Which SEC teams have longest streaks of 1,000-yard rushers ... and can they extend it in 2017?
SEC fans remember 2008 for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, Tim Tebow led Florida to its second national championship in three years. Alas, that also was the East’s last great stand before Nick Saban changed the locks on the trophy case.
But 2008 was also the last time Auburn failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher.
Every season since, the Tigers have produced at least one. Twice, in 2010 and 2013, the Tigers produced two.
Their active eight-year streak of producing a 1,000-yard rusher is the longest of any Power 5 team in the country.
It’s also the longest streak in SEC history and twice as long as any other SEC team’s active streak. And given the fact Kamryn Pettway returns, odds are favorable that the streak reaches nine in 2017.
MOST CONSECUTIVE SEASONS WITH A 1,000-YARD RUSHER IN SEC HISTORY
LONGEST ACTIVE STREAKS IN THE SEC
(Note: Kentucky, Mississippi State and Missouri also had a 1,000-yard rusher in 2016, so those three will have a chance to begin a streak in 2017.)
Which of those programs stand the best chance of extending their streak in 2017? Which ones are most likely to end? Let’s take a look:
Locks to extend
Auburn: Pettway wasn’t even the backup when the season began. Remember, he didn’t even get a single carry in the opening loss to Clemson, yet he still finished with 1,224 yards.
LSU: Derrius Guice already has broken Leonard Fournette’s single-game school rushing record. Now, with the backfield all to himself, can he challenge Fournette’s single-season school record of 1,953 yards set in 2015? Don’t bet against it.
Georgia: Nick Chubb and Sony Michel each have at least one 1,000-yard season on their resume. They might become the first set of Georgia teammates to each crack the 1K mark in the same season in 2017.
Arkansas: Rawleigh Williams was coming off a serious neck injury and ran for 1,360 yards last season. Devwah Whaley might eat into Williams’ carries, but that just means there’s a better chance of Arkansas producing another set of 1K-rushers than no 1K rushers.
Alabama: At the rate it’s going, Jalen Hurts might just call his own plays next fall. It won’t matter. Alabama is Alabama, and Alabama runs the ball. The only way Alabama doesn’t produce a 1,000-yard rusher in 2017 is if it divides the glory as evenly as it did in 2014, when Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon finished with 990 and 979 yards, respectively. Had either broken just a couple more tackles during the season, Alabama’s streak would be at six consecutive years and counting.
Possible to extend
Vanderbilt: Vandy’s 2-year streak is Ralph Webb’s 2-year streak. Webb, already Vandy’s career rushing leader, obviously has a chance to reach 1,000 for the third consecutive year, but two factors are worth watching.
First, he averaged just 5.13 yards per carry last season. At first glance, that sounds like a lot, but it ranked just 22nd among rushers in 2016. His 4.16 YPC in 2015 was No. 23. So he’s much more grinder than game-breaker.
Second, Khari Blasingame emerged as a surprisingly viable option last season. The result could be a more even split of carries in 2017.
Texas A&M: This is more math and scheme than ability. The only two years an Aggies running back has topped 1,000 yards under Kevin Sumlin have been the past two. (Johnny Manziel did it from the shotgun in 2012.) While Noel Mazzone insists he likes to run, the Aggies still were 10th in attempts in 2016.
Trayveon Williams reached 1,000 yards, but he needed to average 6.78 yards per carry to do so. If Texas A&M were to turn the offense over to Williams and give him 200 carries, the Aggies would be a lock to extend the streak. But they wouldn’t really look like the Aggies. Under Sumlin, only one running back has gotten more than 160 carries in a season: Tra Carson (242) in 2015.
Kentucky: Benny Snell was a bolt of unexpected production last season, arguably the biggest offensive overachiever in the SEC, given his pedestrian recruiting resume.
Remember the drive against Georgia? Kentucky lined up Snell in the Wildcat and kept him there, pounding, pounding, pounding. Nine consecutive carries set up a tying field goal.
It was old school, and fun to watch. But can Snell keep that up for an entire season, without the regular breaks provided by Boom Williams? That’ll be the key to his quest to break 1,000 yards again.
Unlikely to extend
Mississippi State: Nick Fitzgerald set a school rushing record for quarterbacks with 1,375 yards and just missed breaking Manziel’s SEC mark. But here’s the rub: QBs don’t put together back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Manziel ran for a record 1,410 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2012 but was held to almost half of that (759) in 2013. Dak Prescott ran for 986 yards as a junior but just 588 as a senior. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson ran for 1,105 yards in 2015 but just 629 while leading the Tigers to the national title this past season.
Part of that is scheme (fewer designed runs), part of that is improving as a passer to the point these QBs don’t tuck-and-run at the first hint of pressure.
Fitzgerald certainly has the durability and ability to go over 1,000 again. Nobody’s suggesting otherwise. But the guess is he makes an attempt in 2017 to become a more complete quarterback, which will limit is odds of running for 1,000.
Missouri: The Tigers have produced a 1,000-yard rusher in four of their five seasons in the SEC. So it’s as much a part of their DNA as their Xs and Os.
Damarea Crockett reached 1,062 yards in an explosive 2016 debut season. His 6.94 YPC ranked fifth in the SEC. He’s certainly a threat to make it back, but he’ll again be sharing the workload with Ish Witter.
The biggest factor working against the Tigers is the emergence of Drew Lock. Only two SEC teams threw the ball more often than the Tigers did in 2016. Some of that was situational; the Tigers often were behind. But most of it was the belief that Lock’s right arm gave them the best chance to score. That won’t change in 2017.