10 College Football Running Backs Who Will Be Game-Changers in 2012

Kevin W. Ryan@@kevry88Contributor IIIJune 1, 2012

10 College Football Running Backs Who Will Be Game-Changers in 2012

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    After an exciting and surprising 2011 season that yielded one of the best draft classes in the last decade, college football fans on every campus will look for similar energy in 2012. 

    Due to the loss of stars Andrew Luck, RGIII and Trent Richardson, NCAA athletes nationwide will have extremely large shoes to fill.  

    Headed into the 2012 campaign, here are ten running backs that will change the game come football season.

Ray Graham, Pitt

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    In just seven games last season, Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham rushed for over 950 yards on 164 carries before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. 

    Going into his senior season with the Pitt Panthers, Graham will look to complete the entire season with his All-American potential—both rushing and receiving out of the backfield.  

Christine Michael, Texas A&M

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    Like Pitt's Ray Graham, Aggies running back Christine Michael will carry his offense in 2012 following a season-ending knee injury. 

    In the Aggies' first five games in 2011, Michael was only given the ball a combined 20 times for 178 yards. His first real challenge was on October 1st against a powerful Arkansas team. Michael rushed for 230 yards on 32 carries, scoring three touchdowns. 

    With a strong offensive line in front of him and a new conference on his jersey, the fans at College Station hope Michael's five-star recruiting rank will shine in the Aggies' first season in the SEC. 

Small Market Mentions

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    Lyle McCombs, Connecticut

    During his freshman campaign at Connecticut, Lyle McCombs rushed for over 1,150 yards on 275 carries. However, the biggest knock on McCombs is that he only scored seven touchdowns, four of which came in the Huskies' first game against a weak Fordham team. 

    Going into just his second year at the college football level, McCombs will look to continue his steady rise as top running back in the Big East—especially in the Huskies' four biggest games to close out the season. 

    Zach Line, SMU

    Southern Methodist's Zach Line, like the majority of the list, will enter the 2012 season seeking redemption for missing games due to injury.

    In his 10 games played in 2011, Line rushed for over 100 yards in eight of them, proving his potential at the running back position. However, despite solid production from Line, the Mustangs finished the season by losing by four of their last six regular games. 

    Had Line played the final three games of the season he would have needed just 90 yards in each game to match his 1,494 from 2010.  

    Robbie Rouse, Fresno State 

    Rouse is one of the most promising backs on the list as he improved by over 500 yards from 2010 to 2011.

    In 2011, Rouse ripped eight different opponents for 100 yards. However, his Bulldogs lost nine of their 13 games—one of them a major upset by San Jose State University. 

    Rouse is the biggest weapon that Fresno State has on their roster, and after finishing second in the country in rushing attempts it's clear the Bulldogs want to lean on him.  

Knile Davis, Arkansas

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    Davis missed the entire 2011 season after injuring his left ankle and will turn to the 2012 campaign for redemption for his Razorbacks. 

    With Davis out, Arkansas stood little chance against SEC West rivals LSU and Alabama, the top two teams in the country once the 2011 regular season was all said and done.

    Davis posted remarkable numbers before his injury, rushing for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010. 

    While the majority of the attention will be on the 2011 Heisman nominee Montee Ball, Razorbacks tailback Knile Davis is sure to surprise the college football world in 2012. 

Eddie Lacy, Alabama

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    Similar to the last two seasons, the University of Alabama football team will head into a fresh season needing to replace a running back.

    In 2010, Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram departed Tuscaloosa as a first-round draft pick. Following Ingram's departure to the NFL, the 2011 Alabama running back Trent Richardson was selected third overall by the Cleveland Browns. 

    However, Coach Saban successfully integrated his depth chart throughout the year to properly balance his backfield, yet again. In 2012, the Crimson Tide will look to standout Eddie Lacy and his SEC-leading 7.1 yards per carry to help bring an SEC title back to campus. 

    Lacy's 220-pound frame is a perfect fit for the game-changing plays Saban utilizes in his offense—the style flawlessly chiseled by former backs Richardson and Ingram. 

Cierre Wood, Notre Dame

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    In the land of the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus and the tradition of "Play Like A Champion Today", Notre Dame football has not lived up to its high standards. 

    In fact, some of the team members find themselves near rock bottom.

    Going into 2012, the sold-out stadium in South Bend will need the more tame team members to carry the load. 

    From 2010 to 2011 Wood's role at running back literally doubled as his carries, yards and touchdowns all rose by twice as much from the previous season.  

    Without standout wide-receiver Michael Floyd to rely on, the Fighting Irish will need experienced offensive weapons to regain the winning ways at Notre Dame. Wood can be such a weapon.

Wisconsin's Dual Threat

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    Of the five Heisman Trophy finalists last season, Montee Ball is one of the two returning players in 2012 (Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu of LSU is the other).  

    While the other Heisman finalists were analyzed endlessly as they went in the top three picks in the NFL drafts, Ball's incredible numbers went largely overlooked. 

    Headed into the 2012 campaign it's obvious Ball is a favorite for the Heisman. Last year he led the nation in rushing with over 1,900 yards, while scoring and 33 touchdowns on the ground.

    However, Ball is also a dual-threat as he caught six touchdowns and registered over 300 receiving yards. The 39 combined touchdowns tied Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders for the most all-time. 

    His career at Wisconsin has primed Ball to strike the pose this season, however Wisconsin also has another future NFL running back in James White.   

    James White 

    White will start the 2012 season as Ball's backup, although the junior originally competed against Ball for the starting role in 2010. 

    After Ball's record-tying season in 2011, James White will have to work with limited carries at tailback. However, this is not to take away from White's ability, as he is one of the best backs in college football. 

    As a freshman, the running back fresh out of Ft. Lauderdale rushed for over 1,000 yards.

    White helped carry the Wisconsin football squad to an 11-1 regular season in 2010—a season largely highlighted by two 70-point games and their upset over the No. 1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. 

    While Ball will come into the 2012 season as the nation's top back, James White is a force that is not to be ignored.