As the game of football evolves into a passing-dominated sport, we may never see even the most prolific college football running backs trouble the top of the CFB records book for career rushing yards.
That said, there are multiple RBs that made their mark this millennium that feature among the career rushing yards leaders. Where do they fall, and who leads the way as the statistically most successful running back in the CFB records book?
CFB records: Career rushing yards leaders
While programs like Wisconsin gravitate towards the ground game, there’s always a chance that there’ll be newcomers into the CFB record books for career rushing yards leaders. However, there’s no surprise that the men from Madison have multiple entries in the top 10 and lead the way in the book of CFB records.
1) Ron Dayne, Wisconsin
Racking up an astonishing 7,125 rushing yards through his four-year career at Wisconsin, Ron “The Dayne Train” Dayne leads the CFB records book for career rushing yards. Controversially perhaps, Dayne’s career yardage total isn’t recognized by the NCAA, who doesn’t count bowl game yardage accrued before the 2002 season towards career totals.
Nonetheless, Dayne’s career accomplishments were incredible. A full-time starter as a freshman in 1996, Dayne compiled 2,109 rushing yards in his very first season for Wisconsin.
While his career statistics were bolstered by an almost untenable workload — Dayne had 1,220 career carries — his production wasn’t just a by-product of opportunity. In that ’96 season, he averaged 6.5 yards per carry and finished his career with 5.8 ypc.
“The Great Dayne” tallied over 1,000 yards in each of his four years. Meanwhile, he crept over 2,000 yards in both the ’96 and ’99 seasons. His 2,034 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns in his final season earned him the Heisman Trophy. Just three running backs have won the award since. We may never see a more dominant RB performance than Dayne’s 1999 season for the Badgers ever again.
2) Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh
While Dayne was a workhorse back — built more for bulldozing defenses than outrunning them — Tony Dorsett was a genuine speedster. Boasting 4.3-second 40-yard dash speed, Dorsett outraced almost all his opposition into the CFB records. His 6,526 career rushing yards between the 1973 and 1976 seasons ranks as the second most in history, again, discounting the NCAA’s objection to pre-2002 bowl game yardage.
Although he suffered a “down year” in 1974 when he “only” rushed for 1,004 yards, such was Dorsett’s dominance that he had surpassed the school record for career rushing yards in his sophomore season. Throughout his four-year career, he’d tally over 1,500 rushing yards on three occasions. In one of those campaigns — in 1975 — he averaged 6.5 yards per carry and set the school single-game record with 303 rushing yards against Notre Dame.
During his final season with Pitt, Dorsett smashed through 2,000 rushing yards (2,150) while leading the Panthers to a national title. He was also named the Heisman Trophy and Walter Camp Award winner. His NCAA-recognized 6,082 career rushing yards sat atop the CFB records for over 20 years before being toppled by another member of this list.
3) Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
According to the NCAA, San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey is the official rushing yards leader in the CFB records book. Between 2013 and 2016, Pumphrey tallied 6,405 rushing yards for the Aztecs. Remarkably, he sits third on the list despite “only” rushing for 752 yards during his freshman campaign with San Diego State.
In 2014, Pumphrey led the Mountain West conference with 1,867 rushing yards. However, that tally was only enough for fourth in the nation. Furthermore, his conference-leading 1,653 yards in 2015 only ranked eighth in the nation. In those two seasons, the Aztecs RB tallied 40 all-purpose touchdowns as a dynamic weapon out of the backfield.
Pumphrey secured his status in the CFB records book with a career year in 2016. Averaging 6.1 ypc, the San Diego State RB led the nation with 2,133 rushing yards. He had just three games in the season where he tallied under 100 yards. Meanwhile, for his career, Pumphrey tallied six games of 200+ rushing yards.
4) Ricky Williams, Texas
Ricky Williams burst onto the college football scene in 1995, breaking the Texas Longhorns record for most rushing yards by a freshman. Those 990 yards would set the scene for an outstanding, record-setting college career.
By the time Williams departed for the NFL in 1999, he had broken Dorsett’s long-standing record for most career rushing yards amongst a whole host of college football, Big 12 conference, and Texas program records.
Across his four years with the Longhorns, Williams tallied 6,279 career rushing yards and averaged 6.2 ypc. Of all the running backs in the top five for career rushing yards, Williams leads the way in yards per carry.
It’s a testament to his sheer dominance and brilliance at the RB position. At the time of his departure to the NFL, Williams also held the record for all-purpose yardage with 7,580 yards.
5) Charles White, USC
Between Charles White, Archie Griffin, and Dorsett, three of the top 10 career rushing yards leaders dominated college football in the 1970s. While Griffin and Dorsett’s careers ran almost parallel to each other, White took over the mantle to round out the decade. Between 1976 and 1979, White twice led the NCAA in rushing yards and carries.
The USC running back amassed 6,245 rushing yards during his career, ranking second in the CFB records book behind Dorsett until Williams, Dayne, and Pumphrey surpassed him from the mid-1990s onwards.
White tallied three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, culminating in a career-high 2,050 yards at 6.2 ypc in 1979. A Heisman winner and national champion, White’s No. 12 jersey was retired by the Trojans.
Running backs ranked 6-10
6) Jonathan Taylor
Wisconsin: 6,174 rushing yards
7) DeAngelo Williams
Memphis: 6,026 rushing yards
8) Royce Freeman
Oregon: 5,621 rushing yards
9) Travis Prentice
Miami (OH): 5,596 rushing yards
10) Archie Griffin
Ohio State: 5,589 rushing yards
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