You can find the full 2015 College Football Playoff Preview schedule here.
1. Clemson Tigers – 222.2 ypg, 30 rushing touchdowns
The Tigers rushing game has been a focus on just two players this season but it has all they have needed up to this point. Sophomore running back Wayne Gallman has been the only significant running back this season, rushing for 1,319 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. The star of the whole offense though is quarterback Deshaun Watson, who currently leads the team with 11 rushing touchdowns. The threat of both of these guys has allowed the offense to have plenty of success through the read option. They have still managed to put together a rushing attack that ranks 22nd in the country in yards per game. They have had nine games where the team ran for more than 200 yards and seven games with multiple rushing touchdowns.
Their two biggest games came on the road against conference opponents. After finishing with just 112 rushing yards on 36 attempts the week before against Boston College (the nation’s 2nd best rush defense), the Tigers traveled to Miami and carried the ball 63 times en route to a 59-0 win. Clemson finished with 416 rushing yards in that game along with six touchdowns on the ground. In the ACC Championship Game, the Tigers ran for 319 yards and three touchdowns. Those two games came against teams that sit in the nation’s bottom 25 teams against the run. However, they did play against five top-50 rush defenses, averaging 182 yards per game.
2. Oklahoma Sooners – 235.0 ypg, 31 rushing touchdowns
The Sooner offense has been one of the best in the country this season and it has been more than just their passing game. Everyone knows the name Samaje Perine but it is often only associated with his 427-yard game against Kansas last season as a freshman. His second year has not been as eventful but the sophomore back still has more than 1200 rushing yards and has 15 touchdowns on the season. Perine has averaged 6.1 yards per carry while taking a much lighter load than his first season in Norman. Freshman Joe Mixon has joined the backfield, taking a lot of pressure of Perine and adding another explosive threat to Oklahoma’s rushing game.
Mixon has seven rushing touchdowns already this season and averages 6.8 yards per carry. Even Baker Mayfield has gotten involved with this running game, going for 420 yards and seven touchdowns on his own. The Sooners have proven to be more than the “air-it-out” offense that they have been in the past and has been able to put together one of the best rushing games in the country. However, they have only faced two top-50 rush defenses this season in Akron and Tennessee, which were the first two games of the year. All three of the other teams in the playoff rank in the top-25.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide – 208.2 ypg, 28 rushing touchdowns
It has been made clear that the Crimson Tide has the best running back in the country this season. Derrick Henry has seemingly won every award in the book over the last two weeks. He has been the key to Alabama’s offensive success and has been the workhorse over the past two weeks, getting a combined 90 carries in the wins over Auburn and Florida. Henry’s rushing has accounted for 36.1 percent of the Tide’s offensive production and his 23 touchdowns are equal to the rest of the offense combined. He has averaged just under six yards per carry and is just 14 rushing yards away from 2,000 for the season.
Henry has been the only guy the Tide have needed in the backfield but he is joined by senior Kenyan Drake who has shown his play-making ability but has struggled with injury throughout his career. His latest injury came when he was attempting to make a tackle on kickoff coverage. Drake has been back in the game but has not seen the workload that he and the coaches would likely want. Before the injury, Drake had just four games where he had double digit rushing attempts and has only surpassed the 60-yard mark three times this season. He had just four carries in the game against Florida and will likely continue to see most of his playing time on passing downs. Henry will be the best running back in the playoff, but the Tide’s rushing attack as a whole may fall further down the list than most people think.
4. Michigan State Spartans – 160.7 ypg, 24 rushing touchdowns
The Spartans have used a balanced rushing attack but have been led by freshman running back L.J. Scott. His game winning touchdown against Iowa was his 11th of the season and capped a 22-play drive that helped seal the Spartans spot in the final four. Scott currently has 691 rushing yards this season and has averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Madre London and Gerard Holmes sit just behind Scott and have combined for 11 rushing touchdowns of their own and more than 1,000 rushing yards this season. Despite averaging just four yards per rush as a team, the Spartans heavily rely on the success of their running backs, attempting more than 40 rushes per game. This season, the Spartans had just one game where they did not score a touchdown on the ground and scored more than one in eight of their 13 games.
Over the last three weeks of the season, Michigan State averaged 188 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns per game. Those games came against three top-50 rush defenses – Ohio State (22nd), Penn State (46th) and Iowa (9th). Their lone loss came against the nation’s eighth best rush defense in Nebraska, where they only ran the ball 34 times. Throughout the season, the Spartans faced four top-25 rush defenses.
Caleb Turrentine is a contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter,@CalebTurrentine.