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In the modern era of football, the workhorse running back role has given way to a committee approach or an offense that prioritizes passing.
But despite the shift in offensive philosophy, it’s always important to have a reliable threat on the ground. The players listed have helped their teams establish a strong run game, leading to early season victories.
The top running back performers in this young season have shown consistency in their average gain, explosiveness in their run and a plethora of highlight plays that changed the game. Their production and big gains throughout the game were vital for the team’s success, sparking the offense for scoring drives.
Regardless of whether these athletes continue to carry their respective offenses or not, they’ve put their teams in positions to win. So, let’s take a look at the shining stars from the run game after three weeks of college football.
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True freshman Nicholas Singleton put smiles on the faces of every coaching staff member at Penn State in Week 2.
The Nittany Lions have produced some incredible running backs, and it seems like Singleton is another gem that’s ready to shine. Per 247Sports, he was the No. 1 running back in the class of 2022 and listed as a projected first-rounder coming out of high school.
Singleton is an explosive runner with incredible mass for his age. He was thought of as an instant-impact player when he enrolled at PSU, but he has busted onto the scene as the No. 1 option in the offense with a mature demeanor. The Pennsylvania native has totaled four touchdowns and 334 yards on just 30 carries this season for the Nittany Lions.
His Week 2 performance against the Ohio Bobcats resulted in two of those touchdowns and 179 of his yards this season. Singleton’s efficiency was his best asset, averaging 17.9 yards per carry.
Most of that had to do with a 70-yard touchdown in the first quarter, but he consistently found open gaps and tore apart the Bobcats defense like a veteran.
Singleton is already a special talent, but when he gets comfortable with the college speed and physicality, he’ll be considered one of the best running backs in CFB.
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The Razorbacks have had an extremely underrated start to the season. Arkansas is 3-0 after wins against Cincinnati, South Carolina and Missouri State, looking like one of the most promising teams in the SEC.
Head coach Sam Pittman and the Hogs are slowly pushing their name toward the top of the nation’s best conference. They have a quality offense with a fine quarterback and receiving core, but running back Raheim Sanders has been the safety blanket for Arkansas.
Sanders helped boost the Razorbacks past the Gamecocks in Week 2 after an incredible performance with two touchdowns and 156 yards. The sophomore carried the ball 24 times, with a 6.5 rush yard average. He scored the first two touchdowns for Arkansas, helping give his team an early 21-9 lead heading into halftime.
Sanders’ versatility was on display against SC. He was the third-down back when the Razorbacks needed an answer on offense, he was the first look when Arkansas started a scoring drive and he was the extra blocking man when the pocket opened for the quarterback.
For such a young back to have the abilities that Sanders presented, it’s very uncommon to go against some of the best talents in college football and lead his team the way he did.
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Marshall went into South Bend with confidence that they could take down a Top 10 team in Notre Dame.
One of their biggest keys to success was running back Khalan Laborn, who notched one touchdown and 163 yards on the ground. The Thundering Herd force-fed Laborn throughout the matchup, ending Week 2’s win over the Fighting Irish with 31 carries.
It’s a feel-good story for all parties, excluding the Fighting Irish. Laborn has been sidelined several times because of knee injuries in his collegiate career. He’s an extremely seasoned player as a member of the 2017 high school class and was once ranked as the No. 1 all-purpose running back in the country, per 247Sports.
After being released from Florida State several years back for a violation of team policy, Laborn has demonstrated why he was listed as a 5-star prospect. Following his Week 3 performance against Bowling Green, Laborn now has three consecutive games of 100 rushing yards and a score.
However, it was his efforts against then-No. 8 Notre Dame that helped Marshall gain one of their biggest victories in program history. The historic win against the Fighting Irish has to be one of the highlights of his career.
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The Minnesota Gophers were a very underrated team heading into the 2022 season. They’re currently fighting for an AP poll ranking with a pristine 3-0 record.
Veteran running back Mohamed Ibrahim has been the catalyst of an efficient offense, acting as the No. 1 option on a team that has averaged 49.7 points per game. That he’s even on the field, let alone effective, is impressive, considering he tore his Achilles in September of last year.
He’s had the best start to his college football career this season, gathering a combined seven touchdowns and 464 yards on 67 carries.
His Week 2 outing against the Colorado Buffaloes earned him one of the best games in his five-year collegiate career. Ibrahim rushed 23 times for 202 yards—good for 8.8 yards per attempt—and three touchdowns in a 49-7 victory.
