The SEC has always been a league where running the football is essential. Just ask the defending national champions, Alabama.
Even as the spread has invaded college football, running is still the focus for teams like Auburn and Florida, who run "spread" offensive attacks.
With the 2010 football season under way, let's take a look at the top running back groups in the conference, from worst to first. Remember, this is by STABLE of running backs, not just based on the starter.
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Shocking, I know. Honestly, it's hard to put anyone in last place. All the running back positions have potential.
Starter Stevan Ridley had a decent game in the Georgia Dome on Saturday, but he had a key fumble that allowed North Carolina to have that final drive that almost won the game.
LSU was 84th in rushing offense last season nationally, averaging only 122.8 yards per game. That was barely ahead of South Carolina for last in the SEC.
There's not too much hope for LSU to drastically improve that number. Whenever Russell Shepard gets the ball, good things happen. But he isn't technically a running back, so Ridley alone has his work cut out for him to move up this list.
Warren Norman and Zac Stacy combine to form a nice running back tandem for Vandy this season. Norman is probably the Commodores' best game breaker in both the running game and the return game.
Each had a touchdown in their close loss to Northwestern. Expect the Commodores to go as these two running backs go this season.
The worst rushing offense in the league last season got a major boost from top running back recruit Marcus Lattimore.
He debuted with 54 yards and two touchdowns last Thursday night against Southern Miss. The raw potential was clearly visible.
Jarvis Giles and Kenny Miles provide viable options. Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw each pose a dual threat to defenses. South Carolina's running offense should improve in 2010.
Ryan Mallett has a quartet of running backs at his disposal. Ronnie Wingo Jr., Knile Davis, Dennis Johnson, and Broderick Green will split carries as the season begins.
The running game should be enough to keep play-action passes a valid option for Mallett with all the explosive playmakers around him.
They all complement each other well, but look for someone to break out and take the bulk of the carries pretty soon.
Mississippi State has the tough task of trying to replace former workhorse back Anthony Dixon. But there are three new talented but young backs waiting for their chance.
Similar to Arkansas, the Bulldogs have a running back by committee for now. Robert Elliott, Vick Ballard, and LaDarius Perkins all got carries in State's season-opening victory against Memphis.
Each of them has the tools to be successful in Dan Mullen's spread attack.
Tennessee might be a little high on this list, but Tauren Poole seems to be the real deal. Many teammates thought he should have been the backup to Montario Hardesty last season, not Bryce Brown.
Poole finally gets his shot this year and should get a good workload with a first-year starting quarterback for the Vols. David Oku, a highly-touted running back from Lane Kiffin's 2009 recruiting class, has a ton of talent as well.
The Vols averaged 7.7 yards per carry last week. Their running game will be tested much more severely against Oregon on Saturday.
Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis should get most of the carries this season for the Rebels. Bolden finally gets his chance in the spotlight with the departure of Dexter McCluster.
Even with Jeremiah Masoli, the Rebels should use the running game often. It's a staple for any one of Houston Nutt's offenses.
Rodney Scott is a talented young runner as well. How he and Davis do in their time on the field will go a long way to determining how good this backfield is this season.
Is there a more underrated player in the SEC than Kentucky running back Derrick Locke? The guy had over 100 yards and two touchdowns in the Wildcats' season-opening win against Louisville.
Locke burst on the scene in 2007 as a freshman (who was recruited as a track athlete) in the Wildcats' stunning upset in triple overtime over No. 1-ranked LSU. He's been a solid contributor in the running and passing game ever since.
Undersized at 5'9" and 190 pounds, he has an uncanny ability to get the tough yards inside. Kentucky also likes to throw do-it-all playmaker Randall Cobb in the backfield.
Florida has one of the nation's fastest players as its starting running back. Jeff Demps is a decorated track runner. He's also developed into a solid SEC back.
He, Chris Rainey, and Emmanuel Moody will need to step up this season as John Brantley steps in for Tim Tebow. The Florida running attack should vastly improve from its horrid Week 1 showing against Miami (OH).
Auburn has a trio of capable backs. Mario Fannin is the senior starter, but he fumbled in the season opener against Arkansas State. He's had a history of fumble problems.
Onterio McCalebb has put on some weight and is running tougher this season. He got the first few carries of the game last Saturday.
Freshman sensation Michael Dyer got 14 carries and gained 95 yards with a touchdown. He made it clear that he will be a big part of the offense, even as a true freshman.
The presence of Cam Newton should make this group even better, as defenses will have to key on him.
Washaun Ealey and Caleb King could be one of the top running back tandems in America this season. King suffered a sprained ankle but will be fine for Saturday's showdown with South Carolina. Ealey will be making his season debut after a one-game suspension.
Ealey burst on the scene last season as Georgia's go-to back. Behind a veteran offensive line, the duo should be very productive and lead the Georgia offense.
Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson make Alabama's backfield the best in the conference. It's tough to argue with a Heisman winner and another guy who seems destined to make it to New York for the ceremony at some point in his career.
Add in freshman Eddie Lacy's potential, and you've got a stacked group of running backs. With Greg McElroy and Julio Jones back, the only question is if the running backs will get enough carries to go around.
Nick Saban will find a way to maximize the skills of both Ingram and Richardson. Until proven otherwise with game evidence, Alabama has the top stable of backs in the SEC.