The isportsMSU team is putting together lists of the top five Michigan State football players in each position group. Like many of the lists that we have put together over the incredibly long off-season, only the college careers of these individuals are going to be considered when ranking them. NFL careers and post-college accolades were NOT included. When making this list, we tried to take into consideration the era that these athletes played in. Also, we will let you cast your vote for the greatest Spartan in each position group at the bottom of each article. Keep in mind when voting, only take into account success in college. You can also check out any missed position groups after the poll. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the top running backs to ever play in the green and white.
5. Le’Veon Bell (2010-2012) – Looking back on it now, a redshirt season for Le’Veon Bell during his first season on campus seems like a ridiculous idea. Had Larry Caper not suffered an arm injury, Spartan fans would have had to wait another year to see Bell ravage opposing defenses. Since Lorenzo White played, no running back meant more to the Michigan State offense than Bell in 2012. Bell’s 382 attempts during his last year is the third-highest single-season total in program history, and his 1,793 yards are the second-most in school history. Despite going 7-6, the lack of offensive competence during that year made teams key in Bell, and they still had issues trying to slow him down. He currently ranks seventh in school history in career yards, and had he stuck around for a senior season, he would probably only trail White in that category. If you waited a couple years, Bell will probably be the greatest NFL running back to ever come out of MSU, but based on college production as this countdown is, Bell falls to five.
4. T.J. Duckett (1999-2001) – After being converted from linebacker, T.J. Duckett became one of the most physically imposing running backs in school history. After 3,379 yards during his three seasons in East Lansing, he ranks sixth in program history in career rushing yards, and second among Spartans who did not use all of their college eligibility. His 5.44 yards per carry is the 10th-best total in school history and the best since Derek Hughes from 1978-1981. To average those numbers when, like Bell, defenses were keyed on stopping the 6-foot-1, 252 bruiser is nothing short of impressive. Duckett is also fourth in program history for averaging 96.5 yards per game. His 29 career rushing touchdowns are eighth all-time at Michigan State, and he also added one receiving touchdown to that. What a great receiving touchdown it was.
3. Sedrick Irvin (1996-1998) – Most of the guys in the top ten or so of Michigan State running backs had the ability to overwhelm the opposition with their power. Sedrick Irvin was the exception. Even so, it didn’t take long for the Irvin to make an impact for Nick Saban. He crossed the end zone four times in his first ever game for the green and white. Only four-year running backs Blake Ezor, Tico Duckett, Javon Ringer and Lorenzo White have more career rushing yards than Irvin’s 3,504. Had Irvin stuck around for his senior year, he may even be ahead of White on Michigan State’s all-time rushing list. Irvin’s 42 career touchdowns (35 rushing, six receiving, one return) ranks second in school history only one behind White’s 43 (all rushing). Irvin’s 97.3 yards per game is the third-highest average among all Spartan backs. Statistically, Irvin is also the greatest receiving back in school history.
2. Javon Ringer (2005-2008) – At just 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, Javon Ringer did not suit the definition of a “workhorse back,” but did he ever live up to the role. Ringer is the second in program history with 4,398 career rushing yards. Helping out as a kick returner as well, Ringer surpassed Lorenzo White as Michigan State’s leader with 5,426 career all-purpose yards. As a senior, Ringer rushed for 1,637 yards and a school-record 22 touchdowns (which has since been matched by Jeremy Langford) on his way to being a consensus All-American. After splitting time early on with Jehuu Caulcrick, Ringer had to divide his carries and touchdowns. Ringer was not too thrilled with being on the field up until the goal line. Had he not split those touchdowns early on, Ringer may have the most career rushing touchdowns in school history, as he still crossed the end zone 34 times out of the backfield. His 97.7 rushing yards per game is the second-highest total in school history.
1. Lorenzo White (1984-1987) – In all honesty, I would be surprised if any of the aforementioned great backs got a vote in the attached poll. Just like leaving guys like Blake Ezor, Jeremy Langford, Eric Allen, Tico Duckett, etc. off the list isn’t a knock on them, that isn’t the case with my poll remark. It’s just that Lorenzo White has been the program’s standard for a Spartan running back. The school’s career leader in rushing attempts (1,082), yards (4,887) and touchdowns (43), White was a two-time All-American as both a sophomore and senior. During his sophomore year, White ran the ball 419 times for a still-standing school-record 2,066 yards. The only Spartan to go over the 2,000 yard milestone, and the fourth person in NCAA history to accomplish that feat, White finished fourth in Heisman voting as a sophomore at a time when underclassmen were often shorted in voting. Though his rushing average may not be the greatest (4.6 yards per attempt), defenses literally knew White was going to get the ball. For example, during that Heisman campaign in 1985, the Spartans only threw the ball 17.3 times per game while White carried it 34.9 times per contest. White is also the only running back in program history to average over 100 yards per contest (111.1) for his career.
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