Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 11/11/11

On Thursday, December 8th 2011 the Doak Walker Award will be given out to the nation’s most elite running back for a combination of accomplishments on the field, achievement in the classroom and citizenship in the community.

This combination of academia, athletic prowess and the requirement that the recipient must be on schedule to graduate within one year of other students of the same classification, makes it – in my eyes – one of premiere awards a College Football player can be awarded.

Unlike the Heisman, the Doak Walker Award is given purely based on the aforementioned criteria. It is not a popularity contest, not an unspoken prerequisite that your team must be contending for the National Championship, you must excel on and off the field.

Past winners include; LaMichael James, Toby Gerhart, Shonn Greene and Darren McFadden so as you can tell the cream usually rises to the top.

Let’s take a look at the ten semifinalist a little closer and where the race to become the newest Doak Walker Award winner currently is.

The Semifinalist:


Montee Ball, Wisconsin

162 rushes – 1076 yards – 21 touchdowns

Per game averages: 18 rush attempts – 119.56 yards. (6.64 yards per rush)

Receiving: 13 receptions for 229 yards – and 3 touchdowns.

Montee, like the entire Wisconsin offense, just wears on the defensive opposition. Montee has less carries in the second half – as credit to Wisconsin having large leads – but he has only gotten stronger as the game goes. In the first half the season, Montee has 551 yards rushing on 95 carries which is good for a 5.8 yard per carry average. In the second half, Montee has 525 yards rushing on only 67 carries – good for a 7.84 yard per carry average. Drilling down even more, and though Montee only has 17 carries, in the fourth quarter he is averaging 8.41 yards per carry.

Montee’s best game, in my opinion, came against Michigan State on October 22nd. Going up against a stingy Spartan defense, Montee was able to go over 100 yards rushing for the – then – fourth time of the season.

Top Games vs opponent (national rank in rush defense – to date)

  • 11/05: Purdue (91st) – 20 rushes 223 yards 3 TDs
  • 10/01: Nebraska (64th) – 30 rushes 151 yards 4 TDs
  • 10/15: Indiana (117th) – 14 rushes 142 yards 3 TDs
  • 9/10: Oregon State (73rd) – 18 rushes 118 yards 2 TDs
  • 10/22: at Michigan State (18th) – 18 rushes 115 yards TD
  • 9/17: Northern Illinois (90th) – 20 rushes 91 yards 2 TDs
  • 9/24: South Dakota – 15 rushes 88 yards 2 TDs
  • 10/29: at Ohio State (27th) – 17 rushes 85 yards TD
  • 9/01: UNLV (74th) – 10 rushes 63 yards 3 TDs

Rex Burkhead, Nebraska

187 rushes – 951 yards – 13 TDs

Per game averages: 20 rush attempts – 105.67 yards (5.09 yards per rush)

Receiving: 14 receptions – 129 yards – 2 TDs

Burkhead has been used very evenly throughout the Cornhuskers games. Burkhead appears to be a running back who usually starts strong, finishes strong and gets lost – at times – in the middle. Burkhead get the game started in the first quarter averaging 6.31 yards per rush – and finishes in the fourth quarter with a 6.14 yard average per rush. In the second quarter – Burkhead drops to 3 yards per rush and in the third quarter is at running at a 5 yard per rush clip.

Burkhead struggled – a week ago – versus Northwestern, the 84th ranked rush defense in the country, rushing 22 times for 69 yards (3.14/avg). Burkhead’s best game of note came against Ohio State – the 27th ranked rush defense in the nation – where he rushed 26 times for 119 yards and a touchdown.

Top Games vs opponent (national rank in rush defense – to date)

  • 9/24: at Wyoming (115th) – 15 rushes 170 yards 2 TDs
  • 10/29: Michigan State (18th) – 35 rushes 130 yards 2 TDs
  • 9/17: Washington (54th) – 22 rushes 120 yards 2 TDs
  • 10/08: Ohio State (27th) – 26 rushes 119 yards TD
  • 10/22: at Minnesota (91st) – 23 rushes 117 yards TD
  • 10/01: at Wisconsin (48th) – 18 rushes 96 yards TD
  • 9/03: Chattanooga – 11 rushes 75 yards TD
  • 11/05: Northwestern (84th) – 22 rushes 69 yards TD
  • 9/10: Fresno St (94th) – 15 rushes 55 yards 2 TDs

Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State

199 rushes – 1198 yards – 13 TDs

Per game averages: 24 rush attempts – 149.75 yards (6.02 yards per rush)

Receiving: 17 receptions – 208 yards – TD

Hillman is another running back listed as a Doak Walker semifinalist that picks up steam as the game goes. The first and second half splits show that Hillman picks up over two more yards per carry in the second half (7.23) as compared to the first (5.06).

