2013 Big Sky position rankings: Running backs

2013-08-14T12:00:00Z 2013 Big Sky position rankings: Running backsGreg Rachac The Billings Gazette

NOTE: This is the eighth installment of our weekly series projecting the Top 10 players at each position for the 2013 Big Sky Conference football season.

The more things change the more they stay the same. Many of the names on my list of projections for the top running backs in the Big Sky for the upcoming season aren't new. The majority of these players have been piling up yards and scoring touchdowns for two and three years already, and they'll be the top guys again this season.

In particular, my top three -- NAU's Zach Bauman, MSU's Cody Kirk, and Portland State's D.J. Adams -- are ranked in same spots they were a year ago. Bauman is a fourth-year starter, and a preseason favorite for the Big Sky's offensive player of the year honor. Two darkhorses to watch? Cal Poly's Kristaan Ivory and Weber State's Bo Bolen. Here's the full list:


1. ZACH BAUMAN, SR., NORTHERN ARIZONA 2012: 225 car, 1,182 yds, 5.3 avg, 8 TD, 34 rec, 216 yds, 6.4 avg, 1 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2013: Bauman has it all: Balance, speed, vision, power, cutback ability and a nose for the end zone. In three seasons at NAU, Bauman has rushed for 3,676 yards and 37 TDs. Bauman has benefited from some pretty efficient quarterback play in the past, and that'll be key with a new signal-caller this year in Flagstaff. But Bauman seems to get his yards no matter what. He's averaged 5.0 yards per carry and 111.4 yards per game so far in his career, so he seems like a lock for another 1,000-yard season as NAU pushes for the playoffs.

2. CODY KIRK, SR., MONTANA STATE 2012: 171 car, 841 yds, 4.9 avg, 13 TD, 18 rec, 175 yds, 9.7 avg, 1 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2013: Bobcats coach Rob Ash has referred to Kirk on countless occasions as the "heart and soul" of the team. He's certainly one of the hardest working. Kirk was banged up late last year, and that hurt MSU. When healthy, he's the best straight-ahead runner in the league, always falling forward and protecting the football. He's scored 27 rushing TDs combined in the past two seasons, by far the most in the Big Sky. Expect Kirk to return to his 1,000-yard form this year, and to score double-digit touchdowns again in a new offense.

3. D.J. ADAMS, SR., PORTLAND STATE 2012: 164 car, 972 yds, 5.9 avg, 12 TD, 12 rec, 30 yds, 2.5 avg. THE BUZZ FOR 2013: Adams came to Portland State from Maryland before last season and wasted no time becoming one of the most effective backs in the Big Sky. Adams is a touchdown machine: So far in his three-year career (including at Maryland), Adams has scored 27 TDs. He found the end zone in all but three games last season. A great combination of size and speed, Adams is a load to handle between the tackles. Adams -- teaming with backfield mate Shaq Richard -- should have another big season in the Vikings' intricate Pistol offense. 

4. KRISTAAN IVORY, JR., CAL POLY 2012: 109 car, 728 yds, 6.7 avg, 8 TD, 6 rec, 49 yds, 8.2 avg, 2 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2013: Deonte Williams rushed for more than 1,500 yards last season, so Cal Poly needs a viable replacement at the slotback position to fill that void. Ivory will get every opportunity to be that guy. Mustangs coach Tim Walsh says Ivory is the type "that can carry the ball 250 times this season and average six yards a carry.” If so, Ivory will be ranked higher on this list come season's end. One thing's certain: Someone will carry the load in Cal Poly's option offense. Ivory put up strong numbers last year, so I'm betting he'll be the guy.

5. JORDAN  CANADA, JR.,  MONTANA 2012: 118 car, 586 yds, 5.0 avg, 4 TD, 15 rec, 126 yds, 8.4 avg. THE BUZZ FOR 2013: Canada has been a bit of an enigma since he arrived at Montana. He's battled injuries and a reputation for dogging it, but the talent is unquestioned. Canada is a shifty runner with good breakaway speed. He's already rushed for 1,166 career yards, and he should see even better results this season in the Grizzlies' revised ground game. With Jordan Johnson back at QB, it should open up more holes. Obviously, Marshall transfer Travon Van will get lots of carries and yards for UM too. Canada and Van should make a great combo.

