ibrahim would go on to rush for the second most yards by a freshman in the team’s history, including a Gopher freshman-best 224-yard performance against Georgia Tech.
And thanks to a successful sixth-year appeal by head coach P.J. Fleck and the team, Smith will also be returning to give Minnesota a formidable backfield. He currently ranks seventh in program history with 2,959 rushing yards and fifth with 651 carries. Now 23 years old and in his sixth season with the Gophers, Smith will be looking to have one more dominant year alongside Ibrahim in Minneapolis.
Stevie Scott, Indiana
2018 stats: 228 carries, 1137 yards, 10 TDs
Much like Ibrahim, Scott made an immediate impact on the ground in his freshman season. At a bruising 6’2, 233 pounds, Scott was able to separate himself as the lead back for the Hoosiers in just his second career game, putting up 205 yards and a touchdown on Virginia while leading Indiana to the victory.
He would go on to shoulder the rushing load for the Hoosiers, setting Indiana freshman records for yards, carries, touchdowns and 100-yard games, including a 104-yard game against the Terps last November.
Ricky Slade/Noah Cain/Devyn Ford, Penn State
Slade 2018 stats: 45 carries, 257 yards, 6 TDs
Cain 2018 stats: N/A
Ford 2018 stats: N/A
After having the luxury of relying on future NFL draft picks Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders the last two years, Penn State will likely have to rely on a running back-by-committee approach in 2019. Slade played sparingly behind Sanders last season despite being the No. 2 running back recruit in the Class of 2018 per ESPN, appearing in just nine of Penn State’s 13 games. He’s small compared to his predecessors at just 5’9 and 203 pounds, but Slade is poised to play a major role in the Nittany Lion backfield.
Cain, the No. 4 running back and No. 69 recruit in the Class of 2019, was the team Co-MVP at the highly-touted IMG Academy before arriving in Happy Valley. Ford was the No. 8 running back in this year’s class and rushed for over 6,000 yards in high school, earning three Virginia all-state selections and an All-America nod in 2018. Cain and Ford have plans to “take over college football” next season, which doesn’t seem impossible given head coach James Franklin’s track record with talented backs.
Zach Charbonnet/Tru Wilson, Michigan
Charbonnet’s 2018 stats: N/A
Wilson’s 2018 stats: 62 carries, 364 yards, 1 TD
With Michigan’s two leading rushers from last season in Karan Higdon and Chris Evans no longer with the team, the Wolverine backfield could also be centered on a true freshman. Charbonnet checks in as the No. 5 running back recruit per ESPN, just one spot behind Cain. Listed at 6’2, 222 pounds, Charbonnet’s burly frame could translate into a substantial amount of touches in his first season with Michigan.
The only other Wolverine on the roster with over 50 career rushes is senior Tru Wilson, who carried the ball 62 times for 364 yards and a touchdown last season. Wilson is the most experienced of the Michigan’s running backs, but with how Charbonnet has already impressed the Michigan coaching staff, the freshman could be in line for the starting spot as early as 2019.
Syracuse’s Moe Neal has improved in each of his three years, building on his rushing total each season before leading the team with 869 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. he’ll be the first running back to test the Terps this season, as the Orange visit College Park on Sept. 7.
Michigan State junior Connor Heyward was able to become the lead back for the Spartans last season as outgoing senior LJ Scott battled injuries. After leading the team with 529 rushing yards and five scores, catching 32 passes for 249 yards and returning 13 kicks for 287 yards, Heyward finished 2018 as a finalist for the Paul Horung award, given the nation’s most versatile player. His best game of the season came against the Terps last October, where he ran for a career-high 157 yards and two scores on only 15 totes.