It must be noted that when San Diego State has faced the two best rush defenses on their schedule that Hillman has been shut out from the endzone. His worst game came against the 31st ranked rush defense in TCU with 55 yards on 20 carries, and his best came against Wyoming – the 115th ranked rush defense – with 224 yards on 25 carries.

Top Games vs opponent (national rank in rush defense – to date)

  • 10/29: Wyoming (115th)– 25 rushes 224 yards 2 TDs
  • 9/17: Washington St (70th) – 32 rushes 191 yards 4 TDs
  • 9/03: Cal Poly – 28 rushes 189 yards 2 TDs
  • 10/13: at Air Force (111th) – 27 rushes 172 yards 2 TDs
  • 11/05: New Mexico (119th) – 29 rushes 141 yards TD
  • 9/10: at Army (79th) – 17 rushes 117 yards 2 TDs
  • 9/24: at Michigan (49th) – 21 rushes 109 yards
  • 10/08: TCU (31st) – 20 rushes 55 yards

LaMichael James, Oregon

133 rushes – 1061 yards – 9 TDs

Per game averages: 19 rushes – 151 yards (7.98 yards per rush)

Receiving: 12 receptions – 165 yards – TD

LaMichael James is a truly lethal running back. You cannot afford to make one wrong angle toward James, or he will make you pay. Of his 9 rushing touchdowns this season, James has long runs of 90, 53 and 47. He is a burner and once he is by you, say goodbye.

One game that may weight very largely when compared to other running backs – notably Trent Richardson – is his game versus LSU, the 2nd ranked rush defense in the country. James rushed 18 times for 54 yards that game. The next best rush defense, James faced, was a 43rd ranked California team. Versus Cal, LaMichael James rushed 30 times for 239 times. You cannot ignore LaMichael in this Oregon offense – nor can you ignore his nearly 8 yards per rush he has.

Top Games vs opponent (national rank in rush defense – to date)

  • 9/24: at Arizona (71st) – 23 rushes 288 yards 2 TDs
  • 10/06: California (43rd) – 30 rushes 239 yards TD
  • 9/17: Southwest Missouri St – 12 rushes 204 yards 3 TDs
  • 11/05: at Washington (54th) – 25 rushes 156 yards TD
  • 9/10: Nevada (69th) – 12 rushes 67 yards TD
  • 9/03: LSU (2nd) – 18 rushes 54 yards TD
  • 10/29: Washington St (70th) – 13 rushes 53 yards
  • DNP versus California or at Colorado

Henry Josey, Missouri

134 rushes – 1149 yards – 9 TDs

Per game averages: 14.89 rushes – 127.68 yards (8.57 yards per rush)

Receiving: 8 receptions – 84 yards

Josey has been a solid back all season. The rushing tandem of quarterback James Franklin and Henry Josey has been a threat not many teams have had much luck against. The majority of Josey’s carries have came in the first half (86) averaging right at 9 yards per carry. The only drop off – from Josey – has come in the third quarter when his per rush average drops to 6 yards per rush, still solid.

Henry Josey’s best game came versus Texas A&M – the 23rd ranked rush defense – with 20 rushes for 162 yards and a score. When Josey went up against Kansas State, though, he faltered only getting 12 carries for 55 yards.

