Mark Story

Benny Snell's clearest path to become UK's all-time rushing leader in 2018

To pass Sonny Collins as Kentucky's all-time leading career rusher in 2018, Benny Snell (26) must average 117.7 yards a game over 12 games or 108.7 yards a game if UK earns a 13th game with a postseason trip.
To pass Sonny Collins as Kentucky's all-time leading career rusher in 2018, Benny Snell (26) must average 117.7 yards a game over 12 games or 108.7 yards a game if UK earns a 13th game with a postseason trip.

Benny Snell needs to run for 1,412 yards in 2018 to pass Sonny Collins and become the all-time leading rusher in Kentucky Wildcats football history.

That sounds doable, but only two UK players — Moe Williams (1,600 yards in 1995) and Artose Pinner (1,414 yards in 2002) — have ever run for that many yards in a season.

Given that Snell's junior season in 2018 could be his final year of college football before he turns pro, this fall may be the Westerville, Ohio, product's one chance at the record Collins has held since he left UK with 3,835 career rushing yards in 1975.

To set a new UK career mark this fall, Snell must run for an average of 117.7 yards a game. If UK adds a bowl trip, Snell would need to average 108.7 yards a contest to make history.

As a freshman in 2016, Snell ran for 1,091 yards in 11 games (he did not carry the ball from scrimmage in the season's first two contests) for an average of 99.2 yards a game.

Last season, when Snell produced the third-highest single-season rushing total (1,333 yards) in UK history, he averaged 102.3 yards a game.

To identify where Snell can pick up the extra production he will need in 2018 to become Kentucky's all-time leading rusher, I crunched some numbers from his past.

What I found surprised me.

SEC East foes

Of Kentucky's six SEC East rivals, Snell has averaged over 100 yards rushing a game against four.

In two games against each, Snell has averaged 154.5 yards against Missouri; 129.5 vs. Tennessee; 105 against Vanderbilt; and 104 vs. Georgia.

Against South Carolina, Snell has run for 87.5 yards a game.

Last season against Florida, Snell rushed for 59 yards (he did not carry the ball from scrimmage against the Gators in 2016).

Overall, Snell has averaged 110.9 yards rushing in 11 career games against SEC East foes.

Other power-five teams

In Kentucky's annual rivalry games with the ACC's Louisville, Snell has averaged 131 yards rushing.

Versus Mississippi State, UK's permanent opponent from the SEC West, Snell has averaged 73 yards a contest.

Facing UK's rotating SEC West foes — Alabama in 2016, Mississippi in 2017 — Snell averaged 107 yards (38 vs. Bama, 176 against Ole Miss) a game.

Texas A&M, with eight starters back from a defense that allowed 171 yards a game rushing in 2017, will replace Ole Miss on the UK schedule this season.

Overall, Snell has averaged 103.7 yards a game versus power-five conference foes from outside the SEC East.

Group of five teams

Snell has not accumulated the yardage against FBS foes from outside the five major conferences that one would expect from a back of his caliber. In three games against teams from the so-called group of five conferences, he has averaged 92.7 yards a game.

As a freshman, Snell did not carry the ball in UK's season opener against Southern Mississippi (Conference USA). In his UK debut at running back two games later, Snell ran for 136 yards against New Mexico State (then of the Sun Belt Conference).

Sonny Collins set the all-time University of Kentucky football rushing record with 3,835 career yards from 1972-75. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Last year, Snell battled a painful rib injury early in the season. That probably contributed to the fact he ran for only 67 yards against Southern Miss and 75 yards vs. Eastern Michigan (Mid-American Conference).

This season, UK's group of five foes are the MAC's Central Michigan (six defensive starters back from a unit that allowed 185.2 yards rushing in 2017) and C-USA's Middle Tennessee State (nine defensive starters back from a unit that surrendered 134 yards a game).

FCS teams

In two career games against teams from the FCS, Snell has averaged 128.5 yards a game against Austin Peay (152 in 2016) and Eastern Kentucky (105 in 2017).

This season, Kentucky will face Murray State, which has five defensive starters returning from a unit that gave up 208 rushing yards a game in 2017.

Bowl games

The postseason has not been a friend to Snell.

In the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl, he ran for 34 yards on seven carries in UK's loss to Georgia Tech.

Benny Snell ejected
After rushing for only 15 yards on six carries in the 2017 Music City Bowl, Kentucky running back Benny Snell was escorted off the field after being ejected for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in what became UK’s 24-23 loss to Northwestern. Michael Reaves

In last year's bizarre Music City Bowl, Snell had carried six times for 15 yards when he was ejected from what became a one-point UK defeat to Northwestern for unsportsmanlike conduct after he refused an official's offer of help up off the field following a tackle.

Path to the record

If he can stay healthy, Benny Snell's clearest route to becoming Kentucky's all-time leading rusher in 2018 is:

1.) Match his mostly impressive career averages against power-five conference foes;

2.) Take greater advantage of games against teams from outside the major conferences and hang some gaudy rushing numbers on Central Michigan, Murray State and MTSU.

Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory