Ranking the SEC's Top 10 Running Backs in 2012
Unlike many other conferences, the SEC is no place for teams looking to sling the ball 50 times each game. You have to be able to run the ball in the SEC, where it's also the toughest place to run. It takes a special player to be a successful back among schools like LSU, Georgia, and Alabama.
This is a list of the best running backs the SEC has to offer, but please note this is based both on potential and previous contributions.
Unproven backups and underclassmen with no playing time have not been considered when compiling this list.
Here is my list of the SEC's best 10 running backs. Let the controversy begin!
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LSU, 5'11", 223 lbs., Junior
Spencer Ware was far from LSU's most valuable running back in 2011, but he may have been the most reliable.
Ware didn't rack up a ton of yards (707 on 177 attempts) but he was the guy the Tigers turned to more often than not, as they could rely on him to get solid yardage while controlling the clock.
Ware's value was apparent when he carried the ball over 20 times in five of LSU's toughest games against Oregon, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Florida and Tennessee.
His best game was against Mississippi State, where he carried the ball 22 times for 107 yards. The Bulldogs' defense was actually quite stout and they even gave Trent Richardson and Alabama quite a fight.
Ware will reprise his role as LSU's primary workhorse (with or without the most carries), especially now that the Tigers will finally have a real threat at quarterback in Zach Metterberger. Ware is the best back available to perform pass-blocking duties.
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LSU, 6'2", 215 lbs., Junior
Alfred Blue played a big part in LSU's run to the national title game, but he didn't make waves until late in the season.
He only received 78 carries in an offense that rarely passed, but Blue made the most of it with 539 yards good for a 6.91 yards-per-carry average and seven touchdowns.
Blue's best game in 2011 was in the SEC championship game, where he rushed for 94 yards on only eight carries while scoring one touchdown. His longest run of the night was 48 yards.
The true potential of Blue is a bit of a mystery, as Les Miles elected to not play him at all in both matches against Alabama. He was also benched during games against Mississippi State and Arkansas.
Blue doesn't seem to be the most reliable back for the Tigers, but he's big on the splash plays, and that's where LSU makes their money.
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Arkansas, 5'9", 213 lbs., Senior
A lot of critics believed that the Arkansas offense was in trouble heading into the 2011 season.
Ryan Mallett was gone and his replacement, Tyler Wilson, was unproven. To top it all off, the Hogs' star running back, Knile Davis, wouldn't participate all season due to injury.
Dennis Johnson took most of those worries away.
Granted, the Razorbacks would have done better in 2011 with Davis in the backfield, but Johnson did his part to help give the Hogs a great season.
Johnson played like a top-notch SEC running back, rushing for 670 yards with a 6.3-yard average in a pass-happy offense.
He only struggled in two games: Alabama (3 attempts, -3 yards) and LSU (31 yards, 10 attempts), but what running back didn't struggle against those two defenses?.
Johnson played better than expected, and he was only one year removed from a serious injury that ended his 2010 campaign.
He is a compact, well-built running back and will be quite valuable as Davis' backup in 2012.
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Georgia, 5'11", 215 lbs., Sophomore
Isaiah Crowell did his best in 2011 to live up to his reputation as the best running back prospect in his recruiting class, but he fell a bit short.
That's not much of a surprise, however. He was a true freshman who was asked to carry the load of a veteran running back in the SEC.
He struggled when pass-blocking blitzes due to his inexperience, but he made his presence felt when it came to toting the rock.
His best game of the season came early in a loss against South Carolina in game two of the season.
He racked up 118 rushing yards on 16 attempts while scoring one touchdown, and he also hauled in two receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Crowell is one of the most promising young backs in the SEC, and his true freshman trial-by-fire season has only made him better.
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LSU, 5'10", 215 lbs., Junior
Michael Ford wasn't the most used back by LSU in 2011, but he gets my vote as their most valuable.
He only struggled twice during the regular season against Mississippi State and (surprisingly) Kentucky.
But he made big plays went it counted.
Other than their special teams (place kicking, punting) performance, LSU owes their regular season victory over Alabama to Ford more than any other.
During that game Ford ran for 72 yards on only 11 carries. That may not seem like much in a normal game, but he achieved this against the consensus best rushing defense in the nation.
Ford only received 127 carries as opposed to LSU's other featured back, Spencer Ware, with 177 carries.
After his 2011 heroics, it's safe to assume Ford will be LSU's primary rock-toter in 2012, assuming Les Miles decides to play his best offensive players for a change.
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Vanderbilt, 5'9", 208 lbs., Senior
Well, here's a surprise. A Vanderbilt running back is the fifth best in the SEC?
Bear with me here.
Unlike his peers listed in this article, Zac Stacy has had little to work with. The Commodores had little (if any) threat at quarterback and they played with inferior talent all around, including the offensive line.
Despite this, Stacy rushed for 1,193 yards with a 5.9 average and 14 touchdowns in 2011.
Stacy fared well against most of his competition, but his season's best performance (competition-wise) came in a loss against Arkansas where he rushed for 128 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown. He also hauled in three receptions for 51 yards.
Stats-wise, Stacy's best game was against Army. He racked up three touchdowns during a 198-yard performance on only 21 carries.
Again, Zac Stacy gets very little help from his team, unlike the rest of the backs in the SEC. That is why he gets honors at No. 5.
He also reminds a lot of former Tennessee running back Tauren Poole; he has great heart and drive with little help.
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Auburn, 5'10", 175 lbs., Senior
Onterio McCalebb has been one of Auburn's most underrated players for two years now. First, he was stuck in the shadows of Cam Newton and Michael Dyer in 2010, and Dyer's shadow in 2011.
Auburn fans, however, recognize just what McCalebb did for their team. He completely opened up their offense by giving them a powerful weapon on the outside.
As good as Newton and Dyer were, neither of them could attack the perimeter like McCalebb could.
True, McCalebb isn't an every-down back. He can't run between the tackles like a typical workhorse back and his slender frame makes him completely ineffective when picking up blitzes for his quarterback, but that's not what he's designed for.
And it's definitely not what he's used for. Props to Gene Chizik for that.
McCalebb's career accolades are quite impressive.
In 2010 he led Auburn in yards-per-carry with 8.53 and had nine touchdowns, four more than Michael Dyer.
His production dropped in 2011, but all the other offensive play-makers on the team fell as well with a depleted offensive line and no Cam Newton.
But it didn't drop much. McCalebb only ran for 641 yards with a 5.7 average, but he hauled in 32 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns.
McCalebb's specialty isn't running up the gut and breaking tackles, but he does everything else in spectacular fashion.
Did I mention that McCalebb runs a 4.3 40-yard dash and is inching closer to a 4.2 every day? In the immortal words of Commander Shepard, I'll take it!
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South Carolina, 6'1", 232 lbs., Junior
Marcus Lattimore has certainly lived up to his hype as the best running back in the 2010 recruiting class having rushed for over 2,000 yards in his career, including 818 yards in only seven games in 2011 before his season was cut short by an injury.
However, his total yardage doesn't tell the whole story, and his stats are a bit inflated.
Ever since Lattimore joined the Gamecocks' squad, head coach Steve Spurrier has done his best to beat the hell out of him.
In 2010, Lattimore rushed 249 times, tied for first among running backs in the SEC. That is an average 19.15 attempts-per-game.
In 2011, in only seven games, he rushed 163 times, or 23.29 attempts-per-game. Spurrier also ran Lattimore a whopping 37 times during a close 24-21 win over Navy.
It's little wonder he ended up getting injured.
Before his injury, Lattimore performed well but did little to impress. His success was average, but he did have one great game against Georgia, where he ran for 176 yards on 27 carries.
But why am I ranking Lattimore as only the third-best back in the SEC?
Lattimore is a solid, consistent back, but he's far from a game-changer. He averaged 5.0 yards-per-carry in 2011, and 4.8 in 2010. Those are average numbers for a "good" SEC running back.
Though Lattimore is a great running back, he is far from the best in the SEC. His numbers have been high but his production really leaves something to be desired, but that may be due to the fact that his head coach never gives him a breather.
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Alabama, 6'1", 220 lbs., Junior
This is a photo of Eddie Lacy playing against LSU in the BCS National Championship Game. He appears to be falling down.
But looks can be deceiving, as Lacy is actually spinning.
Lacy has one of the sickest spin moves in college football today, but it's not some Playstation gimmick. It's the real deal.
He runs a bit stiff at times and doesn't use his hips like he should, but any deficiencies he has are overshadowed by his ridiculous ability to spin out of tackles.
Lacy has great size and can break tackles with pure strength with the best of them, but it's his spin-move that sets him apart.
He would have been a household name by now, but he played behind Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson in 2010. In 2011, he was Richardson's backup, but his season was marred by a very bad turf toe injury, something much more serious than it sounds.
Lacy has 1,080 career rushing yards with ridiculous averages of 7.3 in 2010 and 7.1 in 2011.
His best game of 2011 occurred while he was still struggling with his injury against Mississippi State, a team that had a knack for hammering stellar running backs last season.
He racked up 96 yards on only 11 carries and scored two touchdowns.
As an Alabama fan myself, I have heard plenty of fellow fans wonder if Lacy was better at gaining yardage than Trent Richardson in 2011.
I wondered it myself, as Lacy seemed more electrifying and often averaged more yards-per-carry than Richardson in tough contests.
With his size, strength, agility, and his spin-move, Eddie Lacy has my vote as the second-best running back in the SEC.
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Arkansas, 6'1", 226 lbs., Senior.
Knile Davis had an incredible sophomore campaign where he rushed for 1,322 yards on only 204 attempts.
Then he missed his entire 2011 season due to injury, and while the Razorbacks did well last year, they actually had a real shot at the SEC title (and possibly more) if they had Davis in the backfield.
Davis is the perfect every-down back. He has the size, speed, strength, and playmaking ability that every team with title hopes needs in a running back.
His best career performance was against Mississippi State in 2010, a time when the Bulldogs were a surprisingly ferocious team.
He accounted for three total touchdowns during the game that ended with a Hogs 38-31 double-overtime victory, running for 187 yards on 30-carries.
Davis also played like a champ during a big win over LSU in 2010, running for 152 yards on 30 carries with a touchdown.
What really makes me consider Davis as the SEC's best running back is how much faith former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino put in him.
Despite his recent moral lapses, Petrino was a great coach, not only in the SEC but in the nation as well.
And it was Davis, not Ryan Mallett, that Petrino relied upon to win games for the Hogs when the going got tough.
It was most apparent in the Razorbacks' last three games of 2010, which were arguably the team's toughest games after Auburn and Alabama.
Time after time the ball was fed to Davis against Mississippi State (30 carries), LSU (30 carries), and Ohio State (26 carries) in their bowl game.
Davis is the kind of running back that can do it all, and he has proven himself as the best back in the SEC, but folks that aren't Arkansas fans may disagree.