Top Games vs opponent (national rank in rush defense – to date)

  • 9/17: Western Illinois – 14 rushes – 263 yards – 3 TDs
  • 10/29: at Texas A&M (23rd) – 20 rushes – 162 yards – TD
  • 10/22: Oklahoma State (99th) – 25 rushes – 138 yards
  • 9/24: at Oklahoma (37th) – 14 rushes – 133 yards – TD
  • 11/05: at Baylor (109th) – 15 rushes – 132 yards – 2 TDs
  • 10/15: Iowa State (105th) – 19 rushes – 129 yards – TD
  • 9/09: at Arizona St (60th) – 9 rushes – 94 yards
  • 10/08: at Kansas St (11th) – 12 rushes – 55 yards – TD
  • 9/03: Miami (OH) (77th) – 5 rushes – 43 yards

Zach Line, SMU

184 rushes – 1089 yards – 17 TDs

Per game averages: 20 rushes – 121 yards (5.92 yards per rush)

Receiving: 12 receptions – 132 yards

When you think of SMU and, by extension, June Jones, you think pass pass pass. On the contrary the run game has always been pivotal in the June Jones offense to help keep opposing defenses honest.

Line, like past running backs under June Jones, has flourished in the SMU system. His game versus TCU was one of his finest on the season, rushing for 120 yards. Seven out of nine games, Line has eclipsed the 100-yard mark.

Top Games vs opponent (national rank in rush defense – to date)

  • 10/22: at Southern Miss (41st) – 22 rushes – 163 yards
  • 11/05: Tulane (76th) – 25 rushes – 143 yards – 3 TDs
  • 9/24: at Memphis (89th) – 20 rushes – 136 yards – 3 TDs
  • 9/04: at Texas A&M (23rd) – 22 rushes – 128 yards – TD
  • 10/01: at TCU (31st) – 21 rushes – 120 yards
  • 10/29: at Tulsa (40th) – 22 rushes – 118 yards – TD
  • 9/10: UTEP (88th) – 20 rushes – 114 yards – 2 TDs
  • 9/17: Northwestern St – 16 rushes – 85 yards – 5 TDs
  • 10/15: UCF (17th) – 16 rushes – 82 yards – 2 TDs

Chris Polk, Washington

207 rushes – 1096 yards – 9 TDs

Per game averages: 23 rushes – 121.78 yards (5.29 yards per rush)

Receiving: 24 receptions – 280 yards 3 TDs

Chris Polk, the Junior running back, has carried the load for the Huskies this season, very quietly at that. His two best games has come against two top ten rush defenses in the country. Versus Utah (9th) he rushed for 189 yards on 29 carries and against Stanford (3rd) he rushed for 144 yards on just 15 carries.

Polk definitely deserves to be on the semifinalist list. Seven out of nine games, Polk has gone over the 100-yard mark.

Top Games vs opponent (national rank in rush defense – to date)

  • 10/01: at Utah (9th) – 29 rushes – 189 yards
  • 10/22: at Stanford (3rd) – 15 rushes – 144 yards – 2 TDs
  • 10/29: Arizona (72nd) – 34 rushes – 144 yards – 4 TDs
  • 9/17: at Nebraska (64th) – 22 rushes – 130 yards – TD
  • 9/03: Eastern Washington – 23 rushes – 125 yards
  • 10/15: Colorado (93rd) – 18 rushes – 117 yards
  • 9/10: Hawaii (26th) – 22 rushes – 107 yards – TD
  • 11/05: Oregon (58th) – 24 rushes – 80 yards
  • 9/24: California (43rd) – 20 rushes – 60 yards – TD

Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State

115 rushes – 915 yards – 18 TDs

Per game averages: 17 rushes – 101.67 yards (6.06 yards per rush)

Receiving: 26 receptions – 186 yards – 2 TDs

When you say Oklahoma State what comes to mind? Blackmond, Weeden? Probably so. Sophomore running back Joseph Randle, however, has been a touchdown machine in an offense you do not think of rushing – like SMU.

The level of competition has not been the greatest, in terms of rush defenses but he has been consistent all the way through. Randle’s best game came versus Tulsa – the 40th ranked rush defense – rushing 25 times for 128 yards and three scores.

The three best rush defenses Randle has faced – in Texas A&M, Kansas State and Texas -have all held Randle under 100 yards on the ground.

