The Irish will start the 5-10 Jr. Darius Walker at running back again this year after coming off a stellar (but overlooked) season in which he ran for 1196 yards(4.7 avg). Walker has deceptive speed and excellent vision, and is probably best known for his patience and ability to make cuts. He's a competent receiver out of the backfield with the ability to break tackles and make people miss. He is listed on many a preseason preview's Top 15 list for Running Backs (PS 11). In addition to Walker, the Irish running game will receive a huge boost with the addition of the very highly touted James Aldridge this fall. The Chicago native was enrolled in the spring, and is thought to be one of the best RBs out of High School. The powerful Travis Thomas rounds out the group, who rushed for 266 yards and 5 TDs last season. So. fullback Asaph Schwapp (6'0, 250, PS Fullback 15) is a quality blocker, and the extent of the Notre Dame passing attack should allow the Irish to rush fairly easily on Navy's (improved) rush defense. This is a group with a lot of talent and decent experience, and together with an experienced offensive line ranks near the top of the NCAA.
Brian Leonard and Raymell Rice combine to form what is one of the best one-two punches in the country. Simply put, Brian Leonard (PS Fullback 1)is something of an athletic freak (Go 45 seconds in and try not to gawk). He's big (6'2, 235), fast (4.6 40 time), and just plain hard to tackle. Leonard is arguably one of the premier all-purpose backs in the game. He rushed for 768 yards and 11 TDs last year, and added 55 receptions for over 500 yards and 6 TDs. While defenders will certainly have problems bringing the bruising fullback down, they will also have to contend with So. speedster Ray Rice (PS 47). Rice became only the second RB in Rutgers history to top 1000 yards with his 1120 yard (5.7 avg) performance in '05. Together these two give new meaning to the old phrase, "One-Two punch."
The Huskies top two backs return from last year, including Sr. Terry Caulley. Caulley was well on his way towards possibly becoming one the NCAA All-Time leading rushers before he tore his ACL In '03. Don't believe me? In 2002 as a freshman, Caulley ran for 1,247 yards and 16 TDs, and as a Sophomore ran for 601 yards after 4 games before the injury occurred. A true speedster (4.3 40 before ACL tear). Caullye redshirted in '04, and rushed for 710 yards last season. Although he still struggled with the effects of his injury last year, the Connecticut RB looked back to original form this past Spring. Behind him sits power back and Sophomore Lou Allen (381 yards, 4.4 avg) and converted DB Donald Brown. Keep in mind QB D.J. Hernandez is also a prolific athlete who is not afraid to run with the ball. I'm going out on a limb by ranking the Huskies so high, but if Caulley can't return to form as expected, the threat of the Huskie rushing attack severely diminishes and makes Navy's defensive gameplan a bit easier.
Although the Golden Hurricane lose their top rusher in Uri Parrish, they look to return one of the best backfields in Conference-USA. Courtney Tennial was very highly touted coming out of High School, and good enough to receive a scholarship from Oklahoma. Unfortunately, so was this dude named Adrain Peterson. The rest may be history, but for Tennial it meant a transfer to Tulsa and the opportunity to start this year. While completely untested, Tennial will be joined by an experienced group featuring So. Tarrion Adams, who rushed for 606 yards with a whopping 6.4. avg last year. Behind him stands Sr. Brandon Diles, who in 3 years of work has amassed over 100 yards, and Cauvey Jackson (252 yards LY). This one was tough to call, and could probably be placed below Air Force, but with the VHT Tennial and the experience behind him, Tulsa should be able to provide the Navy defense with a challenge.
