The SEC is home to the cream of the nation's football talent. Their sector of the college football universe is a hotbed of blue-chip athletes yearning for the chance to prove their worth to NFL scouts each and every Saturday from September to December.
The conference's media days are the general public's first "real" glimpse at this year's squads.
SEC schools send staggering numbers of players to the next level, and this year's NFL-ready crop boasts three elite running back prospects. South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, Arkansas' Knile Davis and Texas A&M's Christine Michael will all elude their fair share of defenders this season.
That's not the only thing worth knowing about these three elite ball-carriers. Let's take a look at what we learned at this year's SEC media days.
Lattimore is arguably the best running back in the entire country, but his season isn't greeted with absolute certainty. He tore his left ACL last season. For a running back, full recovery from that type of injury is never a definite conclusion.
The good news is he looks good as of right now. Lattimore's South Carolina teammates had various things to say regarding Lattimore's current status, including this statement from wide receiver Ace Sanders (per ESPN.com).
“He looks like the old Marcus, in and out of cuts and sudden moves,” South Carolina junior receiver Ace Sanders said. “Actually, he looks like he’s gotten bigger and stronger to me.”
Sanders continued by saying that Lattimore is with the team every single day, and that lets the team know he's "game-ready."
According to ESPN's report, Lattimore is completely cleared for play.
He’s been working feverishly ever since to get back, and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday that the Gamecocks’ medical staff has pronounced Lattimore 100 percent healthy to start preseason camp in August.
That's good news for the Gamecocks. He's a frightening combination of speed and size when he's 100 percent.
If they want to climb the rungs of the SEC standings this year, they will need him firing on all cylinders.
Michael is in a situation similar to Lattimore's, but it's also very different. He tore his ACL late last season, but, unlike Lattimore, he isn't returning to completely familiar territory.
This is the Aggies' first season in the SEC. The junior running back has 22 career touchdowns, but they came in Big 12 country. His old conference is known for its high-octane offenses and porous defenses, but the SEC is a flawless blend of both worlds.
That will require an adjustment for this 5'11'', 213-pound talent.
According to ESPN.com, Michael is ready to go after taking things at a slower pace in spring practice. Texas A&M's new head coach Kevin Sumlin had this to say about his star running back.
"Christine is a guy who was really ready to go in the spring," Sumlin said at SEC media days Tuesday. "About Week 2 or 3, I pulled him off the field. He was doing too much, I thought, early. Anybody who watched him play last year knows that he's a big, physical guy. He doesn't have to explain or try to show me how tough he is. I get that."
That's certainly good news for Aggie fans. Players, especially running backs, can become gun shy after a traumatic leg injury, but Michael appears raring to go.
Sumlin went on to say in the report that the next step is seeing how well Michael can take a hit in summer workouts. That will be a more realistic gauge of his standing with September creeping around the corner.
Texas A&M wants to spoil a few parties in their new conference this season. They'll need Michael to be completely healthy to cause their preferred carnage.
Who is the SEC's best running back?
Davis didn't get to play even one snap last season. A broken ankle took his entire season away and ruined any chances of repeating his 1,028-yard, 12-touchdown performance from 2010.
Now Davis is ready to go. He declared his expectations with unmistakable clarity at Wednesday's SEC media day.
"Still the best," Davis told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I'm still the best running back in the SEC. I think they're good, but I feel like I'm the best because of the things I put into it. I bring everything to the game. I don't want to say I don't have a flaw, like I'm perfect, but I don't think you can find a better running back."
By saying "still the best," Davis is referring to himself as the best running back in the SEC. The two ball-carriers I mentioned prior to this would probably object to this statement, but Davis' intentions are clear this season.
Losing a season due to injury can create monsters, especially when the injured players carry the talent that these three players do.
Expect big things from these blue-chip talents this season. Their team's success hinges on their production, and their NFL draft stock is contingent on their staying on the field.