If you had to bet your life—or worse, your money—on 10 players to rush for 1,000 yards this season, who would you pick?
It's an interesting question. The easy solution would be to look at last year's leading rushers, take the 10 top guys who are still in college and call it a day. But that methodology might be flawed.
Things like coaching and blocking and scheme all play a role in this hypothetical wager. One player might have rushed for 1,300 yards last year, but if he's the first 1,000-yard rusher his coach has ever produced, that might make him an outlier.
And you never went to bet on an outlier.
Kent State's Dri Archer (left) might make us regret leaving him of this list.
This list is constructed from 10-1, in ascending order of "Most Likely to Rush For 1,000 Yards." That doesn't necessarily make it a prediction of the nation's leading rushers.
The guy at No. 8 might be a better bet to reach 1,500 than the guy at No. 3; but the guy at No. 3 is a safer bet to break the 1,000-yard threshold than the guy at No. 8.
In other words: This list is more about high basements than high ceilings.
2012 Rushing Stats: 167 car, 905 yds, 9 TD
It seems absurd, when penning a list of guaranteed 1,000-yard rushers, to start with a guy who ran for 905 last season. But Silas Redd should be much, much better in 2013.
Last year he was a late addition to camp, learning USC's playbook on the fly after fleeing the Paterno scandal at Penn State. He was also pestered by Curtis McNeal, who stole 116 carries, all season long, cutting into his potential production.
This year, Redd gets a full offseason in Southern California and scant competition for touches. More so than anything, though, he gets a good offensive line and a quarterback—whoever it may be—that won't be a Heisman favorite. Which all seems to indicate more quality carries for Redd.
He rushed for 1,241 yards as a sophomore at Penn State two years ago. Don't be surprised to see Redd duplicate (or surpass) those numbers as a senior at USC.
2012 Rushing Stats: 312 car, 1,604 yds, 15 TD
Blankenship led the MAC in rushes, plays from scrimmage, and rushing yards among running backs last season. He was a workhorse in every sense of the word, grinding away yards for a scrappy (and underrated) Ohio Bobcats squad.
This year, however, there are some causes for concern. Most notably, Ohio loses three interior lineman with eight-plus starts last season, including All-MAC second-teamers RG Eric Hermann and C Skylar Allen.
Blankenship likes to run between the tackles, so that attrition up the gut keeps him from placing higher on this list. It's too big of a variable to predict another 1,600-yard campaign.
But he's still a safe bet to reach quadruple digits.
2012 Rushing Stats: 226 car, 1,137 yds, 8 TD
Rex Burkhead was in and out of the lineup last season, opening up a featured role in the backfield for Abdullah. And though Burkhead returned and resumed primary responsibilities in the Big Ten Championship and Capital One Bowl, Abdullah's production has Husker fans excited for 2013.
What has Abdullah excited for 2013 —beyond just his increased opportunity in Burkhead's absence—is the offensive line he'll be running behind.
Guard Spencer Long is an All-American candidate, Jeremiah Sirles is a load on the right side, and the unit as a whole features extraordinary depth. In his annual College Football Preview, Phil Steele says it "figures to be the best Husker O-line since '02."
Between that and the ubiquitous threat of Taylor Martinez, Abdullah should see cavernous holes to run through. And in a Bo Pelini-devised gameplan, there will be more than enough rushing plays to exploit them.
2012 Rushing Stats: 222 car, 1,385 yds, 17 TD
Even as a freshman, and even with Keith Marshall around to poach carries, Gurley's 222 carries last year were second-most in the SEC.
It's hard to predict that number to improve, though. Marshall is still around to take one-of-three touches and Georgia's defense is weaker than it was last year. That second part is a little scary; if Georgia can't take big leads, it also can't force-feed Gurley down the stretch to run out the clock.
But still, Gurley's situational stats provide a glimmer of hope. He only received touches in seven fourth quarters last season, carrying the ball just 33 times—roughly seven percent of his total carries.
Gurley should get enough early-game touches to cruise past 1,000.
