Conference USA RB Rankings 2023: Marquis Crosby Leads a Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Backfield That’s Both Bark and Bite

A packed running back room led by Marquis Crosby sees the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs sit atop our 2023 Conference USA RB rankings.

With multiple new teams and an exciting media deal, Conference USA promises to be one of the most exciting conferences in college football this season, and there’s an electric group of running backs to match. Our 2023 Conference USA RB rankings break down who to watch out for this fall.

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2023 Conference USA RB Rankings

1) Marquis Crosby, Craig Williams, Charvis Thornton | Louisiana Tech

Ranking eighth in Conference USA last season for rushing yards per game (124.75), rushing touchdowns (14), and yards per carry (3.75), confidence or faith may not be instilled in the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs’ rushing game for the upcoming season. But there’s a reason why they sit atop our 2023 Conference USA RB rankings. In fact, there are multiple reasons.

Those reasons start with the Bulldogs’ leading returning rusher, Marquis Crosby. The 5’10”, 201-pound redshirt sophomore was a near-unstoppable force in 2022, tallying 918 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Crosby registered 100+ yard performances four times with three multiple-touchdown games.

MORE: 2023 Conference USA Weekly Football Schedule

While he isn’t the fastest running back in terms of pure long speed, Crosby’s burst at the line of scrimmage allows him to explode through the gap for chunk plays. He has good vision as a rusher too. The first 1,000+ yard season of his career isn’t out of the question this fall.

While Crosby paced the team in yards last fall, Charvis Thornton averaged an impressive 5.8 yards per carry in his first full season of action and ended the year with 132 yards and a score against UAB. The addition of Baylor RB Craig Williams – 100-yard games against Oklahoma and TCU last fall – gives Louisiana Tech a triple-headed monster in the backfield.

2) Frank Peasant, Romal Webb Jr., Jaiden Credle | Middle Tennessee State

The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders ranked last in the conference in 2022 with just 3.12 yards per carry. As a result, they parlayed 34.85 attempts per game into just 108.77 rushing yards per game—the second fewest in Conference USA.

Nevertheless, there was a bright spark with the Blue Raiders finding the end zone 20 times on the ground. Nine of those TDs came from one of the most dangerous rushers in the conference.

Frank Peasant propels MTSU up our 2023 Conference USA RB rankings as an ascending rusher who is only getting better as his career progresses. Last year, he hit career highs across the board, tallying 777 rushing yards at 4.3 yards per carry.

Peasant plays the game with impressive physicality from his 5’10”, 198-pound frame. He can break tackles with sheer strength while lowering his shoulder and driving with his legs to act as a bulldozer. He also has enough juice to get around the outside. The MTSU rusher adds receiving value, adding 286 yards and two scores in 2022.

Middle Tennessee also adds Coffeyville Community College standout Romal Webb Jr. to their RB room this season. The 5’8″, 205-pound bowling ball rushed for 624 yards and seven scores last fall after a productive high school career that saw him break 5,000 yards and tally 65 touchdowns in just two years. The Blue Raiders could bully their way to victory in 2023.

The Blue Raiders bolstered their standing in our 2023 CUSA Conference USA RB rankings with the addition of former Northern Illinois rusher Jaiden Credle. He boasts the footwork, vision, strength, and speed to have a significant impact for the Blue Raiders this fall.

3) Deion Hankins, Mike Franklin | UTEP

With Ronald Awatt graduating and getting picked up as a UDFA, it falls on Deion Hankins to carry a ground game that averaged 38.67 attempts per game last fall—the fourth most in the conference. Hankins is no stranger to carrying the load, however, as a consistently excellent producer throughout his college football career.

After suffering a concussion as a freshman that caused him to take a redshirt season, Hankins has run the rock over 100 times per season. Although his nine touchdowns in 2020 were the most single-season scores of his career, Hankins registered career highs of 701 yards and 5.0 yards per carry last fall.

The 6’0″, 220-pound redshirt senior has the size and strength to bulldoze through tackles while possessing the burst to be a one-cut and vanishing rusher that helps propel him up our 2023 Conference USA RB rankings. The arrival of Costa College transfer Mike Franklin alongside Hankins solidifies UTEP’s backfield as one of the best in the conference this year.

“He is extremely talented, a big 225-pound running back,” UTEP head coach Dana Dimel said during the early signing period as per Sam Guzman. “Him and Deion [Hankins] are almost the same. They could be a 1-2 punch for us.”

4) Quinton Cooley, James Jointer Jr., Vaughn Blue | Liberty

The Liberty Flames are newcomers to Conference USA play this fall, and their running back room is equally packed with newcomers. They started the spring as the number one ranked team in our Conference USA RB rankings for 2023, but as we get set to applaud the additions to the room, we also must lament a rather significant loss from the Liberty roster.

Dae Dae Hunter was comfortably the best running back on the Flames roster heading into spring camp, and his exciting and electric skill set helped Liberty set fire to the rest of the conference in the early edition of our running back ramblings. Having flirted with the portal back in December, Hunter appears to be set on leaving the program after reentering his name.

So, the Flames are set to be led by Quinton Cooley heading into the 2023 college football season—which is by no means a bad thing. Defensive players in CUSA play will need to make some serious business decisions when they encounter the 5’9″, 215-pound back in the alley. Cooley is an ultra-physical force who can lower the shoulder but also has deceptive agility.

Joining Cooley as a newcomer from a Power Five program in the Liberty backfield is former Arkansas three-star James Jointer Jr. Although he didn’t play in 2022, Jointer had multiple offers from ACC and SEC teams. His short-area burst allows him to win off the tackle, but he also showcases physicality in his game.

