Once upon a time, Barry Sanders backed up Thurman Thomas at Oklahoma State.
That's not a bad insurance policy.
That year, the Cowboys never had to rely on Sanders because Thomas was an All-American. In hindsight, they may have wished Sanders had few more touches. In Sanders' only year as a starter he set the NCAA single-season rushing record with 2,625
yards and 39 touchdowns.
A player the caliber of Sanders may not be a backup on any rosters this year, but some teams have an embarrassment of riches at the position.
Last year, Oklahoma learned it had more than just a backup in Allen Patrick. The running back rushed for 761 yards last year while Adrian Peterson battled through injuries.
We'll help you find out who could be this year's Patrick.
Even without Michael Bush, Louisville's backfield proved last year it is stocked with depth. Bulldozing sophomore Anthony Allen is expected to start for Louisville this year after running for 13 touchdowns as a true freshman. Stripling will join a host
of backups, but he has the most game experience. Stripling was second on the team behind Kolby Smith with 429 yards rushing, but he's also a threat as a pass-catcher (252 receiving yards). Stripling was productive as Bush's backup in 2005. He
gained 621 yards, scored seven touchdowns and averaged 7.9 yards per carry.
Johnson got plenty of work last year while Jonathan Stewart was limited by injuries. Along the way, he proved he's much more than Stewart's understudy. Johnson topped 15 carries in a game only once last year, but finished with nine
touchdowns - one fewer than Stewart. His fresh legs helped him average 6.4 yards per carry and gain 644 total yards. Oregon will continue to rely on Stewart for the tough yards, but Johnson is more than adequate as a substitute.
We may not have seen the best of Caulcrick. For one-and-a-half seasons, he has backed up Javon Ringer. He will continue to do this year, but Caulcrick could have a productive senior season. In the final year in John L. Smith's spread offense,
Caulcrick set career lows in yards and yards per carry. Look for him to rebound a bit in a more pro-style offense under Mark Dantonio.
Sims had plenty of opportunities to carry the ball with starting running back Albert Young fighting through injuries last season. In two games Young missed last year, Sims had 42 carries for 249 yards and two touchdowns. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound
Sims provided quality carries throughout the season in relief for Young.
Herring had an excellent freshman season in 2005, rushing for 870 yards and six touchdowns as a backup. With junior college transfer Ryan Torain taking the majority of carries last year (for more than 1,200 yards), Herring's opportunities
dwindled during his sophomore season. Still, he had just as many touchdowns (six) in 64 fewer carries. He has averaged 5.6 yards per carry in his two-year career.
Allen Patrick was only the beginning of the depth the Sooners had at running back last year. Murray redshirted last season, but instantly became part of the mix at running back during the spring. He ran for 103 yards on four carries in the spring
game. A Rivals100 member in 2006, Murray could be the most explosive back on Oklahoma's roster, but he will have to compete for playing time with Patrick and Chris Brown.
Nebraska's running game relied on four backs last year with Brandon Jackson and Marlon Lucky leading the way. With Jackson leaving early for the NFL and Kenny Wilson out with a broken leg, Glenn will be the primary backup to Lucky.
In 71 carries last year, Glenn still managed to finish second on the team with eight total touchdowns. Glenn is the bigger of the two backs, so he could again see time near the goal line.
The running backs in Coral Gables are starting to look like the Hurricanes of old. Javarris James was a Rivals.com second-team Freshman All-American last year, but Cooper didn't let him get too comfortable during the spring. In prep school last
season, Cooper beat out former Miami commitment LeSean McCoy (he signed with Pittsburgh in 2007) for the starting running back job. There is a chance he could take over the No. 1 role in Miami.
If there's ever a highlight film hall of fame, Devine will be in on the first ballot. However, with Heisman Trophy contender Steve Slaton entrenched as the starter – and with a few other candidates to be the backup – Devine's carries will probably be
limited as a true freshman.
LaRod Stephens-Howling led the Panthers in rushing each of the last two years. This season, he will be under more pressure. McCoy committed to Miami out of high school but instead went to Milford Academy in New York. After a year in prep
school, he signed with Pittsburgh and should push for immediate playing time.
For some backfields, the starter is simply the player who lines up for the first snap of the game. In our attempt to separate the true backups from these one-two punches, we'll also look at the top five running back tandems.