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In a passing fancy, running backs could dominate college football this season

Leonard Fournette of the LSU Tigers runs for

Leonard Fournette of the LSU Tigers runs for a first down past Marcus Maye of the Florida Gators at Tiger Stadium on Oct. 17, 2015 in Baton Rouge. Credit: Getty Images / Chris Graythen

There’s no question college football has become more of a passing game in the last decade. Just don’t tell the running backs.

Look at any preseason Heisman watch list, and you’ll find more running backs than pretty much every other position combined. Names such as Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb, Samaje Perine, Jalen Hurd, Wayne Gallman and Royce Freeman.

While it’s normal for running backs to garner serious Heisman consideration, the sheer depth at the position this year has created buzz — in an era where quarterbacks and receivers are posting crazy stat lines and some final scores look more like a basketball game.

It’s an interesting development given that three years ago, no running backs were picked in the first round of the NFL Draft for the first time in history. The following year, it happened again. That led to cries of “Football is a passing game now!” and “Running backs are devalued!”

But, as ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit pointed out, running the ball still is just as important as it always has been.

“If you go down the line of the teams that are still winning, as much as fans may not recognize it and they get caught up in the quarterback and the spread and the tempo, the great teams still have great running backs,” Herbstreit told Newsday on Tuesday. “So that’s still a priority for teams if you want to win at the highest level.”

At first glance, some people may think the talent at running back is a correction of sorts to the up-tempo, high-powered spread offenses that have taken over the game. Herbstreit doesn’t think that’s necessarily the case.

“I don’t think it’s a trend as far as strategy or the way the game is skewing,” said Herbstreit, who was on a call to promote Allstate’s #StreitCred program in which fans can tweet him their picks for the week’s standout performances. “I think that it’s a year where we’ve got a lot of guys that are coming back at that position that have enjoyed a lot of success.”

In other words, we’re not going back to the 1980s, when I-formations ruled the sport and Herschel Walker was tearing up fields across the country. It’s just a cyclical occurrence, and we’re currently at the peak.

Herbstreit said more teams have had to start relatively unproven talent at quarterback in recent seasons, so they’ve had to – or in some cases, still may have to – rely on their running game to back them up.

“I just think it’s a year where we’ve had such great quarterback play in the past, so a lot of those guys – the more recognizable names, anyway, and the more experienced guys – have gone off to the NFL,” he said. “And there are still some guys, but for the most part, you’ve got a lot of guys kind of learning for the first time this year.”

New York Sports