Alabama Football: Why Eddie Lacy Will Take the Nation by Storm in 2012
By now preseason rankings and Heisman predictions are floating around the Internet, hoping to stave off the unending boredom that is the college football offseason.
A name many college football analysts will come to learn with the departure of Trent Richardson is running back Eddie Lacy of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Now, while a lot Heisman projections have him footnoted, sneered or at least subdued in some way, I'm here to tell you why he should be on everyone's preseason top five Heisman candidates.
Running Back Tradition
First, and most obvious, is that Alabama knows how to produce successful running backs in recent years.
A Heisman winner in Mark Ingram and a Heisman finalist in Trent Richardson have proven Alabama as the place to be for running backs in today's game.
Ingram was selected 28th overall by the New Orleans Saints, and Richardson is projected in the top 10 of this year's draft.
Needless to say, the coaching staff in Tuscaloosa knows how to teach players to run the football.
The offense is defined by it, and the spring and summer practices will be focused around maximizing the potential of Eddie Lacy (and expanding quarterback A.J. McCarron's role as well).
The Offensive Line
The projected offensive line returning in 2012 for Alabama is, without a doubt, the most experienced and talented in college football.
At left tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio, a sophomore, is the least experienced of the bunch. However, the No. 2 overall prospect from the 2011 class is nimble, athletic and, most importantly, big. He earned playing time in his freshman season at left tackle before a season-ending injury cut him out of the lineup. Big things are now expected if Cyrus's knee is fully healed.
At left guard, Chance Warmack, a senior, will be starting in his third straight season at this position. He has started in 26 straight games for the Tide and will be a monster in his senior season.
At center, Barrett Jones, a senior, is the most versatile lineman in college football. As a freshman, Jones started 14 games for the Tide at right guard, helping Alabama secure its first-ever BCS title. As a sophomore, Jones returned to his right guard position, earning him All-American honors. As a junior in 2011, Jones took over the left tackle spot, earning distinction as not only an All-American, but also the nation's best interior lineman.
Now, in his senior year, Jones will be heading up the void left by William Vlachos at the center position. His intelligence as a lineman surely will lead him to yet another All-American distinction at, amazingly, three different positions.
At right guard, Anthony Steen, a redshirt junior, will be one of the weaker players in this line. However, Steen has had experience in 10 starts this past season and played in 13 games as a freshman in 2010.
At right tackle, D.J. Fluker, a redshirt junior, is coming off a tremendous 2011 year when he started all 13 games for the Tide. This is likely Fluker's last season as he is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2013 draft.
This offensive line will not only give Lacy more than enough space to run, it will also set up enough time for McCarron to find his receivers. In a Heisman campaign, it will be extremely important for Lacy to have this kind of relief. With the experience of this offensive line, look for many more play-action passes and delayed handoffs.
Even the best running backs in college football need a break.
A confident and talented backup running back can often mean the difference between a successful and not-so-successful season for the feature back.
Where would Mark Ingram be without Trent Richardson spelling him for a third of the total carries in his Heisman-winning season?
Where would Trent Richardson be without Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler?
When the stars get tired, it is the backups that must accept responsibility and come to play.
The good news for Lacy is the backups for Alabama are some of the most talented in the nation.
From the big bruising Fowler, to the smaller scatback in Dee Hart, to the more versatile and early-enrolling freshman T.J. Yeldon, Lacy will be thankful that the coaches have the confidence to place the ball in one of their hands when fatigue rears its ugly head.
This slide title may seem a little bit self explanatory, as in, "Of course Eddie Lacy is going to be a factor in winning the Heisman for Eddie Lacy!"
However, what I mean here is that pundits often cite the previous three reasons for a potential Heisman candidacy, but often neglect Eddie Lacy himself.
At first glance, it may just seem like Lacy is nothing more than some speed and a fancy speed move. But a deeper look at his numbers in his past two seasons provides some interesting insight when compared to the last two feature backs in Tuscaloosa.
Mark Ingram's only year as a backup
Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram only played in one season as a true backup. In this season, he rushed for 728 yards on 143 attempts for an average of 5.1 yards per carry. He mopped up in the end zone with 12 TDs rushing.
Trent Richardson's first two years as a backup
Heisman Trophy nominee Trent Richardson rushed for 1,451 yards on 257 carries for an average of 5.64 yards per carry in his two years backing up Ingram. In total Richardson had 14 TDs rushing.
Eddie Lacy's first two years as a backup
The future Heisman Trophy nominee (see what I did there?) rushed for 1,080 yards on only 151 carries for an average of 7.15 yards per carry in his first two years as a backup. Amazingly, his first season saw him gather six touchdowns and 406 yards as a third-string runner. In total, Lacy has 13 TDs rushing in his backup years.
In all, while Lacy had fewer carries in his backup years, he was still able to go over 1,000 yards rushing, rack up 13 TDs and have significantly higher yards per carry than both Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
To match Richardson's yardage output of 1,451 in his first two seasons, Lacy would only have had to rush at an average of 3.5 yards per carry (less than half of his normal rushing average) for the 106-carry difference.
And that, my friends, is statistically significant.
A recent dominance of running backs in Tuscaloosa, a surreal offensive line, experienced and talented running backs to spell him and an alarming trend of Lacy's previous years all point to a Heisman candidacy for Eddie Lacy.