It’s hard to believe it has been 30 years since Auburn began earning its distinction as Running Back U. It was back in the late 1970’s that Joe Cribbs, James Brooks and William Andrews started earning Auburn that title.
While they laid the foundation, there have been many more to follow. But who were the ten best since 1977? While there is little argument that Bo Jackson is the greatest to ever line up behind the quarterback, there is discussion about the nine others and what order they go in.
Listed below are my top 10 running backs to wear orange and blue since 1977. Let me know what you think and where you would rank these greats.
- Bo Jackson
There’s no argument about number one. Bo may be the greatest to ever play at tailback. What an honor it was to watch him run the football. When he touched the ball something special was bound to happen. In case you live under a rock – a really big one, Jackson won the 1985 Heisman Trophy and is widely considered one of the top five running backs to ever play college football.
- Carnell Williams
The second position was a tough call. You could easily put Brent Fullwood in this spot. What makes Cadillac the second best was the 2004 season and the way he handled sharing the ball with Ronnie Brown. He led the team in rushing three of his four years and managed 1,000 yards during his junior and senior seasons despite splitting time with Ronnie Brown.
There are five players in the top 10 that shared playing time during the peak of their careers, Cribbs, Brooks, Fullwood, Williams and Brown. Imagine what Auburn’s offense might have looked like had these guys been spaced a few years apart. We could easily have two more Heisman Trophy winners.
- Brent Fullwood
Fullwood is perhaps the second most talented running back to ever play at Auburn. While Jackson was winning the Heisman in 1985, Fullwood dutifully carried out back-up duties. He was probably the second best running back in the country that year. The next season Fullwood earned All-American honors and lead the SEC in rushing.
- James Brooks
One of the few bright spots during the Doug Barfield debacle, James Brooks was special. He had a knack for breaking the long run. He lead the SEC in rushing during his junior season and lead Auburn to its only top 25 finish during the Barfield era, finishing at 8-3 and ranked 16th in 1979.
- Stephen Davis
What a waste. What else can you say about a running back that was heralded as the best in the country out of high school and a front runner for the Heisman during his senior season of 1995? Had Davis had a coach with a brain, he might have claimed the prize and Auburn wouldn’t have limped to an 8-4 finish his senior year. Davis led the SEC in rushing during his junior campaign with nearly 1,300 yards rushing.
- Joe Cribbs
Joe Cribbs is where Running Back U. all started. Cribbs was the best back Auburn had seen since Tucker Frederickson in 1964. He lead Auburn in rushing in 1977 and 1978 and lead the SEC with 1,205 his senior year.
- James Bostic
It’s hard to think about the 1993 undefeated team and not think about James Bostic. He was one of the primary catalysts of a team that was given no chance prior to the season and ended up capturing a number four final ranking and 11-0 record. Bostic lead the SEC in rushing with 1,205 yards that year.
- Rudi Johnson
His tenure was short but memorable. The Ettrick, Virginia native played but one season on the Plains, but boy was it special. During the 2000 season Johnson rushed for nearly 1,600 yards and was the conference’s leading rusher. He gave Tommy Tuberville his first winning season at Auburn, going 9-4.
- Ronnie Brown
When people look back in the history books years from now, Ronnie Brown will hardly get a mention. That’s a shame. Brown won’t show up in the list of rushing or touchdown leaders. He won’t be on the list of Auburn All-Americans. Heck, he didn’t even start his senior year. Yet Brown is one the best to ever play the position at Auburn. Partnering with Williams, he helped lead the Tigers to its greatest season on record in 2004. When Williams went down his sophomore year, Brown stepped in and rushed for 1,000 yards despite only starting five games.
- Lionel James
Lionel "Little Train" James is one of the most beloved Auburn players of all time. Best known for leading the way for Bo Jackson, James lead the team in rushing during the 1981 season. James went on to a long and successful career in the NFL.