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 https://www.pro-football-reference.com/. 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.
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: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/.