Ranking College Football's Best Running Backs Heading into the 2012 Season

Joe Fitzhenry@@joefitz1014Correspondent IIJune 29, 2012

Ranking College Football's Best Running Backs Heading into the 2012 Season

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    Despite the loss of Trent Richardson and LaMichael James among others, there are still a number of very talented running backs that bear watching in 2012. 

    This article will rank the top 10 running backs as we inch closer to the start of the 2012 season (under 100 days!). 

    The list will feature a combination of guys who are known commodities to the casual college football fan, while others will be potential breakout performers for this year. 

10. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan

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    Sure, Denard "Shoelace" Robinson may get all the headlines, but Fitzgerald Toussaint is poised for a breakout season in 2012. 

    After rushing for over 1,000 yards on under 200 carries last season, to go along with 10 touchdowns, Toussaint should be a big-time weapon for the Wolverine attack this fall. 

    He reminds me a lot of former Michigan running back Mike Hart, something that should bring about good memories for fans of the Maize and Blue. 

    If not for Le'Veon Bell and Montee Ball, Toussaint would be the Big Ten's best running back heading into 2012. 

    Nonetheless, remember this name when watching Michigan next fall. 

9. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh

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    This ranking is based purely on what we saw from Graham for seven games of the 2011 season, prior to a devastating knee injury. 

    Barring any unforeseen setbacks, this Panther should return to elite status this fall. 

    Despite playing in only seven full games last year, Graham still managed to run for nearly 1,000 yards, falling just short at 958. 

    Those numbers should go through the roof in 2012, especially when considering that Paul Chryst is taking over the head coaching duties in the Steel City. 

    Chyrst is most famous for engineering Montee Ball's rise to stardom during his time with the Badgers. Expect similar, if not the same results with Graham. 

8. Cierre Wood, Notre Dame

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    Quite possibly Notre Dame's best offensive weapon in 2012—and one of my favorite players—Cierre Wood will be on an NFL roster this time next year. 

    With the uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position, Wood may be asked to carry a large chunk of the load offensively for the Fighting Irish. 

    That could mean surpassing his 2011 totals of 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns. 

    The junior possesses some of the best field vision in the country, and his explosiveness through the hole makes him a home run threat every time he touches the ball. 

7. Kenjon Barner, Oregon

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    For Oregon fans, life isn't too tough after losing LaMichael James. That statement is true because the replacements are two of the most electrifying backs in the country in De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner. 

    Even more so than Wood, Barner may be the fastest back in the nation. He is a threat to take it to the house whenever he has hands on the pigskin. 

    After running for over six yards per carry on just 152 attempts in 2011, expect even bigger numbers this season as he splits time with Thomas in the Ducks backfield. 

6. Eddie Lacy, Alabama

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    Just the next one in a long line of great Crimson Tide running backs. Eddie Lacy screams star potential and will get a shot to show off his skills in 2012. 

    After waiting his turn behind Trent Richardson, Lacy should be a breakout star in 2012, especially after averaging over seven yards per carry and scoring seven touchdowns on very limited touches last season. 

    Running behind one of the country's best offensive lines should only help Lacy's numbers even more. 

5. Andre Ellington, Clemson

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    Similar to Lacy, Andre Ellington is another one of those guys who had to wait his turn before getting a chance at being the starting running back. 

    Prior to the 2011 season, Ellington was handed to the keys to the job and responded in a big way, carrying the ball 223 times for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. 

    Expect similar, if not better numbers this year, as Clemson will feature one of the country's most thrilling offenses and will contend for an ACC title. 

4. Knile Davis, Arkansas

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    Ditto to what I wrote on Ray Graham's slide, this ranking is based on the assumption of a full recovery from injury. 

    Davis is attempting to come back from a brutal ankle injury that cost him the entire 2011 season. His rise to stardom may have been delayed a year, but it shouldn't hurt his chances at being one of the country's premier running backs in 2012. 

    Davis showed us a little bit of what he is capable of as a freshman in 2010, when he ran for 1,322 yards and 14 touchdowns. 

    Fifteen-hundred-plus yards and 15 or more touchdowns isn't out of the question for this year if Davis is 100 percent. 

3. Le'Veon Bell, Michigan St.

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    Le'Veon Bell will be charged with keeping the Spartan offense afloat while Andrew Maxwell gets his feet wet and tries to fill Kirk Cousins' shoes, who was a fourth-round draft pick by the Washington Redskins. 

    After Bell's former backfield mate, Edwin Baker, announced his intentions to leave school early for the NFL, one of the country's most powerful runners, at 6'2'' and 237 pounds, will be the focal point of the offense in 2012. 

    Expect Bell to easily surpass 1,000 yards and post 10 or more touchdowns as well. 

2. Montee Ball, Wisconsin

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    While I'm not quite sure how you top, or even match 2,200 yards and 39 touchdowns, Montee Ball decided to return to school nonetheless in 2012. 

    Not that Badgers fans are complaining or anything, but nearly everybody assumed that Ball would bolt from Madison to the NFL. 

    It will be as interesting as ever to see what No. 28 has planned for an encore this season. 

1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

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    In my opinion, the nation's most talented running back, Marcus Lattimore, is also trying to make a full recovery from a scary injury in 2011. 

    Lattimore's knee injury was one of the hardest moments to watch from last season. He was leading the nation in rushing at that point, but would miss the final seven games. 

    We have seen this story on numerous occasions: a running back returns from a serious injury and isn't the same player that he was prior to the injury. 

    Here's to hoping that a guy like Lattimore doesn't suffer the same fate and instead enjoys a very solid season in 2012.