COLUMBIA, Mo. - Heading into the season there were a lot of questions about which of Missouri's top three running backs would emerge from the pack and take over as the starter.
With Southeastern Conference play starting, that question still hasn't been answered, at least not technically.
Four games into the season, the Tigers, who play at Vanderbilt on Saturday (6:30 p.m. KQFX-TV), have gone with a running back by committee.
So far so good for the Tigers who have found a consistent running game behind Marcus Murphy, Henry Josey and Russell Hansbrough.
"You could say they are all starters, they do a great job," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said.
The Tigers three-pronged attack has worked much better so far than last season. This year Missouri is averaging 262 rushing yards per game, good for 16th nationally. Last year Missouri trudged through the season at running back and averaged 138 yards per game, 88th nationally and 12th in the SEC.
The three are averaging at least six yards per carry and have between 30-40 carries this season.
Hansbrough leads the way with 335 yards, Josey has 238 and Murphy has 224.
You also can add quarterback James Franklin into the mix, who has 215 yards rushing and a team-high 41 carries.
The touchdowns have seemed to balance out too. Josey and Murhpy have four touchdowns each, while Hansbrough has three.
The Tigers are the only team in the country with four players with at least 215 rushing yards.
"We try to balance out the plays, we try to balance out the carries as best we can," Pinkel said.
The decision to go with three running backs early this season also may help the Tigers stay fresh in the long run. That's especially important since all three are considered small running backs at less than 6-foot, 195 pounds.
"As a running back, you want to get a lot of carries, but at the same time, you know if you get 20 or 30 carries a game, it's easy to get banged up," Murphy said. "You stay fresh, you stay ready to go at all times. (If you are) out there tired, someone is there to fill your spot for you. It's good."
So far, at least publicly, there have been no spats about playing time or the amount of carries each of the backs is getting. The three say their friendship off the field has helped make the situation easier.
But it's still a competition, not matter how close the three are off the field.
"It's the biggest competition ever going on around here," Josey said. "We're all going against each other every day. And that's what's helping us on the field. We're transferring all the competition to the field."
Missouri had a similar situation in 2010 when De'Vion Moore, Josey, Kendial Lawrence and Blaine Gabbert split carries.
But that season seemed more out of necessity where the Tigers couldn't seem to find a consistent ball carrier. This year, the Tigers seem to have too many consistent ball carries.
"It's very competitive, they are good friends," Pinkel said. "They all want the ball all the time. We think it's a pretty good situation to have."