Is this the Year of the Running Back? In consecutive weeks, the FBS rushing record has been broken. After LaDainian Tomlinson's record of 396 yards stood for 15 years, Melvin Gordon notched 408 yards with four touchdowns to take the single-game rushing title. Gordon's insane output was outdone just one week later by Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine. In a 44-7 thrashing of the Kansas Wildcats, Perine rushed for an astounding 427 yards, finding the end zone five times en route to shattering Gordon's week-old mark. The odds of breaking the record once again, three weeks in a row, are astronomical and borderline impossible. However, in the Year of the Running Back, no record appears safe.
Let's look at the ups and downs for the College Football Barometer heading into rivalry week, in what is the final regular season game for most squads.
Brandon Wilds, RB, South Carolina - Mike Davis hasn't been quite as productive during his junior season, while also battling a bevy of nagging injuries throughout the 2014 campaign. That has opened the door for Wilds, particularly in recent weeks. Over the last three games, Wilds has 36 rushes for 254 yards and three touchdowns. By contrast, Davis has received 32 carries during that same time period. Wilds notched a career-high 143 yards Nov. 1 in an OT loss to Tennessee. There should be plenty of ball to go around in the regular season finale against Clemson. In the Tigers' last game against an FBS opponent, Clemson allowed 251 yards rushing in a 28-6 loss to Georgia Tech.
Keyarris Garrett, WR, Tulsa - Keevan Lucas gets the pub, but Garrett has been nearly as productive over the last month or so. Garrett has four touchdowns over the last four games, while Lucas has found the end zone three times over that same span. Their yardage totals are also close during that timeframe; while Lucas has notched 325 yards through the air, Garrett is not far behind with 261 yards receiving. As such, while Lucas has amassed much better numbers over the duration of the season (1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014), Garrett has proven extremely useful over the past few games.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State - While fellow running back Karlos Williams continues to get the goal line looks for the Seminoles, it is clear that the freshman Cook is the better back. Cook sliced and diced the Miami Hurricanes a week ago, rushing for 92 yards and two scintillating touchdowns on just seven carries, as FSU found a way to win, 30-26. Cook led the Seminoles in rushing in another close call Saturday against Boston College, gaining 76 yards on the ground in a 20-17 victory over the Eagles. Cook will face a Florida Gators squad Saturday that ahs been fairly stingy against the run; UF is 12th in the nation in terms of rushing yards allowed per game. Still, the shifty Cook has been almost impossible to stop as the season has progressed, and is a home run threat each and every time he touches the pigskin.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State - The growth in Barrett's game this season has simply been remarkable. He is a completely different player than the quarterback who looked lost and overwhelmed in an early season loss to Virginia Tech. It was assumed that the loss of potential Heisman candidate Braxton Miller prior to the 2014 campaign would be the death knell for Ohio State's season. On the contrary, Barrett has been a revelation for the Buckeyes. All Barrett has done in 2014 is set the Ohio State record for touchdowns in a season, both passing (33) and total (42), all while being just a redshirt freshman. Barrett has seven games to his resume with at least three passing touchdowns in 2014. He has notched four games this season with at least five total touchdowns. Barrett has shown superb dual-threat ability, rushing for 849 yards. He should light up Michigan at home Saturday, and a few lucky bounces could have OSU looking at a potential berth in the College Football Playoff. All of this seemed completely out of the question at the beginning of the season.
James Conner, QB, Pittsburgh - Conner has had an outrageous 2014 campaign and would be getting even more publicity if not for the exploits of fellow running back Melvin Gordon for the Wisconsin Badgers. Connor has accumulated 1,600 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns for the Panthers, including three 200-yard outings and five games with at least three touchdowns. However, Conner injured his hip in Saturday's win over Syracuse, and his status is up in the air as Pitt tries to get bowl-eligible against the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday. Chris James rushed 19 times for 122 yards in Conner's absence, though Isaac Bennett also had 11 runs for 75 yards in the 30-7 rout of the Orange. The two likely will split carries if Conner can't go.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama - In a game that Alabama would almost certainly take handily against Western Carolina, and one where fellow starters T.J. Yeldon and DeAndrew White were rested due to lingering injuries, the Tide suffered what could be a devastating blow to their title hopes. Cooper left Saturday's rout of the Catamounts in the first quarter with a knee injury, and did not return. While it does not appear to be serious, Cooper has been arguably the top wide receiver in the nation this season, hauling in 90 passes for 1,349 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is also a surefire first-round draft pick should he choose to enter the NFL Draft following his junior campaign. However, more important for the Tide is his health for Saturday's Iron Bowl with Auburn, followed by his availability for the SEC Championship Game and, of course, the College Football Playoff. Cooper's injury could have a huge impact on the remainder of the 2014 college football season.
