South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore
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I'm going to go with Lattimore, but it's a lot closer than a lot of people think. When comparing the one healthy season that the two shared in 2010, the numbers are close.
Davis led all SEC running backs with 1,322 rushing yards, but Lattimore wasn't far behind with 1,197. Lattimore finished third in the SEC with 17 rushing touchdowns, while Davis found the end zone 13 times.
The only valid comparable matchup the two shared in 2010 was the game against Auburn. Davis rushed 14 times for 91 yards (6.5 ypc) against the Tigers, while Lattimore carried it 14 times for 33 yards (2.4 ypc) in the first matchup, and 16 times for 84 yards (5.3 ypc) in the SEC Championship Game.
You can't compare the common matchups with Alabama and Georgia since Davis wasn't the feature back then, and Lattimore sat out South Carolina's game vs. Vanderbilt—the other common opponent.
Stats can sometimes be bent to say whatever you want, but the eye test doesn't lie. Marcus Lattimore put his team on his back as a true freshman in 2010 and led them to the East crown. That has to count for something.
When Davis emerged as the every-down back in 2010, Arkansas' offense was potent, and he kicked it into overdrive.
Because of that, I'll take Lattimore as my No. 1 running back in the SEC, but Davis is a close—very close—No. 2.
(@TM7_Era is Tyrann Mathieu's Twitter handle)
The Tigers absolutely still can. I dropped LSU to No. 2 on my B/R Preseason Top 25 ballot behind Alabama, but Mathieu's dismissal shouldn't have a major impact on LSU's overall outlook.
Don't get me wrong, Mathieu's departure hurts. Any time you lose your top playmaker, it's a problem. Plus, the Tigers now have to replace a first-round pick, fourth-round pick and a Heisman finalist from last season's secondary.
Those are the reasons why I dropped them below Alabama.
But head coach Les Miles already solved his biggest problem from last season—establishing a downfield threat with first-year starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger taking control of the Tiger offense.
It's less likely that LSU will win the SEC West now that Mathieu has moved on, but it's certainly possible, as this year's squad wasn't going to be nearly as dependent on Mathieu anyhow.
@barrettsallee Do you see a dark horse candidate emerging this season, or do you think it will be status quo?— bamaD77 (@cfb_poindexter) August 16, 2012
That really depends on what your definition of "dark horse" is.
I see 2012 playing out a lot like 2011, but I think the East will be better, which will increase the chances for something crazy to happen.
All in all, though, I see LSU and Alabama as the two dominant teams, Arkansas on the doorstep and South Carolina and Georgia fighting it out for supremacy in the East.
That's not to say that another team can't make a run, particularly in the East.
Save for Kentucky, I wouldn't put it out of the realm of possibility for any team in the East to make it to Atlanta if the breaks fall in their favor.
Out west, Auburn, Mississippi State and Texas A&M will be improved, but I don't think any of them will be improved enough to legitimately contend for the West title.