As if it isn't the case every season in the SEC, running backs will shine in this conference more than any other position. This conference has built a strong reputation of running the ball heavily on offense and playing ferocious football defensively. That formula has helped produce seven straight national titles.
But while you think of pounding the ball between the tackles and wearing defenses down, there were only four SEC teams (Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia, Florida) that finished in the top 50 last season in rushing yards per game. There also weren't many highly successful individual runners in this conference, as majority of the work is done as a collective unit.
This season you should see a lot more success from individual runners, many of whom are flashy and have the potential to break the long one.
We can start with Todd Gurley of Georgia, who was the leading rusher in the SEC as far as running backs are concerned. Despite splitting carries with Keith Marshall, Gurley still rushed for 1,385 yards, scored 17 touchdowns and had 15 runs of more than 15 yards. He has the perfect combination of speed and power and could make a solid case as the best running back in the entire country.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
T.J. Yeldon cleared the century mark and averaged more than six yards per carry as a true freshman. Now that Eddie Lacy is in the NFL, Yeldon should see an increase in production, as he should have no problem topping last year's 175 carries. He has star power written all over him after picking up 48 first downs and displaying a great deal of speed.
Alex Collins of Arkansas will see the field immediately and provide a spark to a Razorbacks offense that will love to run under new head coach Bret Bielema. Florida is absolutely desperate for playmakers and Kelvin Taylor is just what the doctor ordered with his elusiveness and great field vision.
We also can't forget Derrick Henry of Alabama, who is a Mack truck at 6'3", 240 pounds and set the college football all-time high school rushing record. All three of those young runners should thrive their freshman years and create similar buzz as Gurley and Yeldon did last season.
The status of LSU running back Jeremy Hill remains a question mark at this point, but assuming he can get his life back on track after the off-the-field incident, he could provide the Tigers with their first legit starting running back. LSU has been a running back by committee over the years, but Hill really took the bull by the horns, rushing for 755 yards and 12 touchdowns, despite receiving two carries or less in five games.
Mississippi State still has its underrated running back in LaDarius Perkins, who quietly rushed for 1,016 yards and eight touchdowns. His 45 first downs on 205 rushing attempts was impressive, and he should see similar production as the Bulldogs' workhorse running back.
Even Johnny Manziel should see less carries thanks to a deep Texas A&M backfield. Sure, he was last year's leading rusher in the SEC (1,410 yards), but the Aggies have other players they can count on this time. Ben Malena averaged close to six yards a carry in limited action and Trey Williams is that home run threat who will be a treat to watch.
As Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report mentioned, it would be a crime if Manziel was the leading rusher for the second straight season.
If you want a few potential players who could breakout this season, look no further than Henry Josey of Missouri and Tre Mason of Auburn.
Josey missed all of last season with a knee injury, but looked healthy in the spring and will be the X-factor to the Tigers success. He rushed for 1,168 yards and averaged more than eight yards a carry in 2011. Mason is one of the more versatile playmakers in this conference and is in a better position to succeed with Gus Malzahn now calling the shots.
Mike Davis looks like a solid replacement for Marcus Lattimore after averaging five yards a carry in limited playing time, while a combination of Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane helped Tennessee improve drastically running the ball.
Mississippi finished just outside the top 50 in rushing yards thanks in large part to running back Jeff Scott. The senior back is a dynamic player at 5'7" and has improved each season in Oxford. Considering he rushed for 850 yards last season, reaching the 1,000-yard mark shouldn't be considered a stretch.
There were nine SEC runners who cleared the century mark last season, which was the most of any other conference. With the great deal of talent arriving and the elite runners who have already made a name for themselves, the SEC will once again dominate college football at the running back position.
Note: All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.