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The Extinction of the Fullback in College Football; Who will be the Razorbacks' starter?

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A linebacker-smashing machine. A hole-opening, human battering ram. A tank on the loose creating damage and mayhem. A fullback.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

A rhino charging a hunter on safari in Africa - head down full speed, no regard for its own well being with just one purpose on its mind: to inflict destruction and damage on its intended target. That is the job description of a typical fullback with a run or reception occasionally thrown in.

The comparison to the average fullback is pretty similar to a rhino body type: low center of gravity, stout, nasty disposition and not afraid of a collision.

In college football it has been noted by many that the fullback position has been declining in use the last decade. Some believe that there is a leveling off pattern with the emergence of run heavy spread offenses, others are finding it easier to use a versatile tight end and let him do the blocking and pass-catching from an H-back position ala Auburn, Oregon, and many other spread offenses. Here I will take a look at just how many fullbacks are on college rosters going in to the 2014 season. Also I will take a look at what the Razorbacks will do to replace Kiero Small at the position.

Nationally, it’s probably been going on for quite a while. I think there’s been a de-emphasis of that position. I don’t have the reason for it. People more and more seem to be trending to spread offenses at the high school level, which creates a smaller pool of guys to recruit from. Thus, I think there’s less at the college level." Rutgers HC Kyle Flood.

There are 195 fullbacks currently on rosters going in to the 2014 season. With 128 FBS teams you can see the lack of fullbacks on many teams. Army and Navy are among the nation's leaders in fullbacks and use them extensively in their option game, but some big surprises are Rutgers, South Carolina, and Tulsa. Rutgers has 7 fullbacks on roster and they seem to hold the position in high regard.

South Carolina and Tulsa have six fullbacks each, and seem to be following this strategy of finding as many fullbacks to fill the needs of their 2-back running game. In contrast, LSU is content with recruiting big running backs and converting them to fullback when needed.

Is the position being fazed out with the rise of the wide open spread offense? Auburn seemed to use FB Jay Prosch effectively last season, but the problem may lie in finding players that have the skills to fill that role. Teams like Ohio State, West Virginia, and California list only one, and rarely use a fullback. In the SEC Ole Miss, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi St.  and Missouri do not list a fullback on their roster.

If players are not learning the fullback position in high school, it may become harder and harder to find a steady fullback like Kiero Small was for the Razorbacks last season.

Arkansas currently has four fullbacks listed on its roster with Kody Walker being another who is actually listed as a RB. Patrick Arinze, Chris Jones, Eric Ponio, and incoming freshman Tyler Colquitt are listed as the true fullbacks on the roster, but who will be on the field in the fall when Arkansas lines up in a 2-back set? Kody Walker started the spring game there and looked like a reliable replacement for Small. In my opinion Walker's strength is in pass protection and will have to prove himself in run blocking. Whether or not he can find the hole and fit on the linebackers will be a big part of whether or not Arkansas is able to run the ball consistently.

Patrick Arinze looks more in the mold of Kiero Small and the wrecking ball stature. Chris Jones is the same and will most likely be a part of the short yardage package.

However, Tyler Colquitt is clearly a favorite of the coaching staff. He committed to Arkansas as a recruited walk-on out of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, but the coaches have already put him on scholarship for this year. The 5'11 245-lb Hog could be a factor immediately.

Fullback at Arkansas is not a glamourous position for any statistical category, but the scheme that Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney want to run is dependent on open running lanes. My estimation from last season was that Arkansas ran a 2-back set somewhere between 30-40% of the time. This includes play action where the FB was used to pass protect. Will the play calling change to more one-back sets, or will the TEs including Aj Derby, Hunter Henry, and Alex Voelzke be used more extensively as lead blockers? I think early in the season what the fullback is able to do in the run game will be a very important factor. If the fullback is effective and the tight ends are able to be threats on the outside as play action route runners, then the stress will increase on the defense.

Whoever fills the role of bowling ball-demolition derby blocker will be a big part of the success or failure of the 2014 Razorbacks.