The Doak Walker Award is given annually to the nation’s top running back.
Previous winners of the award have included Ricky Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Reggie Bush and Darren McFadden.
The 2010 Doak Walker Award winner, LaMichael James, returns to school to try and become only the third player to win multiple Doak Walker Awards.
He will have a tough time repeating, as there are several talented running backs all vying for the title of “Best Running Back”.
Here are the top 10 Doak Walker Award candidates for 2011.
Michigan State was crowned co-Big Ten champs in 2011 thanks in large part to running back Edwin Baker.
Baker was third in the Big Ten with 1,201 yards rushing.
The junior running back has a lot of talent, and with quarterback Kirk Cousins returning for his senior season, the Spartans will yet again have a balanced attack on offense.
Look for Baker to be the best running back in the Big Ten in 2011 while gaining national attention and Doak Walker hype.
Virginia Tech has churned out great running backs consistently throughout the past 10 years. Names like Lee Suggs, Kevin Jones and Brandon Ore come to mind, and most recently, Darren Evans and Ryan Williams.
In 2011, the Hokies will look to David Wilson as their feature back.
Wilson has received too many touches since he was behind Evans and Williams on the depth chart, but he did run for over 100 yards against Wake Forest last season.
The speedster has all the tools to be one of the best backs in the nation in 2011.
Though quarterback Jake Locker received all of the national attention, running back Chris Polk was just as big a contributor to the Huskies’ success in 2010.
For the second straight year, Polk rushed for 1,000 yards. He finished with 1,415 yards, second in the Pac-10.
He played his best in the Huskies’ final two games, which happened to be their two biggest. Against Washington State and Nebraska, Polk ran for a combined 461 yards and three touchdowns.
Without Locker at the helm, Polk will be an even bigger factor in the Washington offense. If he can build off his success in 2010, Polk could emerge as a threat to win the Doak Walker Award.
Relatively unknown to many people, Ronnie Hillman quietly had one of the best seasons of any running back in 2010.
Hillman was 10th nationally in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns last season and also displayed the big play ability with his 93 yard touchdown run against Missouri, the third longest run in the nation last season.
Though former coach Brady Hoke has left for Michigan, Hillman will still find success in 2011. If he can improve upon his 2010 numbers, people across the nation will become very familiar with Ronnie Hillman.
Outside of the SEC, Knile Davis was largely overshadowed by his quarterback, Ryan Mallett.
However, despite Mallett’s success, Davis had a very good 2010 season.
Davis rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns. He ended the season on a high note, rushing for over 100 yards in six of Arkansas’ final seven games.
For Arkansas to remain a threat in the mighty SEC, Davis needs to pick up right where he left off, especially now that he will have an even larger role in the offense now that Mallett is gone.
As a freshman, Michael Dyer was a key contributor to the Auburn Tiger offense that won the national championship.
With Cam Newton gone, the Auburn offense will now rely even more on Dyer.
Last year, Dyer ran for 1,093 yards on just 182 carries. He only recorded five touchdowns, but that number should go up in his second season at Auburn.
If Auburn doesn’t take too big of a step back, Dyer’s name will be mentioned for the Doak Walker Award.
The tandem of James White and Montee Ball was a dangerous one to say the least for Wisconsin in 2010.
James White was fifth in nation with 6.7 yards per carry, and Montee Ball finished eighth in the country with 18 touchdowns on the ground.
Together, they amassed 2,048 yards and 32 touchdowns.
If one of them can emerge as the featured back, they will garner a lot of national hype and be a favorite for the Doak Walker Award.
Marcus Lattimore bursted onto the scene in 2010, gaining 1,197 yards rushing in his freshman season.
He did his best work against SEC East division foes Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. In those three games, he ran for a combined 578 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
This year, Lattimore will be asked to do even more, especially if quarterback Stephen Garcia runs into more trouble.
Lattimore is a big back who has the ability to carry the ball 30-plus times per game, which he did twice in 2010.
Though it will be his first year starting for Alabama, SEC defenses are well aware of how dangerous Trent Richardson can be.
Richardson has rushed 257 times for 1,451 yards in his two year career, which says a lot considering Alabama’s starting running back was Heisman winner Mark Ingram.
His best game last season came against Tennessee, where he ran for 119 yards on just 12 carries.
Now that the backfield is all his, look for Richardson to put up monster numbers while being the focal point of the Crimson Tide offense.
LaMichael James has to be the preseason to win the award heading into the 2011 season.
Not only is he the reigning Doak Walker Award recipient, but he has all the talent in the world.
Last season, James led the nation in rushing yards with 1,731 yards and was second in touchdowns with 21.
Quarterback Darron Thomas also returns to run the offense, so defenses won’t be able to solely key-in on stopping James, allowing him to see less eight or nine man fronts.
James definitely has the talent and the team around him to win the award for a second consecutive year.