6. EZEKIEL GRAHAM, SR., SACRAMENTO STATE 2012: 166 car, 861 yds, 5.2 avg, 5 TD, 40 rec, 406 yds, 10.1 avg, 2 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2013: Along with quarterback Garrett Safron, Graham was a welcome addition to the Hornets last year. The JC transfer won the running back job and produced in waves as both a runner and a pass-catcher out of the backfield. I guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise. Graham became a junior college All-American at LA Southwest JC in 2011, and kept it going in his first year in Sacramento. Graham will play another big role this year as the Hornets look to win more games under seventh-year coach Marshall Sperbeck.

7. TROMAINE DENNIS, SR., NORTHERN COLORADO 2012: 203 car, 948 yds, 4.7 avg, 10 TD, 23 rec, 187 yds, 8.1 avg, 1 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2013: Wait ... a Northern Colorado running back had nearly 1,000 yards and scored 10 touchdowns? It's true. Dennis was a force on offense in Greeley The Bears have rarely seen that kind of ground production since they joined the Big Sky in 2006. Can he do it again? With quarterback Seth Lobato improving, and with a much better direction under third-year coach Earnest Collins Jr., there's no reason to think he can't. Dennis finished last season with a 222-yard effort against North Dakota. That's a great building block.

8. BO BOLEN, JR., WEBER STATE 2011-12: DNP. 2010: 153 car, 704 yds, 4.6 avg, 3 TD, 32 rec, 256 yds, 8.0 avg, 1 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2013: Remember me? Bolen returns to Weber State this season after serving a two-year LDS mission in the Philippines. In his two previous seasons (2009 and '10) Bolen was a second-team all-conference player when he rushed for a combined 1,146 yards and six touchdowns. The key now will be knocking off the rust, since he hasn't played a live game since November of 2010. Bolen should be a key player in Robin Pflugrad's offense at Weber State. If he can return to his previous form, the Wildcats will be much better off.

9. DEMITRIUS BRONSON, SR., EASTERN WASHINGTON 2012: 132 car, 472 yds, 3.6 avg, 11 TD, 3 rec, 17 yds, 5.7 avg. THE BUZZ FOR 2013: Bronson has fought through injuries in each of his first two years at EWU. He rushed for nearly 500 yards a season ago, finishing second on the team behind Quincy Forte. Bronson is listed as the starter at running back, though he'll share playing time with Forte and others. Bronson played at Washington before transferring to EWU prior to the 2011 campaign. Bronson has scored 11 TDs as an Eagle and will continue to be an important piece to what has been one of the more prolific offenses in the FCS.

10. JAKE MILLER, SR., NORTH DAKOTA 2012: 94 car, 543 yds, 5.8 avg, 2 TD, 15 rec, 119 yds, 7.9 avg, 1 TD. THE BUZZ FOR 2013: After nearly reaching the 1,000-yard plateau in 2011, Miller shared the load at tailback last year with teammate Mitch Sutton (partly due to injury). Miller still led the team in rushing, and averaged almost six yards per carry. But his touches were down. This year he hopes to get back to his sophomore year form, when he utilized his speed and quickness to burn opponents whenever he got the chance. Miller isn't the biggest back (at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds) but he gets the job done. Look for more yards and touchdowns this year.

*** NATIONAL NO. 1: TIM FLANDERS, SR., SAM HOUSTON STATE. So many to choose from -- Indiana State's Shakir Bell, Towson's Terrance West, South Dakota State's Zach Zenner, Stony Brook's Marcus Coker ... the list goes on. But Flanders is the active career leader in rushing yards (4,234) and touchdowns (52) in the FCS, and he's also a huge playoff performer. You don't need to remind Big Sky teams of that. Expect huge things (again) from the former Kansas State transfer.

LAST WEEK: 2013 wide receiver rankings

LAST YEAR: 2012 running back rankings

NEXT WEEK: Quarterbacks

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Greg Rachac

Sportswriter for The Billings Gazette covering Montana and Montana State athletics in addition to various high school sports.

Slim Kimmel

Online sports editor for The Billings Gazette.

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