Top Auburn Running Backs, 2012 Edition

It has been three years since I took a look at the top Auburn Running backs. With Onterio McCalebb calling it a career at Auburn, I thought it was time.

After taking a close look, I realized it was past time.

I had originally ranked the Best Auburn Running Backs after 2007 season, spurred by an online poll I had run across. When Ben Tate finished his Auburn career two years later I updated the list. While this was expected to be a pro forma look at the standings, there was an impact that I had completely forgotten…Cam Newton.

Updated Rankings

The 2007 list covers the basic methodology. The goal is to balance peak seasons with great games and steady careers. Sine 2007, I’ve included non-rushing touchdowns in the totals and made sure proper credit was given for having multiple appearances on a list.

Lets look at the list. [Records highlighted in bold]

Running Back Career RY Career APY Career TD Season RY Season APY Game RY Season TD Score Old Score
Bo Jackson 4303 4892 45 1786 1859 290 17 170.11 152.97
Carnell Williams 3831 5084 46 1307 1718 204 17 123.15 119.19
James Brooks 3523 4496 30 1314 1800 226 12 110.51 103.99
Joe Cribbs 3368 4561 36 1205 1336 250 16 100.64 100.07
Stephen Davis 2811 3178 34 1263 1355 246 17 89.26 86.98
Ben Tate 3321 3843 24 1362 1606 184 10 69.82 75.06
Brent Fullwood 2789 3758 24 1391 1512 207 10 65.84 70.96
Rudi Johnson 1567 1637 13 1567 1637 249 13 64.27 67.73
Ronnie Brown 2707 3390 30 1008 1189 224 14 61.87 64.44
Onterio McCalebb 2589 4485 29 810 1323 148 10 53.57
Kenny Irons 2186 2430 17 1293 1459 218 13 48.50 53.95

I left Kenny Irons in as the former number 10 in order to show where Onterio McCalebb fit in the grand order of things. Onterio passed Kenny to make the list with a lot of all-purpose-yards and turning many of those into touchdowns. I never thought of Onterio as a top ten running back but four solid years and versatility goes a long way.

Other Notes:

  • While normally scores decrease from one ranking to the next as people are pushed down the lists, the top five back all rose. This is due to getting deserved credit for repeat excellence.
    • Bo Jackson has four of the top rushing games of all time: 2nd, 3rd, 7th, and 8th. Adding credit for those games gave Bo a massive bump in his score. Let’s face it, we don’t need lists to reaffirm Bo Jackson’s position as Auburn’s Best Running Back.
    • Carnell Williams has the 3rd and 5th best seasons for All-Purpose-Yards.
    • James Brooks has the 2nd and 4th best seasons for All-Purpose-Yards.
    • Joe Cribbs is 5th and 6th on the season touchdown list.
    • Stephen Davis is 2nd and 8th on the season touchdown list.
  • As mentioned last time out, Curtis Kuykendall set the record for most rushing yards in a game on November 24, 1944, running for 307 yards. He did it on 33 attempts and got 4 touchdowns.
  • The record for most non-passing touchdowns? Cam Newton with 21.

Which brings up an interesting situation.

Measuring Cam Newton

Like Tucker Frederickson in the 1960s, Cam Newton was a great college football player. As he was Auburn’s quarterback for his Auburn career, he doesn’t belong on the list of the best Auburn running backs.

That said, Cam Newton does hold the record for most rushing touchdowns at 20 plus a receiving touchdown he earned on a trick play. In fact, he has a few Auburn season marks:

  • 3rd in rushing yards per season with 1473, behind only Bo Jackson and Rudi Johnson.
  • 8th in all-purpose-yards in a season with 1515.
  • 10th in career touchdowns with 21, even with only one season under his belt.

In fact, if you calculated his score, Cam would have been 7th on the list with a score of 66.16, right behind Ben Tate. He definitely replaces Rudi Johnson as the best single season wonder in the running back list.

The impact to the list is that Cam raised the bar to get into any season top ten list and raised the season touchdown record from 17 to 21. In fact, if Cam wasn’t clearly a QB, he’d be on the list and Onterio would be off of the list.

To get a fuller picture of Cam’s impact on Auburn’s record book, you need to take a larger look at quarterbacks.

Maybe another day.


Fixing the Bowl System

The bowl system in college football is broken. Attendance is down this year, many teams lose money when they attend, and there is a perception that there are too many games. When we look at the causes of this problem, they are very simple:

  • The 12 Game Schedule: The addition of a 12th game without increasing the requirement to play in a bowl has both increased and diluted the pool of teams.
  • The BCS: Even before the playoff, the BCS has hurt the bowl system. Only one game impacts the National Championship now. This is good, but it hurts all the other games.
  • ESPN: This may be mean, but having games drag out over 3 weeks for “Capital One Bowl Week” really hurts things. Having to take additional days off from work to attend bowl games is going to drop attendance in games that aren’t as compelling.

