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Oklahoma Football: The current state of the running back position

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Absences give unproven players a chance to shine in OU’s backfield.

Despite producing a string of NFL stars and draft picks for the last 15 years, the Oklahoma Sooners find themselves lacking star power at running back this year.

Between injuries and an inconsistent role in the offense, a fed-up Trey Sermon took Ohio State up on an offer to transfer. After topping 1,000 yards rushing in each of the last two years, Kennedy Brooks is apparently sitting out the season. Marquee recruit Jase McClellan jilted OU at the last moment to join Alabama.

Add in the suspension to Rhamondre Stevenson and it’s hard to say who’s supposed to carry the load for the Sooners. On the other hand, Lincoln Riley hasn’t had much trouble replacing lost product in the past – it wasn’t so long ago that college football pundits were asking who would take over for Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine .

Here’s a rundown of OU’s backfield candidates for 2020, followed by a projection of how the workload will shake out for the season under new running backs coach Demarco Murray.

Who’s Left at Running Back for OU in 2020?

Rhamondre Stevenson, Sr. – Usually, Stevenson would be in line for a monster season. Once he got acclimated in ‘19, you could make a case he was OU’s most effective ball carrier. He averaged more than eight yards per carry and showed an ability to be a receiving threat.

Clearing Sermon and Brooks out of the way should means he’s a clear-cut No.1 at RB. Sitting out the first half of the season takes that out of play. In reality, though, RB is one position group where depth tends to get tested as a season wears on, so a late start for Stevenson could be a plus there.

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T.J. Pledger , Jr. – Pledger has found himself caught behind productive upperclassmen in his first two seasons. He now gets an opportunity to show he’s ready for prime time.

There should be nothing standing in Pledger’s way now. Skepticism about his ability to be a feature back, however, comes from the fact that he only carried the ball 10 times last season. That doesn’t sound like a player on the verge of breaking out.

Marcus Major , R-Fr. – Although he came to OU as a blue-chip recruit, Major joined with little fanfare. That changed once he got to campus. Coaches immediately began raving about the OKC Millwood product’s explosiveness.

Major sat the majority of ‘19 with a shoulder injury. Assuming that is behind him, Major should find himself squarely in the mix for carries this year.

Seth McGowan , Fr. – It’s easy to look at the way OU’s relationship with McClellan ended and forget that the Sooners landed a talented prospect in McGowan. The talk from preseason camp indicates the rookie is making everyone forget about the RB recruit who got away.

McGowan packs a useful combination of wiggle and power into a sturdy frame (5-11, 211 pounds). He runs over and around potential tacklers equally well. If he can make the transition to the physicality of the college game, the coaches will have to get McGowan on the field this season.

Projected Distribution of RB Carries

Stevenson – 30%

Major – 25%

McGowan – 25%

Pledger – 20%

(Note: This excludes freshman H-Back Michael Henderson, who could also shoulder a bit of the load.)

*Say Stevenson gets a reduction and misses the first four contests of the year. That leaves five or six games in which he probably commands a plurality of the attempts. By the end of the season, that still likely makes him OU’s top rusher.

*Look for McGowan’s usage to climb later in the season, while Pledger will probably tail off.

*Major feels like the wild card in this discussion. If he tears it up early on, expect him to take on an even bigger share of the workload than is projected here.

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