I was sitting at Dunkin Donuts’ this morning, drinking a medium coffee with cream, eating one of their delicious new grilled cheese sandwiches, and reading an article about the 20th anniversary of that time that some scientists in Australia or Austria or Canada or possibly Council Bluffs cloned a sheep or a goat or a mule. I think that’s what it was. I wasn’t reading too closely. It was early, but it gave me an idea. If I could clone, or, more precisely, just take a photocopy, of the two best running backs from each major college football program, which one would have the best backfield?
A bunch of sportswriters knocked out similar columns 20 years ago right after those Iowans cloned that goat. I remember Bill Rhoden talking about it on the Sports Reporters back then. Hopefully, most of you have forgotten those columns or were too young to remember them.
In my version of this hypothetical, I am assuming that each team uses a two-back set and my readers take “backfield” to just mean these two guys. I have placed USC on probation because the guys over at Conquest Chronicles never retweet me when I tag them with my listicles.
Now, on the with the countdown…
10. Ohio State - Archie Griffin and Eddie George
The Buckeyes have two sledgehammers in their dream backfield. Can you imagine a better tandem of ground-and-pound running backs than Archie Griffin and Eddie George?
9. Texas - Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams:
Earl Campbell is the most menacing, eighteen-wheeler of a running back that ever lived. Ricky Williams is the greatest holistic healer to ever win the Heisman Trophy. That’s good enough for ninth place in my mind.
8. SMU - Doak Walker and Eric Dickerson
Swift, shifty and versatile, Doak Walker was an elusive runner, fantastic receiver and a master of the halfback pass. Highland Park’s Walker made Southern Methodist the dominant power in the Southwestern Conference (SWC) during the 1940s. Walker won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 1948 and made Mustangs’ football such a draw in Dallas that municipal leaders decided to expand the Cotton Bowl. “Pony Express” frontman Eric Dickerson was also pretty decent, what with his SWC record-breaking performances in college and his single-season NFL rushing record with the Los Angeles Rams.
7. Army - Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis
“Mr. Inside” Blanchard and “Mr. Outside” Davis battered and outran the competition in college football on their way to three consecutive national championships (1944-1946).
6. Syracuse - Jim Brown and Floyd Little
James Nathaniel Brown dominated college and professional football like few others during his three years in the Syracuse backfield and nine years with the Cleveland Browns.
Joining the co-star of Ice Station Zebra in Syracuse’s dream backfield is fellow Gold Jacket Floyd Little, the only three-time All-American in Orange football history. Known to Denver fans as “The Franchise,” Little was a charter member of the Broncos’ Ring of Fame. Contemporaries swore that Little, whose game was similar to that of Darren Sproles, was impossible to tackle single-handedly. The combination of Brown and this AFL dynamo form one of the most fearsome backfields imaginable.
5. Oklahoma State - Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas
This tandem actually shared the Cowboys’ backfield during the 1987 season, posting a combined 2,216 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns with Thomas as the feature back. In my dream scenario, Thomas would be lining up at fullback and Sanders at tailback, maximizing the offensive potential of this unstoppable combination.
4. LSU - Leonard Fournette and Billy Cannon
Dennis Quaid did a fantastic job playing a Billy Cannon-esque character in the film adaptation of Frank Deford’s Everybody’s All American. If there were ever a film produced about Leonard Fournette, I think Chadwick Boseman would be an excellent choice to play him. In addition to being a fine actor, Boseman has demonstrated a clear on-screen acumen for playing professional athletes. He presented a very believable rendering of Jackie Robinson in 42.
3. Georgia - Herschel Walker and Todd Gurley
I am not sure that this one has to be a dream backfield. Todd Gurley is just entering his prime with the Los Angeles Rams and Herschel Walker still does 1,500 push-ups, 2,000 sit-ups and 2,500 pull-ups everyday.
2. Oklahoma: Billy Sims and Adrian Peterson
No dream backfield combines speed and power like the Sooners’ Sims and Peterson. Both of these Heisman Trophy winners could run over and run past just about anyone. In the case of “Kung Fu Billy Sims,” he can also deliver a roundhouse kick to the head of a defender while in full stride.
1. Kansas - Gale Sayers and John Riggins
If you don’t believe that Gale Sayers was the most exciting football player that ever lived, go to YouTube right now and watch the clips. He has been the most electrifying man in sports entertainment since the Johnson administration. Combine Sayers with the relentless battering ram that was John Riggins and you have the best backfield imaginable. When you combine the complimentary skills of a home run hitter like Sayers and the ground and pound running of “The Diesel,” you have my dream backfield. This pair combines every imaginable attribute you would want in your running backs.
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