Jaelen Strong, QB, Arizona State - A concussion could mean the end of Strong's regular season, but he has certainly not been ruled out yet of Saturday's crucial tilt against bitter rival Arizona. He was unable to play in Saturday's rout of Wazzu, but may have been held out as a precautionary measure. The Sun Devils and Wildcats are both 9-2 and searching for the Pac-12 South crown, which would pit one of those teams against Oregon for the Pac-12 Championship. Strong would be difficult, if not impossible to replace if he can't suit up. Strong scored in five-straight games earlier this season, including a stellar 10-catch, 202-yard, three-touchdown output at USC in October. In last year's clash between these two squads, Strong had 142 yards and a touchdown as ASU crushed Arizona, 58-21.
David Cobb, RB, Minnesota - Cobb is yet another running back having an electric season, but also left Saturday's tilt with Nebraska with an injury. Cobb tweaked his hamstring against Nebraska and did not come back to the 28-24 victory for the Golden Gophers. While Cobb insisted following the game he will be ready to roll at Wisconsin on Saturday, it remains to be seen if he will be able to keep up his outstanding recent production. Cobb has found the end zone in five straight contests, rushing for at least 100 yards on three occasions over that span. However, Wisconsin has one of the best rush defenses in the nation, holding opposing squads to 97.1 yards per contest on the ground. That places the Badgers fifth in the country.
Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona - Solomon was knocked out of Saturday's victory over Utah with what appears to be a foot/ankle injury, as he was seen sporting a walking boot following the game. Solomon has had a highly successful season for the Wildcats, compiling 3,216 passing yards and 25 touchdowns, through the air. He has also rushed for 329 and an additional touchdown, leading the Wildcats to an impressive 9-2 record. However, the severity of his injury is unknown at this point, making him questionable for the final game of the regular season against in-state rival Arizona State. Solomon has also appeared to fade a bit in his last two games. The freshman has thrown for 400 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions over that span, albeit playing less than a full contest Saturday against the Utes. Still, a dinged up Solomon playing a ranked rival coming off of a couple of poor outings may not be the best play.
Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss - The wheels have officially come off for Wallace and the Rebels. After a 7-0 start, the Rebels have lost three of their last four games, and the bad Bo Wallace has returned in nearly all of those games. Wallace has just one 300-yard passing output over that span, while tossing four interceptions. Wallace suffered a new low Saturday against Arkansas, when the Rebels were shut out, 30-0, by the Arkansas Razorbacks. He threw two INTs. While the Rebels should be motivated to spoil the national championship dreams of in-state rival Mississippi State on Saturday in the Egg Bowl, Wallace has simply not been playing well over the last month. Although Wallace seems to play better at home, the downward trend is still disconcerting, and the Bulldogs have one of the most underrated defenses in the country. In last year's meeting between the two squads, when the Bulldogs were not title contenders, Wallace tossed three interceptions in a 17-10 OT loss.
Trevor Siemian, QB, Northwestern - Siemian's 2014 campaign appears to be finished after suffering a knee injury in Saturday's win over Purdue. Siemian hadn't exactly been lighting it up for the Wildcats in any event, as he had more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (7). However, he did have consecutive games of 275-plus yards passing coming into Saturday's game with the Boilermakers. However, he was unable to finish, and is likely sidelined for Saturday's game with Illinois, and perhaps a bowl game as well if the Wildcats can get to 6-6 on the year. Junior Zack Oliver should get the starting nod against the Illini on Saturday.
Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford - The Cardinal offense has been putrid in 2014, and the explosive Montgomery has been unable to get going as a result. Although he has matched his reception total (61) from a season ago, Montgomery is averaging just 9.9 yards per catch this year. That stands in stark contrast to the average of 15.7 yards per grab as a junior. Likewise, Montgomery snagged 10 touchdown passes last season. He has scored just three times in 2014. In fact, Montgomery has been held out of the end zone since September 27 at Washington. Add in that Montgomery left Saturday's win at call with an apparent shoulder injury, and his utility against a surging UCLA team in the regular-season finale is very low.