It is the year of the running back.
At least that’s what all the headlines were coming into this college football season. There were a plethora of returning superstar ball carriers and a dearth of signal callers. Outside of Deshaun Watson at Clemson, Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma, and Chad Kelly at Ole Miss, even the grandest gridiron gurus struggled to name a quarterback that could be trusted to step out of the pack and become a star.
This season was sure to be a rushing renaissance. Last year, Derrick Henry became the first non-quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy since Mark Ingram in 2009, and it seemed a virtual lock that a running back would make it two in a row for tailbacks. This season’s headlines were sure to belong to Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and the deep stable of veteran running backs around the country.
And then Week 1 happened.
And everything changed.
All around the country, underclassman quarterbacks stepped out of the shadows and announced their presence with authority.
Texas 18-year old, true-freshman QB Shane Buechele led the Longhorns to a 50-47 double-overtime victory over preseason No. 10-ranked Notre Dame, throwing for 280 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another score on the ground. He has been named the savior of an aching program in Austin that has not been a national contender since the days of Vince Young.
Louisville sophomore QB Lamar Jackson racked up 400 total yards and eight touchdowns in the first half of the Cardinals’ 70-14 win over Charlotte. Wait. Did you say, “in the first half?” and how many touchdowns? And he didn’t play in the second half? Not at all? Are you sure? Eight of them? And 400 yards? Wow. Sure, it was just against a University of Charlotte football program that has only existed since 2013, but if it was that easy, somebody else would do it. Future opponents should be afraid. And if you believe Syracuse head coach Dino Babers — the next poor soul who has to gameplan against Jackson — the Louisville signal caller is “impossible to emulate.”
After an offseason-quarterback battle with Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett, Alabama true-freshman signal caller Jalen Hurts lept onto the scene for the defending national champions. There were questions about how the Tide’s offense would fare after losing Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry to the NFL. Those questions have been answered by the super-strong signal caller who showed up on the national stage resembling Henry in appearance and performance, wearing his No. 2 and shredding preseason No. 20 USC for four touchdowns in a 52-6 rout at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. With Hurts at the helm, questions have been quelled and Alabama has to be the favorite to win the title again.
And then there’s Florida State redshirt-frosh Deondre Francois. He led the Seminoles to a simply-Winstonian school-record 22-point comeback victory over Ole Miss and the aforementioned Chad Kelly. Trailing 28-6 at halftime, the Noles dominated the second half and held an eight-point lead before the third quarter ended. Accounting for 479 of FSU’s 580 yards of offense, Francois put together a performance that dwarfed that of any of the school’s long-line of superstar quarterbacks that includes Jameis Winston, Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel in recent years.
And we haven’t even mentioned Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. — 320 yards and two touchdowns in the Cougars’ 33-23 upset over No. 3 Oklahoma, Notre Dame QB Deshone Kizer — Six total touchdowns in the double OT loss to Texas, Ohio State QB JT Barrett — 349 yards and six touchdowns through the air in the Buckeye’s 77-10 win over Bowling Green, or Heisman-favorite Deshaun Watson who led Clemson over a tough Auburn defense.
Week 1 was the week of the quarterback. The nation’s running backs have a lot of work to do if they’re going to take the spotlight back.