Minnesota may have played one of the worst run defenses early in the season, but Ibrahim has continued to improve game by game. He helped the Gophers attain one of the best third-down conversion rates this season, going 13-of-15 on their attempts against the Buffaloes.
He kept Minnesota’s stable offense running the entire game, as they played one of their cleanest offensive showings in recent memory.
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Air Force running back Brad Roberts deserves a bigger spotlight after he started the season with back-to-back 100-yard showings. His scoring ability has helped Air Force gain Mountain West notoriety, known as one of the most explosive offenses in the conference.
In Week 2, the Falcons hosted the Colorado Buffaloes in an early season in-state clash, and Roberts was the centerpiece of an offense that dropped 41 points on the hapless Buffaloes defense. He utilized his physicality to record three touchdowns and 174 yards on 24 carries.
He was the first to punch in a score against the Buffaloes and continued his dominance throughout the game, putting a touchdown on the board in three separate quarters.
Air Force was so focused on the rush attack that its leading receiver had one reception and eight yards. Air Force finished the game with five touchdowns and 435 yards on the ground.
Roberts ambushed Colorado’s defense right from the start, instigating one of the most unique offensive showings in the country.
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Campbell managed to keep the game close in the first half of their Week 3 clash with East Carolina, but the Pirates put their foot on the gas to defeat the Fighting Camels 49-10.
Every time they’ve given running back Keaton Mitchell a chance to lead the offense, the Pirates have put themselves in the best position to win. In their victory against Campbell, Mitchell had one touchdown and 185 yards.
It was Mitchell’s efficiency throughout the game that awarded him one of the best performances this season, as he averaged 14.2 yards per carry on just 13 attempts. He’s a younger running back in his third year with the program, starting the 2022 season with by far the best streak he’s had.
Mitchell hasn’t gotten as many attempts on the ground as some of the other players listed, but he’s been consistently ripping off chunk plays and was a key reason why the Pirates scored a touchdown every quarter against Campbell. If Mitchell can continue to produce despite his low snap count, you can only imagine ECU’s profit with more attempts.
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Despite Nebraska’s early season drama, its anchor this season has been running back Anthony Grant. He’s another veteran back who’s been on the CFB scene since 2018. Grant had one of the best games of his career against North Dakota in Week 1, putting up two touchdowns on 189 yards.
He recorded his highest average gain of the season with 8.2 yards per carry on 23 attempts in the Cornhuskers 38-17 win over the Fighting Hawks. Grant scored the first touchdown for Nebraska on a 19-yard scamper and gave his team a 23-17 lead after taking a carry 49 yards to the house in the third quarter.
The offense ran through Grant’s open gaps, and his ability to get yards after contact unlocked the offense. The result was much closer than many expected, but the Huskers were able to take their first and only win of the season thus far thanks to Grant’s prolific day,
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Junior running back DeWayne McBride of UAB had one of the most impressive performances so far this season.
In Week 2, McBride and the Blazers hosted Georgia Southern, getting their second win of the season with a 35-21 victory. There wasn’t a more important player on the field than McBride—he singlehandedly outscored the Eagles with four touchdowns and ran for 228 yards on eight yards per carry.
McBride’s role has slowly grown in his three seasons with the Blazers, and he’s now the centerpiece of the offense. He scored 80 percent of UAB’s touchdowns, breaking the ice for both teams in the first quarter and shutting down any sense of a comeback for the Eagles in the fourth quarter with two scores.
The Blazers had multiple drives where they scored in six plays or fewer, with the help of McBride collecting double-digit gains. He had 28 carries in the game, which aided UAB’s advantage in time of possession and rushing yards.
Georgia Southern likely game planned to play a run-heavy offense, but it wasn’t enough to stop McBride and the Blazers.
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UNLV’s Aidan Robbins hit the jackpot in a 58-27 victory against North Texas in Week 3. The junior from Kentucky carried the ball 29 times for the most rushing yards in any Division I college football game this season, with a whopping 227 against the Mean Green. He also added three touchdowns with an average gain of 7.8 yards.
He was the clear definition of “unstoppable,” leading his team to their second win of the season. Robbins is playing in his first season with the Rebels after transferring from Louisville, but he’s quickly proved his worth as the team’s starting running back.
He set a career high in nearly every statistical category, including the longest run of 59 yards, the most touchdowns in a game and the most yards in a game.
Everything was clicking in the UNLV offense, although the Mean Green kept it close in the first half. Robbins extended the lead on a regular basis, though, notching back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter to give the Rebels a lead it would never relinquish.
Robbins’ production was especially impressive, considering he had carried the ball in just three games in two years entering this season.