Michigan State Football: All-time 10 Best Running Backs

Establishing the running game has been very important to past Spartan coaches, as Michigan State has produced many great tailbacks. The most recent, Javon Ringer, carried the 2008 Spartan football team to a 9-4 record and led the way to them playing for a Big Ten title in the final game against Penn State. With that being said, here are the 10 best running backs in Spartan football history.

10Steve Smith (1977-80)
As a sophomore, Smith rushed for 100+ yards in three games and helped the 1978 Spartans earn a share of the Big Ten title under third-year head coach Darryl Rogers. Smith carried the ball for 100+ yards in six more games throughout his career, including his personal best of 229 yards on 30 carries against Northwestern in 1980. Smith was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention Selection in 1978, 1979, and 1980. During his Spartan career Smith rushed for 2,676 yards, which ranks eighth in school history.
9Marc Renaud (1994-95, 97)
Although not a part of many wins at Michigan State under head coaches George Perles and Nick Saban, Renaud still put up some incredible numbers. He recorded nine games with 100+ yards as a Spartan tailback. Five of those games came in the 1995 season, including a game of 229 rushing yards on 35 carries versus Minnesota. His 2,331 career rushing yards rank eleventh in Spartan history.
8Duane Goulbourne (1992-94, 1996)
Splitting time during the 1994 season with Renaud, Goulbourne rushed for 100+ yards in four games that year. He rushed for 100+ yards in 6 other games in his career, including a contest against Iowa in 1993 in which he ran the ball 29 times for 213 yards. Goulborne finished with 2,848 career rushing yards, which ranks seventh in Spartan history.
7Eric Allen (1969-71)
Allen recorded 13 games of 100+yards, including seven games in 1971 under head coach Duffy Daugherty. He is the only Spartan to rush for more than 300 yards in a game, carrying the ball 29 times for 350 yards versus Purdue in 1971. That’s 12.1 yards per carry! Allen also led the Big Ten in rushing and scoring in 1971 racing for 1,283 yards and racking up 110 points in conference games. Those remarkable statistics in that 1971 season helped Allen become a first team All-American. Allen was also voted All-Big Ten Honorable Mention in 1969, second team in 1970, and of course first team in 1971. Allen ranks ninth in school history with 2,654 career rushing yards.
6Sedrick Irvin (1996-98)
Irvin split time with Duane Goulborne in 1996 and then with Marc Renaud in 1997, and was then the featured back in 1998 when the Spartans beat the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus on Nov. 7. There were 15 games in Irvin’s career where he recorded 100+ rushing yards, including his 238 rushing yards against Penn State in 1997. The 5’11” back was a second team All-Big Ten Selection in both 1997 and 1998 and his 3,504 rushing yards rank fifth all-time in school history.
5T.J. Duckett (1999-01)
During his three years as a Spartan running back, Duckett recorded 14 games with 100+ rushing yards. He shined once as a freshman, rushing for 159 yards on 22 carries against Penn State, during a season where the Spartans finished second in the Big Ten at 10-2 (6-2), watched head coach Nick Saban leave for LSU, and then beat Florida in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2000 under new head coach Bobby Williams. “Dump truck” Duckett’s career high came in 2000 when he rushed for 248 yards on 30 carries against Iowa. The 6’4”, 254 lb. running back recorded 211 yards in one of the most memorable games in Spartan history against Michigan in 2001 at Spartan Stadium. Controversy or not, Duckett caught the winning touchdown as time expired and lifted the Spartans to a 26-24 victory over the Wolverines. Duckett was a second team All-Big Selection in 2000 and 2001. In Duckett’s final game as a Spartan, he rushed for 184 yards on 27 carries in Michigan State’s victory over Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Football Classic on Dec. 31, 2001. Duckett finished with 3,379 career rushing yards, which ranks sixth in Spartan history.
4Blake Ezor (1986-89)
Blake Ezor was able to showcase his skills as a freshman, due to the injury of starting running back, Lorenzo White. The 5’9” tailback rushed for 107 yards on 28 carries against Minnesota in that 1986 season. Then in the 1987 Rose Bowl season when the Heisman candidate, White, was back, Ezor still found a way to carry the ball 23 times for 151 yards against Purdue and 28 times for 148 yards against Wisconsin. Ezor rushed for 100+ yards in 13 more games during his Spartan career, including contests of 250 yards and 228 yards. His six rushing touchdowns against Northwestern in 1989 ranks first in Spartan record books. Ezor was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention Selection in 1987, second team in 1988, and second team in 1989. He finished his Spartan career with 3,749 rushing yards, which ranks fourth all-time in school history.
3Tico Duckett (1989-92)
The older brother of T.J. Duckett, Tico Duckett was a freshman as Blake Ezor led the 1989 team as a senior. Duckett did manage to carry the ball 30 times for 175 yards against Iowa that year, as the Spartans finished the season 8-4 (6-2) and beat Hawaii in the Aloha Bowl, 33-13. Duckett recorded 15 more games with 100+ rushing yards as a Spartan, including games of 241 yards, 229 yards, 216 yards, and 210 yards. In 1990, Duckett led the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 126 yards per conference game, which helped the Spartans earn their share of the Big Ten crown that year. His career highlight came in 1991 against Minnesota when he scored a touchdown on an 88-yard run, a play which ranks third in Spartan history. Duckett was a first team All-Big Ten Selection in 1990, second team in 1991, and first team in 1992. He finished his career with 4,212 rushing yards, which ranks third in school history.
2Javon Ringer (2005-09)
Despite splitting time in his first three years as a Spartan running back, Ringer led the team each year in rushing yards. Then in 2008, the 5’9”, 205 pound running back showcased all of his skills and carried Michigan State, literally, through his entire senior season as the Spartans finished the year with a 9-4 record and a second place finish in the Big Ten Conference. He holds single-season school records with 22 rushing touchdowns and 132 points scored, the latter led the Big Ten in 2008. He also led the Big Ten with 2,051 all-purpose yards in 2008. Ringer rushed for 282 yards on 43 attempts versus Florida Atlantic early in the 2008 season and also scored five touchdowns against Eastern Michigan that year. Ringer recorded 19 games with 100+ rushing yards, which ranks second in Spartan history. Ringer was a first team All-American Selection in 2008, as well as a second team All-Big Ten Selection in 2007. His 4,398 career rushing yards rank second in school history. He holds the school record for career all-purpose yards with 5,426.
1Lorenzo White (1984-88)
The 5’11” running back ranks at the top of the all-time Spartan charts in the following categories: career attempts (1,082), career yards (4,887), career touchdowns (43), and single-season rushing yards (2,066 in 1985). Also, his 5,152 all-purpose yards rank second in school history, behind Javon Ringer. White led the Big Ten in rushing in 1985 and 1987 averaging 183.8 and 151.6 yards per conference contest, respectively. He also led the Big Ten in scoring in both of those seasons, racking up 84 points in 1985 Big Ten play and 72 points in 1987 in conference games. His junior season in 1986 was cut short due to injury. White recorded 23 games with 100+ rushing yards, (including 11 in 1985) which is the most in Spartan history. His personal best of 292 yards (56 carries) came during the 1987 season against Indiana. White also recorded games, in terms of rushing yards, of 286 yards, 244 yards, 226 yards, and 223 yards. He was a first team All-American Selection in 1985 and 1987. On top of the unbelievable statistics and the many awards, White capped off his Spartan career with a 20-17 victory over USC in the 1988 Rose Bowl.

Also, be sure to check out the rest of the Best of Michigan State Football series:


Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Defensive Line


Defensive Backs

Special Teams