5) Anwar Lewis, Malik Jackson | Jacksonville State

If projecting the starting running backs is difficult this far in advance of the season, how about trying to project the success level of a program and players who aren’t just new to the conference this fall but are new to the FBS scene?

Although Jacksonville State is the new kid on the block, they have several playmakers primed to prove they belong on this stage.

Anwar Lewis has been devastatingly effective at whatever level of football he’s played. A standout at Hutchinson Community College prior to his transfer to the Gamecocks, Lewis rushed for 818 yards and eight touchdowns last fall, averaging a ludicrous 7.1 yards per carry.

MORE: Welcome to the FBS, Jacksonville State — History of the Gamecocks 

Although his numbers were bolstered by a monster performance against Murray State (182 yards and three touchdowns), Lewis still registered four games with over 100+ rushing yards. With his game-changing straight-line speed and quick feet to sift through traffic, only his lack of top-level experience prevents further ascension up our 2023 Conference USA RB rankings.

As Jacksonville State prepares for life in the FBS, they added players with FBS experience to the RB room. Malik Jackson led Louisiana-Monroe with 507 rushing yards and six touchdowns last fall. As a former high school WR, he gives the Gamecocks an additional receiving threat out of the backfield.

6) Lexington Joseph, Shomari Lawrence | Florida International

Behind the likes of Napoleon Maxwell, Anthony Jones, and D’vonte Price, FIU has been a successful rushing team in Conference USA in the not-too-distant past. However, they’ve struggled to establish the ground game in the last two seasons, resulting in a C-USA-low 1,260 yards and 11 touchdowns last fall—with a second-lowest 3.54 yards per carry.

While the output hasn’t been stellar, that’s not to diminish the efforts of Lexington Joseph — a former three-star recruit with four years of college experience ahead of the 2023 campaign. Joseph rolled for 536 yards and five touchdowns last fall, averaging 4.96 yards per carry.

At 5’9″ and 205 pounds, Joseph is a bowling ball-esque rusher who can barrel through contact for fun. Yet, he’s showcased that he’s not just strength without speed by leading the Panthers with 566 kick-return yards at 21.0 yards per attempt.

Meanwhile, Joseph is a versatile offensive weapon with receiving skills. Mike MacIntyre’s team has another physical back in their room this offseason in the shape of South Dakota’s Shomari Lawrence. The third-year back rushed for 597 yards and three scores on 107 attempts in 2022 after missing time in 2021.

7) Zach Hrbacek, John Gentry | Sam Houston

Making the jump up to the FBS is tough. Last year, James Madison made it look easier than it really is, and the Dukes were a legitimate FCS powerhouse. While Sam Houston has been at the forefront of FCS football, their transition to the FBS isn’t helped by a lack of experience at any level in their running back room.

Although they roster one of the most voluminous RB rooms in the conference, with seven backs on their spring roster, there’s a distinct lack of playmaking experience among them.

To bolster their roster, John Gentry arrives from Utah State, where he had 66 carries in 2021. The 5’11”, 205-pound former three-star recruit boasts impressive speed and can be utilized as a receiver out of the backfield—although he didn’t see much use in that role for the Aggies. Gentry has impressed through spring camp.

However, the success of the ground game may lie with the ultra-talented Zach Hrbacek. Averaging 5.75 yards per carry last year, the redshirt sophomore tallied 495 yards and three scores. In three of the four games where he had a double-digit carry workload, he went over 100 yards. Long speed, acceleration, patience, and vision make Hrbacek a dangerous weapon in multiple phases. He’s one to watch this fall.

8) Davion Ervin-Poindexter, Elijah Young, L.T. Sanders | Western Kentucky

When your team’s offensive identity is tied to the passing game, it can be difficult to shine as a running back. Austin Reed returns for another season of commanding the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers’ passing game—likely resulting in a repeat performance of a conference-low 29.57 attempts per game.

The nature of WKU’s offense—and the loss of Kye Robichaux to Boston College—has an impact on their standing near the bottom of our 2023 Conference USA RB rankings. Nevertheless, there are some standout performers in the Hilltoppers’ running back room.

Returning leading rusher Davion Ervin-Poindexter and Missouri transfer Elijah Young are likely to pace the team’s ground game, with Poindexter’s tough running style making him a short-yardage and goal-line threat.

While managing a meager workload last fall, L.T. Sanders (44 carries) averaged 6.6 yards per carry while finding the end zone against FIU. Sanders terrorized UAB to the tune of 120 yards in one of two games with double-digit carries. Just a freshman last fall, he could be primed for bigger things in 2023.

9) Star Thomas, Jamoni Jones | New Mexico State

While New Mexico State boasts the second-best QB in Conference USA play this season, their ground game has the potential to be potent too. Some of that has to do with the “experienced dual-threat ability” that Diego Pavia provides, but there’s some talent in the RB room as well.

Although the strength of other units sees prop up our 2023 Conference USA RB rankings, Star Thomas and Jamoni Jones are an efficient one-two punch that is less “thunder and lightning” than “thunder, some more thunder, and then a knockout blow from a prizefighter mixed with some more thunder.”

MORE: Conference USA QB Rankings 2023

Both over 6’0″, both tipping the scales at 225 pounds, they’re both capable of running over defenses with bad intentions. Former Coffeyville CC back Thomas led the team with 518 yards and 4.8 yards per carry last fall and is the more dangerous receiving back. Jones, meanwhile, tied Pavia to lead the team with six TDs.

However, Jones rushed for just 3.5 yards per carry last fall, struggling in games against some of the Aggies’ more difficult opponents—such as Minnesota. Behind Thomas and Jones, there’s minimal on-field experience from a supporting cast stable of 5’10”, 190-something-pound rushers.