Sorry Pitt fans, Pitt is not Running Back U. Not even close.

Living in Southwest Pennsylvania, I often hear Pitt fans boast about how they are Running Back U based upon the success of Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy, and James Conner in the NFL. They have been successful yes, but well, that’s about it as far as Pitt goes – for the past 50 years.

Certainly, credit goes to Pitt for two of the NFL’s greatest running backs in Dorsett and Martin, but I believe that speaks to the quality of football players from Southwest Pennsylvania as much as anything else.

For those that believe that it is what a college player does in the NFL that makes up a so-called position U, I get that, but when I ask the following questions no one who follows that notion answers them:  If a college produced 10 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks in a 15-year time period, but they all amounted to squat in the NFL, that school wouldn’t be considered Quarterback U?  That’s ridiculous, of course it should. One shouldn’t dismiss what a player accomplished in college if he didn’t do well in the NFL. Charlie Ward won the Heisman Trophy at Florida State and he opted to play in the NBA instead of the NFL, but since he didn’t choose to play in the NFL, doesn’t his winning the Heisman Trophy have any meaning to Florida State and Florida State’s quarterback history?

The other question I pose to which I never get a response from those that feel it’s what a player does in the NFL that matters is: What about players that play a different position in the NFL than in college?

For example, should Terrelle Pryor count as a wide receiver for Ohio State? It’s what a player does in the NFL that matters they’ll say, but Pryor never played wide receiver at Ohio State, so why does what he accomplishes as a wide receiver count towards Ohio State being Wide Receiver U?

What about Antwaan Randle El? Does he count towards Indiana as Wide Receiver U? He played quarterback at Indiana. What about Derrick Ramsey, the tight end from Oakland? He played quarterback at Kentucky. Should he count towards Kentucky being Tight End U?  Julian Edelman, the Patriots wide receiver played quarterback at Kent State University. Does Kent State get credit towards Wide Receiver U based on Edelman’s pro career when he played quarterback in college?

What about Matt Cassell?  Does he count towards USC being Quarterback U?  He never started a game at USC and had only 33 pass attempts and had 20 completions in his collegiate career.

That’s why to me, it’s what the players produce at that position while they’re in college that should count towards that school being deemed a position U.

Since 1969, Penn State has produced 10 All-American running backs (Charlie Pittman ’69, Lydell Mitchell ’71, John Cappeletti ’73, Curt Warner ’81 & ‘82, D.J.Dozier ’86, Blair Thomas ’89, Ki-Jana Carter ’94, Curtis Enis ’97, Larry Johnson ’02 and Saquon Barkley ’16 & ’17). In that same time frame, Pitt has produced only five (Tony Dorsett ’73-’76, Craig Heyward ’87, LeSean McCoy ’08, Dion Lewis ’09 and James Conner ’14).

Pitt’s number of five All-American running backs would not even be in the top 14 of schools with All-American running backs since 1968.

The schools that have produced the most All-America running backs since 1968:

10 – Alabama, Penn State, Stanford

9 – USC, Wisconsin

8 – Ohio State, Texas, UCLA

6 – Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State

For the sake of discussion, we’ll consider that it’s what a school’s players accomplish in the NFL that matters and see if Pitt fans boasting they are Running Back U and especially so over Penn State has any validity.

I think we would all agree that 14,813 yards rushing is a lot of yards rushing. That would be good for fourth place all-time in NFL history and only 458 yards short of the career rushing total of the great Barry Sanders. Well, that 14,813 yards represents the difference between the rushing yards gained by Penn State’s running backs in the NFL and those from the University of Pittsburgh all-time.

I used both schools list of players that played in the NFL from their respective media guides. Then I entered that player’s name in If there’s anyone I missed, please by all means point them out to me as a comment and their rushing yards.

The breakdown for Penn State and Pitt’s running backs yards gained in the NFL is as follows:

Penn State                          74757            Pitt                                        59944
Richie Anderson                 3149            Kevan Barlow                       3984
Saquon Barkley                   1307           Tom Brown                                29
Gary Brown                         4300            Dick Cassiano                            84
John Cappelletti                  2951            Bob Clemens                                9
Ki-Jana Carter                      1144           James Conner                        1117
D.J. Dozer                                691           Jim Cunningham                     337
Chuck Drazenovich              330           Tony Dorsett                         12739
Jeff Durkota                              66           Bill Dutton                                169
Omar Easy                                  4           Bobby Epps                               771
Curtis Enis                            1497           Carles Gladman                         29
Sam Gash                                327           Nick Goings                            1470
Mike Guman                       1286            Marshall Goldberg                1644
Franco Harris                   12120            Craig Heyward                       4301
Dick Hoak                            3965            Jack Itzel                                      11
Tony Hunt                                25            Ben Kish                                    344
Larry Joe                                  18            George Kracum                        169
Larry Johnson                     6223           Dion Lewis                               2101
Roger Kochman                    232           Curtis Martin                         14101
Tim Manoa                            938            LeSean McCoy                      10606
Eric McCoo                              54            Randy McMillen                     3876
Sean McHugh                        301           Brandon Miree                           57
Mike Meade                           261           Mike Nixon                                    5
Brian Milne                           126            Larry Peace                                   2
Lydell Mitchell                   6534            Lousaka Polite                          296
Booker Moore                       420            Billy Reynolds                          585
Lenny Moore                      5174            Curvin Richards                       181
Michael Robinson                422            Mike Sebastan                            83
Fran Rogel                           3271            LaRod Stephens-Howling      670
Evan Royster                         416            Adam Walker                           115
Matt Suhey                          2946            Heinie Weisenbaugh                59
Steve Smith                         1627
Blair Thomas                      2236
Leroy Thompson               1390
Bob Torrey                              61
Wally Triplett                       321
Curt Warner                       6844
Kenny Watson                   1651
Jon Witman                          129

Penn State running backs have rushed for 74,751 yards and Pitt’s running backs have rushed for 59,944 yards in NFL history and Penn State has produced twice as many All-American running backs. Whether you go by what players do while in college, or what they accomplished in the NFL, sorry Pitt fans, Pitt is not Running Back U by either method. Penn State is a far greater Running Back U than Pitt.

Saquon Barkley photo courtesy of: pennstatenews on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Darrin Hall photo courtesy of:  SGSFilms on Visual Hunt / CC BY

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

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