Barry Sanders where he belongs on ESPN’s top college running backs of past 60 years
ESPN has come out with a list of the top 100 college running backs of the past 60 years, and Barry Sanders is his rightful place on it.
Before he became a Pro Football Hall of Famer over 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions, Barry Sanders was a record-setting Cowboy. A Oklahoma State Cowboy, in college of course. He even shared that backfield with fellow future Pro Football Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas for a time. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was the Cowboys’ quarterback back then.
In 1988, with Thomas gone to the NFL, Sanders had one of the best (if not the best) season ever by a college running back. He rushed for a then-unofficial (bowl games weren’t counted with full season stats until 2002) 2,850 yards with 44 total touchdowns in 12 games.
Even without the bowl game, Sanders’ 2,628 rushing yards, 39 total touchdowns and 3,249 all-purpose yards in 1988 still stand as single-season FBS records.
Somehow, Sanders avoided being enshrined in Oklahoma State’s Ring of Honor until last fall. Maybe he didn’t want the public spectacle.
Barry Sanders in his rightful place on ESPN’s top 100 running backs of past 60 years
ESPN is out with a list of the top 100 college running backs of the last 60 years (ESPN-plus subscription required to read the full article). Here is the top-10.
1-Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State, 1986-88)
2-Archie Griffin (Ohio State, 1972-75)
3-Herschel Walker (Georgia, 1980-82)
4-Ricky Williams (Texas, 1995-98)
5-O.J. Simpson (USC, 1967-68)
6-Tony Dorsett (Pitt, 1973-76)
7-Mike Rozier (Nebraska, 1981-83)
8-Bo Jackson (Auburn, 1982-85)
9-Earl Campbell (Texas, 1974-77)
10-Reggie Bush (USC, 2003-05)
There can be some healthy debate over the entire list, and naturally the top-10. Our friends over at Dawn of the Dawg tried to make a case for Walker to be No. 1 instead of Sanders.
But that case falls apart when we realize Sanders shared work until his last season at Oklahoma State, with just 179 carries over his first two regular seasons. Walker carried the Georgia offense in his three seasons there (994 regular season carries), and he averaged a yard-and-a-half less per carry less than Sanders in college (5.3 vs 6.8). Sanders also averaged close to 1.5 yards more per touch from scrimmage as a college back than Walker did.
Walker topped 330 carries twice at Georgia, muscling his way to numbers with the help of sheer opportunity volume. We can only imagine what Sanders would’ve done with even 200 carries (or 150, for that matter) in either of his first two collegiate seasons.
Sanders has an argument as the best running back in NFL history. He’d surely be the league’s all-time leading rusher today if he’d maintained close to his pace for a few more seasons.
Sanders’ college career also has a hint of “what could’ve been”, sharing work with another star for two of three years. But he absolutely belongs at No. 1 on the list of best college running backs of the last six decades, or really any span that goes back enough to cover his Oklahoma State career.