Because of the nature of Air Force's option offense, the Falcons find themselves 5th in my rankings. Last year's unit was very inexperienced and suffered several key injuries, thereby limiting the team’s effectiveness. Like at Navy, the FB will get the majority of the carries at AF, while the QB likewise figures to be near the team lead in rushing. I Have already discussed Shaun Carney's rushing ability in my QB preview, and while it's nothing special (As Phat pointed out) it nevertheless is competent (Carney ran for 832 yards last year with 11 TDs). Air Force's FB figures to be the Senior Jason Kendrick. He's slightly smaller then Adam Ballard but nevertheless is a good runner who put up 537 yards and 6 TDs before injuries slowed him down. Ryan Williams is a reliable backup at FB. Speedy Justin Handley and Chad Hall will be your Slotbacks, yet seemed to be all but forgotten at the end of last year. While none of the players in Air Force's backfield will particularly scare anyone, the loss of the teams 2 top receivers should spur Coach DeBerry to commit more to the run in '06. Fortunately, Navy practices against the same option on a weekly basis, and should be able to limit Air Force's ability to score.
No love for the pirates you say? While I might think their fans a bit annoying, East Carolina is ranked at 6th because their offense leans much more towards the pass then the run. That being said they have a number of very talented players at the RB position, and should not be taken for granted. Jr. Chris Johnson is the starting RB, and compiled 761 yards a 6 TDs for the pirates last year. Behind him is speedster (4.3 40) Brandon Fractious and Dominique Lindsay (210 yards LY). Added to the mix is highly touted Freshman Norman Whitley, and converted QB Kort Shankwieler. It's a good mix of experience and talent that should keep the Navy defense honest if it leans towards the pass. (If you think east Carolina is all talk , check out this little animation...I swear it's the dumbest thing I've ever seen)
Yes, Duke. Jr. Justin Boyle (490 yards LY) will get the call as the starter. With decent speed and decent size, he's nothing special, but the unit as a whole is a combination of experience and athleticism. Watch out for backup Re'quan Boyette, who put up 123 yards against Florida St. last season, and speedy Ronnis Drummer (10.2 avg). The Bue Devils get a present with Army transfer Tielor Robinson, who put up 457 yards for the Black Knight in '04. This is a very deep unit that is able to interchange and compliment a lot of it's own people, and for that reason I’m naming the Duke rushing attack the 7th best Navy will face.
If you've memorized Navy's schedule by now, you may be scratching your head wondering why Stanford hasn't been featured yet. Quite simply, it's because Stanford doesn't have much of a run game. The Cardinal returns their top two rushers in Jr. Jason Evans (248 yards, very highly touted out of High School) and Anthony Kimble (264 yards, 2 TDs). Very highly touted Freshman Toby Gerhart comes in, and Fullback Emeka Nnoli (PS Fullback 5) may be the best blocking back Navy faces. The talent is certainly there, but a lack of commitment to the run (partially because of a prolific passing game) hurts the unit, reducing them to 8th on my board .
This was a tough pick because Army loses their top 3 rushers from last year, including Carlton Jones. 8 different RBs fought for position this spring, but right now I'm going with Sr. Ricky Lay as the starter. Lay has good size (6-4, 215), but has yet to register a carry. Although this unit is woefully inexperienced, it nevertheless consists of a number of Juniors and Seniors. Combined with what should be a greater emphasis on the running game by Coach Ross, Army has to rank 9th on the board in front of Temple and Eastern Michigan. Don't get me wrong though, this Black Knight attack isn’t going to scare anyone.
Again we see a incredibly inexperienced unit that shouldn't give the Navy defense many problems. The teams best runner is probably the Quarterback Tyler Jones, who rushed for 107 against Miami (Oh) last season. Dwayne Harrison gets the start at running back after rushing for 253 yards (4.1 avg) last season. Phil Steele predicts an increase in production but admits the talent "may be down." Those are bold words for Phil, who really doesn't say anything negative about anyone.
The Owls look to be going with JUCO transfer Tim Brown, who looked good in the spring. Behind him sit Josh Bundy and Mike Neal, who put up only 75 yards combined last year. This is a team with an abundance of inexperience, and will likely be plugging in different people throughout the year. Even though I rate this unit last, don't discount Brown automatically. He may end up being a better runner then the starters on some others teams, but In Al Golden's first year I can't possibly see Temple doing much of anything on offense.