2012 Rushing Stats: 258 car, 1,498 yds, 13 TD
Fluellen was a revelation under Matt Campbell at Toledo last year, finishing fourth in the MAC with 259 carries and third with 1,498 yards. He was especially good over a six-game stretch during the heart of the season, averaging 182.3 rushing yards on 26.8 totes.
And unlike the aforementioned Blankenship, the only MAC running back who rushed for more yards than he did last year, Fluellen will benefit from a largely intact offensive line. All-MAC selections C Zac Kerin and OG Greg Mancz anchor the interior of a unit that returns 78 career starts—a unit Fluellen is familiar running (and succeeding) behind.
Two early season road games against SEC teams (Florida and Missouri) is worrisome, but five of the opponents from Fluellen's epic six-game stretch are back on the schedule. That includes Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Buffalo, all of whom he shredded for 200-plus yards on the ground.
Expect more of the same in 2013.
2012 Rushing Stats: 139 car, 947 yds, 10 TD
Johnson came 53 yards shy of 1,000 last year, but that can be forgiven. He was, after all, only second on the team in carries behind now-departed senior Mike James.
Despite eight less carries than James last season, Johnson racked up 326 more rushing yards. That's a truly remarkable figure. He averaged 6.8 yards per carry, second in the ACC behind Florida State's Chris Thompson, and most among players with 100-plus carries.
Did I mention he was true freshman?
Johnson stands poised to play a much bigger role this season, and he'll do so behind an offensive line returning all five starters. He's a legitimate darkhorse for distinctions like the Maxwell, and should be a household name by November...at the latest.
2012 Rushing State: 237 car, 1,458 yds, 16 TD
Muema is one of the best home-run threats in the country, one of four players (along with Ka'Deem Carey, Kenjon Barner and Jordan Lynch) to average 6.2 yards-per-rush on 230-plus carries last year.
Past that, San Diego State coach Rocky Long pumps out 1,000-yard rushers like an assembly line. He hasn't failed to produce one since 2001 with New Mexico, a nine-year streak that Muema looks poised to continue this year.
Two players in that span, Dontrell Moore in 2003 and Rodney Ferguson in 2007, returned for a second season after rushing for 1,000 yards under Long. In that second campaign, each player increased his carry total by 30-40 attempts.
If Muema receives 267-277 carries this year, he would need to average just 3.61 yards per carry to reach 1,000 yards. Again: He averaged 6.2 last season.
2012 Rushing Stats: 289 car, 1,439 yds, 16 TD
Steve Sarkisian is a one-back coach and has never failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher in his career.
In his four seasons at Washington, he has coached both Sankey (once) and Chris Polk (thrice) to the feat. And through the years, he has learned more and more to rely on his workhorse ball-carriers:
There's no reason to believe Sankey's touches will decrease and no looming threat to poach carries away from him. Given the form he showed last season, that makes him a safe bet to cruise past 1,000 yards once again.
2012 Rushing Stats: 175 car, 1,108 yds, 12 TD
Nick Saban has always been amenable to running back time shares. It's a big part of the reason Yeldon got 175 carries las year, despite Eddie Lacy's early-season Heisman hopes.
But Saban is also smart enough to realize something special when he has it. When one of his running backs is light years ahead of the others, he has no problems force-feeding that player the ball.
Take, for instance, the 283 carries Trent Richardson saw in 2011—one season after "backing up" but thoroughly outplaying Mark Ingram. That seems an apt comparison for Yeldon this season, who despite Alabama's haul of freshman running backs, looks poised to carry a heavy offensive workload.
2012 Rushing Stats: 303 car, 1,929 yds, 23 TD
The loss of Matt Scott is a bit disconcerting. Arizona's dual-threat quarterback kept defenders honest last year, freeing up Carey to wreak havoc in Rich Rodriguez's attack.
But even if that hurts Carey a little bit, it won't be enough to cut his numbers in half.
Rodriguez's running game lost some luster at Michigan, where Denard Robinson, a quarterback, was the only 1,000-yard rusher he coached in three years. But if his time in Ann Arbor is discarded as an aberration, his reputation for creating high-volume rushers is well-earned.
Carey fits his slashing style even better than guys like Steve Slaton at West Virginia. After leading the nation in rushing last season, it's hard to imagine he won't finish near the top again.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT