College Football 2011: 10 Teams Who Have No Idea Who's Starting at Running Back
Spring football is firmly in the rear-view mirror, and most teams have a good idea as to where they stand, how the offense is shaping up and who will be starting at each position.
But there are a few teams left who still have one lingering unanswered question: Who is starting at running back?
Having a serviceable running game is a major component of every team, and for these teams, the question must be answered soon to have any chance against the best competition in 2011.
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Shane Vereen is off to the NFL, and that means the Golden Bears are without a front runner for the tailback position.
Spring practice didn't do anything to solve the quandary in Berkeley, as junior Isi Sofele, the assumed front runner for the starting job, wasn't “knock 'em out of the park” great. Not to mention the fact that Sofele is listed as 5'7" and 188 pounds, which probably means he's about 5'5", 170, unless they're including the height added by his helmet and weight added by his pads.
Unless Sofele or some other as yet unknown running back for Cal really steps it up, the running game could be a huge, gaping hole for the Bears this fall.
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The Orange have lost Delone Carter, and now it's up to one of the two possible replacements to show he has the ability to step into the starting role at Syracuse.
The leading candidate is senior Antwon Bailey.
Bailey has seen snaps as a backup and was the presumptive starter coming into spring practice this year. But he hasn't really wowed anyone, and it looks as if Syracuse is open to other possibilities at running back.
Syracuse hasn't exactly been a national power as of late, and these problems at running back aren't going to remedy that anytime soon.
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With just five returning starters on offense, it's not a huge surprise to find Iowa on this list.
The Hawkeyes lost Adam Robinson—originally suspended, he will now seek a transfer—and now it all comes down to sophomore Marcus Coker and junior Jevel Hampton.
Both backs have decent talent, and both have the ability to break out as the Hawkeyes' top back. But the question is can either of them survive in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten against some of the biggest, strongest run defenses in the nation?
Coker probably has the inside track after a decent spring, but even if he is named the starter, expect Hampton to keep the pressure on to compete for the starting job.
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With the top four receivers back from 2010, it will be interesting to see where the untried running backs fit into the 2011 Hurricanes.
In all likelihood, Miami will have to resort to a tandem or triple-back system, rotating in its top three players at running back.
While this does have some advantages (such as keeping legs fresh late in the game), when you have three underclassmen as your backs, it can also lead to problems as they get accustomed to the constant substitutions.
Sophomore Lamar Miller, sophomore Storm Johnson and junior Mike James are the top three backs for the Hurricanes in 2011, and don't be surprised to see all three of them getting carries early in the season.
It's possible one of them could step forward and take firm hold of the starting position, but if all three of them can adapt to a three-back substitution scheme, not having a clear-cut starter for Miami could turn into an asset.
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The Huskies have a pair of seniors battling it out for the starting spot on the 2011 Huskies squad.
Robbie Frey and D.J. Shoemate are competing to replace Jordan Todman at the tailback position this season. Both had decent sping games, and both have previous experience as backups.
This competition may have Frey with a slight edge, but don't count on the depth chart being set in stone until late August—and maybe not even that early.
UConn will need a strong run game in 2011 if it hopes to repeat as Big East champions. As it stands now, the run game is the Huskies' biggest question mark on offense for 2011.
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Noel Devine is gone, and for the first time in quite a few years, WVU will be without a proven starter at tailback.
When you add in new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen and his system designed for big plays through the air, you have one big, fat question mark hanging over the Mountaineers' running game.
Mountaineer fans may have to prepare themselves for a new type of WVU team. Over the past decade or so, the ground game has been the team's weapon of choice. With talented backs and a proven system, WVU won many a game by riding its prolific run offense.
All that is about to change—especially since WVU doesn't have a true weapon at tailback.
WVU's 2011 run game will be divided into two parts, creatively called A and B. A-backs are responsible for carrying the football. B-backs are responsible for blocking but don't get many carries. While that's a decent system to have, the Mountaineers do not have a single returning starter for either role.
Trey Johnson, a sophomore, is the leading candidate—thus far—for the top A-back position, but junior Shawne Alston is hot on his heels, so to speak.
The B-backs are comprised of a pair of 240-pound behemoths, linebackers really disguised as running backs. Don't count on Ryan Clarke and Matt Lindemood to get many carries, but when they're on the field, expect to see some poor unsuspecting corner get knocked flat.
The Terps enter the 2011 season with high hopes and lofty expectations.
After Ralph Friedgen was fired/let go/not rehired/whatever, Maryland brought on board successful UConn coach Randy Edsall.
One of Edsall's first problems for 2011 will be figuring out how to replace the fastest running back in the nation from 2010.
Da'Rel Scott is off to the NFL after posting the fastest 40-yard dash time at the 2011 NFL combine. The Terps are left with a pair of 220-pound tailbacks—not exactly the stuff of which speed is made.
Davin Meggett, a 5'9", 215-pound senior, will likely get shared playing time with sophomore D.J. Adams, a 5'10", 220-pound back.
With bruising ability but a complete lack of speed, it may be necessary for Maryland to explore other offensive options for 2011.
Lucklily, ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O'Brien is back under center for his sophomore season at Maryland.
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While Texas does have a returning starter from 2010, the way Texas' 2010 season went, it's no foregone conclusion that Fozzy Whittaker will be the go-to guy in 2011.
The supposed backups saw quite a lot of action in the spring, and what initially began as a battle to back up Whittaker has turned into a battle for the starting spot.
While Whittaker still has the inside track, Texas coaches are reportedly taking good, hard looks at junior D.J. Monroe and freshman Malcolm Brown.
Texas will also be shifting its offense around for 2011. After offensive coordinator Greg Davis “resigned” (yeah, sure) and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp had finally had enough of waiting, Mack Brown has a new staff behind him (adding in three additional new Texas assistants). New schemes and new plays will be on tap for the Longhorns in 2011 as they try to erase the painful memories of 2010.
Whittaker, Monroe and Brown could figure to be a big part of those plans, and don't be surprised if the coaches give each of those players an opportunity in the fall to prove that they should be the undisputed starter in Austin.
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Yes, we all know Dan Herron will eventually be back for the Buckeyes in 2011, but not before serving his five-game suspension.
In the meantime, the Buckeyes will have to find a serviceable replacement for him and for the rest of the “Tattoo Five.”
The replacement duties will fall to either sophomore Jaamal Berry or junior Jordan Hall. With a relative lack of experience, expect both players to see some carries unless and until one of them proves that he is the go-to guy in Herron's absence.
This could also bode well for Berry and Hall. One of them could emerge as the front runner to replace Herron as the starter in 2012 for the Buckeyes.
In the meantime, Ohio State will need all hands on deck to try to survive its first five games (including games against Miami and Michigan State) if it has any hope of reaching a BCS bowl in 2011.
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LSU's inclusion isn't to say that it doesn't have any talent at the running back position. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. LSU, as usual, has talent and depth at the position.
The question for the Tigers isn't if they'll have a starting running back, but who that starting running back will be.
Don't be surprised if this question isn't answered in September and we see all three top backs for LSU share running duties.
Stephen Ware, Alfred Blue and Michael Ford all have talent and drive, and all will most likely see time with LSU's first-team offense—at least until one of them steps forwards and makes a case for the starting position.