This can’t be fixed with just one change. Let’s look at one fix that would go a long way.

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Remembering Dale Murphy

I am a big Dale Murphy fan. I mean REALLY big. While I make no claim to be the biggest, I do own 144 distinct Dale Murphy baseball cards. It is actually my second collection of his cards as my first was stolen in 1992. I probably bought back at least one of my stolen cards in the course of rebuilding my collection.


I bring this up to set the stage for the following statement…

Every single person who doesn’t believe steroid users or gamblers should be in the Hall of Fame should have voted for Dale Murphy.

Or to put is even more succinctly, Dale Murphy should be in the Hall of Fame for every reason that Pete Rose isn’t.

Purely by the numbers, Dale Murphy is a borderline Hall-of-Famer. When you factor in who he is as a person, you begin to realize that perhaps he is more than borderline. I was reminded of this reading Jerry Crasnick’s article on Dale Murphy’s kids campaign to get their dad into the Hall of Fame.

During the article, Crasnick referenced Rule 5 of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).

Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

I added the underlines to stress that 3 of the 6 characteristics seem to be written specifically for Dale Murphy.

Let me tell you my Dale Murphy story.

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What is the Difference between Valuable and Best?

There are two schools of thought on voting for baseball’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. The first, and more traditional, is that it should go to the player perceived to provide the most value to their team. The second school believes that the award should go to the best player. I am firmly in the first school of thought.

Why? Simply because I believe that the name of the MVP award defines what it is.

Before going any further, let me say that the two schools of thought will never merge. My purpose here is to explain why Most Valuable isn’t always “Best”.

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Looking More Closely at ESPN’s Conference Rankings

I’ve been following ESPN’s college football conference rankings all year. I like them because they try to balance the impact of the top teams in the polls against the computers. When looking at the final results, I started thinking.

Is their logic sound?

When they started talking about the number of teams ranked in the top 25, I realized that there is an unfair comparison taking place. The SEC has 14 teams while the Big 12 only has 10 teams.

Of COURSE the SEC has more ranked teams.

When I look at the final AP poll of the regular season, there is a 6-2 count of teams in favor of the SEC. However, if you weight the count to normalize 14 teams down to 10 teams, you get 4 teams. (technically 4.3 teams but you can’t have a fraction of a team)

Since the Big 12 only has two ranked teams, there would likely be very little impact to the conference rankings. When I look at Sagarin’s conference rankings, the Big 12 and the SEC are the closest together so it wouldn’t take much to give the SEC the overall lead.

As for the Pac 12, it trails the SEC in both the computer and the polls and since they have only four teams ranked, discounting the SEC isn’t likely to make the difference.

Even though there currently would be no difference doesn’t mean that the method isn’t flawed.

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Why Runs and RBIs Matter for the MVP

imageLet me just start by saying that neither Runs nor RBIs are an accurate measure of how good a player is. I don’t need to pull out any statistics to prove this. I can just share the following example:

Take two players. Both get on base 40% of the time. Player A has good players batting next in the lineup so he his knocked home 25% of the time. Player B has less capable batters hitting behind him and he only gets home 10% of the time. Player A will score more Runs but he isn’t any better than Player B.

Flip the example around by measuring the batters hitting first and you have the story of the RBI. Even position in the lineup can impact both a player’s Runs and RBIs.

So why do we still measure these values? Habit mostly. Baseball fans like to count everything. They also measure context.

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Putting WAR in Context for Trout versus Cabrera

One of the things that everyone points out in the discussion of Mike Trout over Miguel Cabrera is Trout’s higher WAR* value. The basic premise is that if Trout contributed more wins to the Angels than Cabrera did to the Tigers, then Trout is more valuable.

For those unfamiliar with the statistic, WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. The theory that it acts as a “counting stat” that illustrates how many wins a player contributes over a theoretical “replacement” player. Replacement players are described as your typical AAA minor league baseball player.

WAR is calculated a few different ways but I’m going to leverage Baseball Reference’s value for this discussion, mostly because they have every statistic readily available for anyone to access.

Cutting to the chase, Cabrera had a WAR of 6.9 versus Trout’s WAR of 10.7, despite Cabrera playing the entire season. At face value, this seems like a pretty straightforward argument in favor of Trout.

Except this is a discussion of the Most Valuable Player, not the best player. WAR is excellent at showing production but the value of anything is dependent upon context. Let’s look at the standings for the 2012 American League West.

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