After 2011 failed to be the "year of the running backs" in the SEC, the 2012 season could easily be dubbed "the return of the running backs."
Speculation filled the air entering the 2011 season. Which running back was the best out of Marcus Lattimore, Knile Davis or Trent Richardson? An answer was never given.
Before the season started, Davis went down with a season-ending ankle injury and a knee injury cost Lattimore more than half of his sophomore season. But as Lattimore and Davis return to their clubs in 2012, the debate is picking up right where it left off.
Which running back is the best in the SEC, and could a dark horse like Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy out-perform these two superstars in 2012?
Jalson Fowler could become the Crimson Tide's feature back in 2012.
Even though Alabama's backfield was loaded last season, Fowler was able to make a mark as a sophomore, and he should share a lot of time in the backfield alongside Eddie Lacy.
Fowler rushed for 385 yards and four touchdowns behind that vicious offensive line, but more impressively, Fowler averaged 6.9 yards per carry.
Fowler might not grab the headlines that Lacy does in 2012, but he'll certainly make his presence known in the SEC. In fact, Fowler's season could be so productive that I might regret placing him at No. 15.
Kendial Lawrence isn't the focal point of the Missouri offense.
James Franklin and T.J. Moe are sure to draw the most attention from defenses around the SEC, but that should allow Lawrence to make plays.
Last season, the Tigers' offense was ninth in the nation when it came to rushing the football, and though it was against Big 12 defenses, that's still an impressive feat.
With Lawrence returning after averaging 4.8 yards per carry and five rushing touchdowns behind Henry Josey, his numbers could easily double with more playing time.
With Isaiah Crowell gone, the starting job is as good as Ken Malcome's, but Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley might be just as good.
And for those that might question the decision of placing a freshman running back on this list, remember when Marcus Lattimore burst onto the scene in 2010?
As for what he did in high school, the numbers are certainly there for Marshall. In Marshall's senior season with Millbrook High School in Raleigh, NC, he had 1,891 yards and 25 touchdowns.
If you're like me, high school stats don't necessarily impress you, and that's all the more reason to check out this kid's highlight videos. Prepare to be amazed.
LSU's backfield is loaded with talent.
They return five running backs that rushed for over 100 yards, with four of the five scoring at least seven touchdowns. But which running backs will see the most playing time?
A betting man would say Kenny Hilliard will be the second featured back.
This guy is built like a mack truck, and after averaging 5.4 yards per carry and scoring eight touchdowns in what limited time he received last season, this guy is ready to take the next step in his career.
Jeff Scott is the driving force behind the Ole Miss offense.
Last season, Scott was eighth in the SEC with 101.4 all-purpose yards per game and eighth in the league with seven total touchdowns.
And after comparing the Rebels roster to other competitors in the SEC West, it's safe to say Scott's going to have to be even better in 2012.
Though the Rebels will struggle, Scott will turn in another exciting season.
Dennis Johnson is good enough to be a featured back in the SEC.
Unfortunately for him, he's behind Knile Davis. With Davis sidelined in 2011, Johnson rushed for 670 yards and three touchdowns.
Not to mention, the guy averaged 6.3 yards per carry, and this is all while Tyler Wilson is gun-slinging to four incredible receivers and a very talented tight end.
Johnson will be the best backup running back in the league, and he'll also be one of the league's premiere return men.
Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are no longer chomping long yard runs in Florida, so that opens the door for Mike Gilleslie to become the guy.
Unlike Rainey and Demps, Gilleslie features a hard-nosed running style. He's a physical running back that's going to always fall forward and try to gain as many yards as he can before being taken down.
Gilleslie rushed for 328 yards and two touchdowns last season, but what was most impressive about his junior campaign was his 5.9 yards per carry.
With his senior year approaching, this could be the season Gilleslie makes a name for himself.
Dan Mullen's option attack will make LaDarius Perkins the main attraction of the offense.
Mississippi State fans are getting excited about Tyler Russell possibly reaching his potential, and though Russell will spread the ball through the air, Perkins will take flight on the ground.
Vick Ballard is no longer there to carry the load, so expect Perkins' rush attempts to double from last season's 87 attempts.
Perkins managed to rush for 422 yards and two touchdowns for the Bulldogs last season, but the expectations are much higher for him in 2012.
Can Robin be better than Batman?
For the past two seasons, Onterio McCalebb excelled within Auburn's offense with his burst while Michael Dyer provided the punch.
When Dyer left the team to follow former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State, the responsibility of carrying this team fell on McCalebb's shoulders. Is he ready?
He may not be an every down back, but his excellent speed and past success should make Auburn fans confident. After all, we are talking about the running back with the second most career rushing yards among active players in the SEC.
There's nothing pretty about Lacy's style of play.
Watching Lacy pound the rock is like watching a guy run through a wall. It's ruthless aggression at its finest.
While Lacy shared the backfield with Fowler and Trent Richardson last season, he still rushed for 674 yards and seven touchdowns. He also led the team with 7.1 rushing yards per carry.
With Alabama possessing the best offensive line in football, it's not a stretch to believe Lacy's a legit Heisman contender in 2012.
Spencer Ware is the most talented running back in LSU's backfield.
He's fast, powerful and has excellent hands. And after The Times Picayune reported that Ware's cutting down on his weight, Ware could look more like his freshman self.
Last season, Ware bulked up and though he was able to break tackles, he didn't possess that same explosiveness he exhibited against Texas A&M in 2010.
Ware should win the starting job at tailback and once again lead the Tigers in rushing yards.
Guess who has the most career rushing yards in the SEC?
I'll give you a hint—this will be his first season in the league. You got it: Christine Michael's 2,374 yards is the best in the conference and his 22 career touchdowns is the second best.
And without Cyrus Gray, Michael will be the starter for the Aggies.
Even though he shared the backfield with Gray again last season, Michael led the team with 6 yards per carry while picking up 899 yards on the ground. Michael easily breaks 1,000 yards this season.
Oh, Vanderbilt. You're full of surprises, aren't you?
Vanderbilt making a bowl appearance last season was by far the best story of the season for the Commodores, but Stacy's phenomenal junior season wasn't far behind.
Stacey rushed for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, and with him returning to the offense, Vanderbilt is entering 2012 extremely optimistic.
This guy is a special talent, and he is certainly a dark horse for leading the SEC in rushing next season.
Davis is a bulldozer with unlimited speed.
Furthermore, he's a brute of a back with the flare of a speedy wide receiver. He's also the most talented running back in the league.
With the physical characteristics of a fullback, Davis can shed tackles easily. But he is coming off injury. In fact, Davis didn't play at all last season because of an ankle injury he suffered before the season.
With Davis 100 percent, he'll force opposing teams to play both the run and pass against Arkansas. Expect Davis to bounce back in a huge way this season.
Lattimore is the pride and joy of the SEC.
Here's a guy that says all the right things and runs the ball the way it was meant to be ran.
In his career at South Carolina, Lattimore's rushed for 2,015 yards and 27 touchdowns. Had he not been injured last season like Davis, those numbers would be even higher.
If things go Lattimore's way this season, there's no reason why this grinding running back shouldn't take home the Heisman.