The Opening Drive: What Happened To All The Great Michigan Tailbacks?

We’re on the road again as the #FS1OpeningDrive tour bus has left Charlotte and is headed to Atlanta for our next stop. Throughout the tour, we’ll provide a morning recap of the news, commentary, tidbits and whimsy surrounding our tour stops, as we prepare for Michigan vs. Utah, Sept. 3 on FOX Sports 1.

Where have all the great Wolverine tailbacks gone?

If you ever wanted to know what life is like on a tour bus with eight other people traveling across the country, here's the scoop. You spend a lot of time with each other in confined spaces, you eat a lot of fast food and you have a wide range of random conversations. While I won't inundate you with my debates on both Bruce Lee and LeAnn Rimes, one intriguing conversation did emerge that's relevant to college football.

When you're on a bus with the HarBros, you're going to have a detailed conversation about Michigan football. While the HarBros could wax poetic on the greatness of players like Tom Brady, Charles Woodson and Braylon Edwards both in college and in the pros, there was a position that was missing in the conversation...

...where are the Michigan running backs?


Now, it's not like Michigan hasn't had really good running backs in college, as guys like Tyrone Wheatley and Tim Biakabutuka helped shaped my appreciation for the Wolverines as a kid. Other backs like Anthony Thomas, Chris Perry and Mike Hart are just a few notable names that have emerged from Ann Arbor in the last decade or so, as it seemed there was always a recognizable name in Michigan's backfield.

What's also recognizable was that none of those tailbacks had a notable career in the NFL, as none of the backs named seemed to last on a roster for more than a few years. Since 2011, when Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, no Michigan running back has yet to surpass the 1,000 yards mark.

Maybe this is because of the failed recruiting and talent management of previous UM coaches Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, but both coaches loved to run the ball and it seems absurd that no one notable would be top of mind in recent years. Can Jim Harbaugh be the one to restore the glory of the tailback position at Michigan?

We can look back at the career of Frank Gore and see that even as the San Francisco 49ers all-time leading rusher continued to climb in age, Gore was still able to be plenty productive as the Niners lead back both in the running and passing game. Moreover, when at Stanford, Harbaugh coached up Toby Gerhardt to be the best back in college football in 2009 and ushered in Stepfan Taylor to become the sixth player in Stanford history to rush for over 1,000 yards in 2010. Clearly Harbaugh knows how to get the most out of his running backs.

However, what's in the pantry for Harbaugh at Michigan currently? Can USC transfer Ty Issac secede the incumbent Derrick Green for the starting job? Both backs are huge (240 and 234 pounds, respectively) and have shown the ability to carry the ball consistently in the past. De'Veon Smith and Drake Johnson are also in the mix, and whoever makes Harbaugh's eyes twinkle could see a breakout year land right at their feet.

Who knows, maybe Tyrone Wheatley's son (Junior) could move over from tight end and take a few snaps carrying the rock? His pops certainly was my personal all-time favorite.

The Schedule

August 22: Detroit/Ann Arbor
August 23: Chicago
August 24: Cincinnati
August 25: Columbus
August 26: New York
August 27: Charlotte
August 28-29: Atlanta
August 30: Dallas
August 31-September 1: St. Louis
September 2-3: Salt Lake City

Our next stop is Atlanta! Be on the lookout for the HarBus as we roll through America. Use the hashtag #FS1OpeningDrive and follow us on Twitter at @edthesportsfan, @yardbarker and @FoxSports1 for more updates on the tour, as we prepare for Michigan vs. Utah, Sept. 3 on FOX Sports 1.

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