Top Games vs opponent (national rank in rush defense – to date)

  • 10/29: Baylor (109th) – 14 rushes – 152 yards – 4 TDs
  • 10/22: at Missouri (60th) – 14 rushes – 138 yards – 3 TDs
  • 9/03: Louisiana-Lafayette (56th) – 22 rushes – 129 yards – 2 TDs
  • 9/17: at Tulsa (40th) – 25 rushes – 128 yards – 3 TDs
  • 9/08: Arizona (72nd) – 15 rushes – 121 yards – 2 TDs
  • 9/24: at Texas A&M (23rd) – 21 rushes – 83 yards
  • 11/05: Kansas St (11th) – 16 rushes – 73 yards – 2 TDs
  • 10/15: at Texas (8th) – 17 rushes – 68 yards – TD
  • 10/08: Kansas (120th) – 7 rushes – 23 yards – TD

Trent Richardson, Alabama

172 rushes – 1078 yards – 17 TDs

Per game averages: 19 rushes – 119.78 yards (6.27 yards per rush)

Receiving: 23 receptions – 292 yards – TD

Trent Richardson, the leader in the house for me, has produced highlight reel after highlight reel. Powerful, shifty and fast. What else could you ask for out of a running back?

What separates Trent Richardson, in my eyes, is the game he had versus the #2 ranked rush defense – the #1 team in the country – the LSU Tigers. He rushed for 89 yards, earning every one of those yards, and even caught 5 passes for 80 more yards.

Top Games vs opponent (national rank in rush defense – to date)

  • 10/15: at Mississippi (110th) – 15 rushes – 183 yards – 4 TDs
  • 10/01: at Florida (30th) – 29 rushes – 181 yards – 2 TDs
  • 9/17: North Texas (67th) – 11 rushes – 167 yards – 3 TDs
  • 9/24: Arkansas (78th) – 17 rushes – 126 yards
  • 9/10: at Penn State (24th) – 26 rushes – 111 yards – 2 TDs
  • 10/08: Vanderbilt (46th) – 19 rushes – 107 yards – TD
  • 11/05: LSU (2nd) – 23 rushes – 89 yards
  • 10/22: Tennessee (62nd) – 17 rushes – 77 yards – 2 TDs
  • 9/03: Kent State (29th) – 13 rushes – 37 yards – 3 TDs

David Wilson, Virginia Tech

210 rushes – 1360 yards – 7 TDs

Per game averages: 21 rushes – 136 yards (6.48 yards per rush)

Receiving: 16 receptions – 99 yards – TD

David Wilson is probably the least respected running back in the country, so I am very glad he has been placed as a Semifinalist for the Doak Walker award. If the truth is to be told, had Virginia Tech not dropped a game to Clemson – Wilson would probably be mentioned more in the Heisman talk. (Which in lies the problem with the Heisman trophy)

If David Wilson lines up, you can almost count on a 100-yard game from him – something he has done in every game but one. David Wilson leads the country in rushing by 162 yards over fellow Doak Walker semifinalist Ronnie Hillman.

Top Games vs opponent (national rank in rush defense – to date)

  • 11/10: at Georgia Tech (75th) – 23 rushes – 175 yards
  • 9/03: Appalachian St – 16 rushes – 162 yards – 3 TDs
  • 10/29: at Duke (66th) – 23 rushes – 148 yards
  • 9/10: at East Carolina (81st) – 25 rushes – 137 yards
  • 10/15: at Wake Forest (50th) – 17 rushes – 136 yards – TD
  • 10/22: Boston College (68th) – 17 rushes – 134 yards – TD
  • 9/24: at Marshall (57th) – 26 rushes – 132 yards – TD
  • 10/08: Miami (FL) (80th) – 23 rushes – 128 yards
  • 10/01: Clemson (96th)– 20 rushes – 123 yards
  • 9/17: Arkansas St (28th)– 20 rushes – 85 yards – TD

WHERE I WOULD RANK THE BACKS:

  1. Trent RIchardon – Alabama
  2. David Wilson – Virginia Tech
  3. LaMichael James – Oregon
  4. Henry Josey – Missouri
  5. Joseph Randle – Oklahoma State
  6. Montee Ball – Wisconsin
  7. Rex Burkhead – Nebraska
  8. Chris Polk – Washington
  9. Ronnie Hillman – San Diego State
  10. Zach Line – SMU
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