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August 25, 2006
Backup running backs ready to carry the load
Imagine the wonderful feeling of security Oklahoma State coach Pat Jones enjoyed in 1987.
The Cowboys offense was built around All-American running back Thurman Thomas, but Jones did not have to fret too much if Thomas needed a break or sprained an ankle. He had an ace in the hole. More importantly, he had an ace to run through holes.
Thomas' backup was Barry Sanders, who merely won the Heisman Trophy when he became a starter in '88. When you've got an insurance policy like that, why worry?
Southern Cal coach John Robinson probably didn't fret much either in 1979. Even though Charles White was ripping through defenses en route to winning the Heisman, he had an overpowering understudy in Marcus Allen, who would win the Heisman two years later.
Of course, not all backup running backs are going to be Heisman recipients, and that's not really necessary. An effective backup just needs to keep the offense moving in case a starter is lost.
Roland Sales is a prime example. Arkansas appeared overmatched against Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl, especially after coach Lou Holtz suspended his top two running backs. But Sales stepped in and rushed for 205 yards in a 31-6 Razorbacks victory that cost OU a national championship.
More recently, LSU freshman Justin Vincent emerged after Joseph Addai and Shyrone Carey were lost to injuries in back-to-back games midway through the 2003 season. Vincent played a significant role in helping the Tigers claim a national championship.
Depth at running back is always a big issue, and every season it seems like a backup has a big game or a great season in a time of need. Here's a look at some of the nation's top subs who could become heroes: