It's been years since BYU has had a real standout running back like Luke Staley, Curtis Brown and Harvey Unga. However, sophomore Jamaal Williams and senior Michael Alisa hope to change all of that in 2013.
And BYU will need a top-notch running game as the Cougars face their most difficult schedule in program history.
Alisa was BYU's featured back for the first part of last season but didn't light up the field. In the four full games Alisa played, he only averaged 52.5 yards per game and scored just one touchdown.
Then, his season came to an abrupt end as he broke his arm against Hawaii.
Good thing for BYU that Williams was ready right away despite being just a 17-year-old freshman at the time.
He rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns against an admittedly weak Hawaii defense. From that point on, Williams was BYU’s primary running back and went on to break the 100-yard rushing mark two more times last season against Georgia Tech and Idaho.
However, as good as Williams was last season for a freshman, there was still much to be desired. He struggled against tougher defenses. Oregon State held him to just 36 yards while San Diego State limited him to just 31.
Yards per attempt best tells the story of how much BYU struggled to run the ball. In three games, BYU had more than 5.0 yards per attempt. Not surprisingly, these were against Weber State, Hawaii and Idaho. Yes, those were the three weakest opponents on BYU's 2012 schedule.
Five teams (Utah, Oregon State, Notre Dame, San Jose State and San Diego State) held BYU to less than 3.0 yards per attempt. It's no coincidence that BYU lost four of those five games.
Not all the blame for BYU's rushing troubles lies with the running backs. The shallow Cougar offensive line struggled with injury all year long and did not open running lanes.
Riley Nelson's injury also hurt the Cougars because he couldn't throw the deep ball for most of the year, meaning that defenses could simply stack the box down after down. Linebackers and safeties cheated up regularly, which made gaining big chunks of yardage difficult.
Newly returned offensive coordinator Robert Anae has already made major strides in fixing these issues.
Anae's new hurry-up offense should help keep defenses off balance. Also, BYU picked up several junior college transfers this season to help add depth to an offensive line that desperately needed it.
Additionally, Taysom Hill, not Riley Nelson, will be under center this season. That should help his running backs as he draws the defense's attention with both his legs and his arm.
With all of those changes, the running game should improve greatly this upcoming season. Williams has earned carries. Despite adversity, he picked up 775 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman, and after such a promising start, he has a real chance to join BYU’s all-time elite running backs.
But Anae shouldn't let a senior like Alisa go to waste, and Alisa is pushing himself hard. Competition notwithstanding, Alisa appears to have been nothing but gracious toward Williams. Just check out this video where Alisa interviewed Williams for BYUtv after the Blue/White scrimmage.
The two should be a great team in BYU’s backfield this season.
BYU will need a solid running game more than ever. Teams like Texas, Notre Dame and Wisconsin aren’t going to let BYU run all over them the way that Idaho and Hawaii did last season.
However, with Anae revamping the offense, Alisa returning to the field and another year of experience for Williams, the BYU rushing attack should be one of the stronger parts of the 2013 football squad.
Lafe Peavler is a national college football featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.com/MasterPeavler