T.J. Yeldon: Alabama RB Will Solidify Starting Job vs. Michigan

Steven GerwelContributor IIISeptember 1, 2012

Photo courtesy of Alabama.247sports.com
Photo courtesy of Alabama.247sports.com

If Penn State and Ohio State are college football's linebacker factories, then Alabama is now the official running back factory. 

Mark Ingram had three highly-productive seasons out of the Crimson Tide backfield, and he even took home a Heisman in 2009. The funny thing about that, though, is that Ingram wasn't even the most talented back on the team during his Heisman year—it was Trent Richardson. 

Richardson had two productive years as the No. 2 back, but he finally came out from Ingram's shadow in 2011 after running for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns. 

Ingram was a late first-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints in 2011. Richardson, meanwhile, was selected by the Cleveland Browns last spring as the No. 3 overall draft pick of his class. 

The two Crimson Tide greats are now focused on their professional careers, and the torch has been passed to freshman T.J. Yeldon. 

According to Rivals, Yeldon was the No. 2-ranked running back in the nation and the No. 12-ranked prospect of his class. 

Yeldon has the speed to win the edge and make the defender eat his dust. He also has the balance, vision and power required for runs up the gut. 

But his talent isn't in question. The question is whether or not he'll be able to produce against better competition on a big stage. A year ago, he was suiting up for high school games. Now, he's preparing to step onto the field during a prime-time broadcast against a top-10 opponent in Michigan. 

It's quite the adjustment, but it's one he'll have to make rather quickly. 

Starting running back Eddie Lacy sprained his ankle and knee, according to The Sporting News. In Lacy's place, Yeldon has been practicing as the starter (per AL.com).

The Alabama Crimson Tide will take on Michigan on September 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET. 

No. 8-ranked Michigan is no joke. Alabama needs to put together a big win in order to keep its confidence alive. 

In order to defeat a solid opponent like Michigan, the Crimson Tide will need Yeldon and the ground game to move the ball with ease. If not, they could suffer a devastating loss. 

If Yeldon steps up and performs, he'll lock down the starting job likely for the remainder of the season. 

There's little doubt that Yeldon will eventually be a productive player. But for the team's sake, it better be sooner rather than later.