It's hard to predict how the top 25 will turn out in the NCAA next year, but there is no doubt that there's no shortage at the running back position for these teams next season.
Last year, a few new names popped up around the nation, and we started to see some poised young prospects arise, and some already established backs put their names in lights. Last year was the year of the quarterback, but maybe this season should be called year of the running back.
With so many players entering the draft this season, there is a lot of room for new players to rise, and take lead of there teams. These are the 10 running backs that I expect to exceed expectations next season.
Keola Antolin is a returning senior this season, and he has one last shot to show what kind of explosive runner he can be. Antolin rushed for 668 yards and 7 touchdowns last season, while not the most impressive stats we saw in the PAC-10, he definitely shows that he has the tools to be a great runner.
Antolin doesn't have prime size, but he is a strong runner, and has the ability to out run the defenders.
With a great quarterback, Arizona's running back won't show all of his talent behind the QB, but rather making plays in the flats, and trying to get in open field with the ball. If the Wildcats can get the ball to Antolin in the open field, and give him some blockers, expect Keola to have a break out season in 2011.
Chris Thompson is an athlete. The FSU junior rushed for 846 yards last season, and 6 touchdowns, but with a stud quarterback taking the spotlight in Florida, Thompson will have the perfect opportunity to show what he's made of.
Thompson is agile and fast, with pretty good strength with the ball. He isn't a very big back, but he will get the job done for FSU.
With FSU having the best recruiting class in the NCAA, look for Thompson, their recruiting class and all of the Seminoles make some noise this season.
Cyrus Gray is going to be the senior running back for the Aggies next season. Last season, he made noise in the Big 12, recording over 1,100 yards and scoring 12 times.
The Desoto, TX native is a heavier back for his height, weighing around 200 lbs., so in addition to his speed, he has the ability to power through anybody that tries to tackle him.
Gray improved significantly while moving from his sophomore to junior seasons, recording nearly 500 yards more than his previous season. If Gray can continue to mature as a running back, he will make a huge difference for the Aggies in 2011.
Junior running back Trent Richardson will finally get his chance to shine in the NCAA. Now that Mark Ingram has departed to the to the NFL, Richardson will move to the starting position, and has been in early Heisman talks.
Behind Ingram, Richardson recorded 700 yards and 6 touchdowns, which is great when you realize he was behind another stud back in the program.
Richardson is a big boy, and uses his size to his advantage, running over wimpy tacklers that stand in his path. When he gets in the open field, he can turn on the jets, and that is why he will make not only one of the biggest differences on the Tide next season, but in the whole SEC.
Michael Dyer had a great season for the National Champion Tigers last season, but as Cam Newton makes the jump to the NFL, look for Dyer to make a jump to stardom.
Now the Newton is gone, Dyer will have more opportunities to touch the ball and make big plays. It's going to be hard for the Tigers to adjust to the running game after last season, but they will be way better at the running back position than the quarterback position.
Remembering that Dyer was a freshman last season was unbelievable. Dyer rushed for 1,100 yards and 5 touchdowns last season. Seeing what he could do for this program as a freshman shows that he will be a big name in the NCAA eventually. Maybe he'll even win a Heisman Trophy.
Ronnie Hillman's freshman season was unreal. The reason he is ranked at number 5 is because first of all, I honestly don't think that SDSU will finish in the top 25, but I had to put him in here. Secondly, he plays for a team that doesn't face much talent other than TCU and Boise State.
Nonetheless, Hillman rushed for over 1,500 yards last season and scored 17 touchdowns. He is returning, obviously, as a sophomore, and will try and show the NCAA that he is a legitimate force in the league. If Hillman can have another serious year with the football, expect there to be some hype surrounding SDSU towards the mid-season mark this year.
Mel Kiper himself has stated that Dan Herron is one of the best returning seniors this season, along with Andrew Luck. That is completely true, as he rushed for over 1,100 yards and had 16 touchdowns for the Buckeyes last season.
Herron has a lot of strength and speed, and shows that he is a very versatile back. He can come at you in a lot of different ways, whether it be on the ground, or through the air. Ohio State is a great program, and can produce a great offensive line. As they continue to utilize Herron, look for him to make a run at the Heisman, and the Buckeyes to make a run at a National Championship.
Knile Davis has ideal size for a running back in the NCAA, and this junior for the Razorbacks will make a splash this season as he comes into our third spot. While casted in the shadow of Ryan Mallett, Davis started to make a name for himself, but after a terrible team performance in the Sugar Bowl last season, some aren't believing the hype.
Davis rushed for 1,322 yards last season and 13 scores, and ran for over 150 yards last season in four games. With the spotlight on Davis, he has to decide whether he will make a name for himself in the NCAA, or will he settle for the hype he already has, and plateau at his current talent level. If Davis can improve as a player, the whole Razorback team will improve.
The reason I have Stepfan Taylor placed at number two is because of his ability to coincide with quarterback Andrew Luck. With all the hype around Luck, Taylor managed to have a great season. Even in the wake left by Toby Gerhart, Taylor continued to show why Stanford is a force to be reckoned with.
Taylor ran for 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and helped Luck lead his team to an unbelievable season. Although, with Harbaugh gone, it will be interesting to see not only how Luck and Taylor respond, but how the whole team does.
LaMichael James is a threat everywhere that he is on the field and he is known to line up all over the field. He was a first team all-district selection, was the district 16-3A MVP and was a second team all-state selection in high school, and after concerns about his grades, made the cut with the University of Oregon. James can bench press 305 pounds, squat 485 and vertical jump 36".
James is an unbelievable athlete, and shows that with his stats. Rushing for over 1,700 yards, and scoring an astounding 21 touchdowns, the Doak Walker award winner will look to have a more impressive season in 2011.
While leading his team to a National Championship, James managed to make a name for himself, and will continue to nourish his ability, and transform into a star. LaMichael James is the best running back in the top 25 coming in to this season, and the best back in the NCAA. His goal won't be to break records though, he is a great teammate, and wants to bring his team back to the National Championship, but this time with a better outcome.