Mark Clark: Confused on direction, but headed the right way

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Okay, I admit I do not always know what I am about to write about in a column. In fact, I admit it is that way every week – it seems. It is a rare week when I know just what I want to write about. Some weeks I know what I want to write and then write about something entirely different.

This week is no different.

My first inclination was to write just about the top backfields in college football for the upcoming season. Then I thought I would write about the top high school prospects for the 2018 season. I even considered writing about the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s current beef with St. Paul’s High and the decision to move the school up two classifications in football because of its new competitive balance rule. Instead, I decided to write about all of them in one column. Hang on and do not get confused like me.

Top 5 backfields

There are so many very good college backfields at colleges for the upcoming season. Wisconsin, for instance, has probably the top candidate for the Heisman Trophy in Jonathan Taylor. He ran for 1,977 yards on 209 carries with 13 touchdowns last season. Not a bad effort, huh? Well, he is pretty much a loner for the Badgers until either Chris James or Bradrick Shaw wake up and start producing yardage. Stanford has a possible Heisman Trophy winner with Bryce Love who had 2,118 yards on 263 carries with 19 touchdowns. Cameron Scarlett and Trevor Speights are the guys who will help him.

While both of those schools have good backfields, they are not in my Top 5. If I was just looking at individual runners, Taylor and Love would be at the top of the list. But, I am writing about team backfields.

At No. 5, I think it is Clemson with Travis Etienne, Tavien Feaster and Kelly Bryant. None of the three reached the 800-yard mark in 2018, but they each had over 650 yards and scored a combined 31 touchdowns. Etienne was the star of the bunch with 766 yards and 13 touchdowns. Bryant, the team quarterback, was next at 665 yards with 11 touchdowns. Feaster had four more yards than Bryant at 669, but had four fewer touchdowns.

No. 4 on my list is Oklahoma with Rodney Anderson, Trey Sermon and T.J. Pledger. Anderson ran for 1,161 yards on 188 carries with 13 touchdowns. Sermon ran the ball 121 times for 744 yards with five touchdowns. Kyler Murray, the new quarterback in Norman, averaged 10.1 yards per carry when he had the chance to step on the field. Those numbers came on a squad more know for the throwing of Baker Mayfield – the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick by the Cleveland Browns.

The No. 3 ranking belongs to Florida State. The Seminoles have Cam Akers returning after a very successful freshman season. He ran for 1,025 yards on 194 attempts with seven touchdowns. He will have Jacques Patrick – 748 yards with seven touchdowns – as his backup. The third runner in the mix will be Khaian Laborn, a red shirt freshman.

The No. 2 backfield heading into the 2018 season is Alabama with Damien Harris leading the way early. Harris had 1,000 yards with 11 touchdowns on 135 carries. Behind him will be Najee Harris, a rising sophomore, who ran for 370 yards on 61 carries with three touchdowns. After those two there will be a battle between Josh Jacobs and Brian Robinson. And, of course, there will be added rushing yards from Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa.

The No. 1 backfield is at Ohio State. J.K. Dobbins had 1,403 yards on 194 attempts with seven touchdowns in 2017 as a true freshman. Mike Weber, 101 carries for 626 yards and 10 touchdowns, will be right there with him. The third runner is Jaelen Gill, an incoming freshman. But, do not forget about Dwayne Haskins at quarterback. He will run a lot as well.

Alabama’s top college prospects

Oxford’s Clay Webb is a 5-star center who has yet to name his top college, but the list includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson and Florida. There are plenty of others, but he has not taken a trip to any of them – officially. That is probably why he is the top prospect in the state – that and his 6-4 frame that holds 285 pounds right now. The rest of the Top 10 includes QB Bo Nix of Pinson Valley (Auburn commit), WR George Pickens of Hoover (Auburn), OT Pierce Quick of Hewitt-Trussville (Alabama), OT Amari Kight of Thompson (Alabama), CB Christian Williams of Daphne (Alabama), QB Taulia Tagovailoa of Thompson (Alabama), ILB LaVonta Bentley of Jackson-Olin (undecided), S Trikweze Bridges of Lanett (undecided) and WDE Mohamoud Diabate of Auburn (undecided).

In the Rivals Top 60 in Alabama, there are three Central High players – QB Peter Parrish at No. 20, RB A’Montae Spivey at No. 25 and S Ray Thornton at No. 27.

St. Paul’s vs. AHSAA

I will not go too much into this because the decision on whether the court will rule on an injunction in favor or against St. Paul’s should come tomorrow. St. Paul’s says the AHSAA is just pacifying state legislators while punishing private schools with its new competitive balance rule. The rule requires successful private schools which already play up a level in most cases to step up two levels when they are deemed successful. St. Paul’s, a 4A school by enrollment, has played in 5A due to multiplying its enrollment by a factor of 1.35, will be in 6A because of its success at the 5A level. St. Paul’s will play 6A in 15 sports this season, if the ruling favors the AHSAA. Overall, 85 of the 820 private school sports teams will play up due to their successes. Those private schools at the 7A level have nowhere to move up. In the last two years, State Representative Ritchie Whorton of Owens Cross Roads has threatened to push legislation which would place the private schools in their own playoff system at the end of the season instead of allowing them to continue to compete against public schools. Whorton feels it is unfair for the two – public and private – to compete together because private schools have no designated school jurisdictions and they openly recruit the best players in an area. St. Paul’s says the new competitive balance rule is unsafe for its athletes because they would have to compete against much larger schools. We will see where this goes.

Mark Clark is a local sports writer for 

The Citizen of East Alabama.