SEC Football 2011 Preview: Power Ranking the Conference's Top 10 Running Backs
If you’re looking for great college football running backs, then head down South, because the SEC is loaded with big-time backs this year.
Six of the conference’s top 10 leading rushers from a year ago are returning for another season, and there’s guaranteed to be a compelling fight to see who takes home the 2011 rushing title.
South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore is the best of the bunch, but there are plenty of other backs who could be ready to run wild this season.
Here’s a look at the top 10 running backs in the SEC.
1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
The Adrian Peterson comparisons may have been a bit premature, but you can certainly understand why people got so excited about Marcus Lattimore so quickly.
Lattimore arrived in Columbia as a a heralded 5-star recruit out of South Carolina’s Byrnes High School, and he definitely made quite a first impression.
The 6'0", 230-pound powerhouse rumbled for nearly 1,200 rushing yards and scored 19 TDs last season.
Lattimore will again have the benefit of one of the best receivers in the country, Alshon Jeffery, to help keep defenses honest.
It should be interesting to see how much the extra 15 pounds of muscle that the sophomore put on in the offseason will help.
2. Knile Davis, Arkansas
Hey SEC fans, remember Ronnie Brown?
Well, if you forgot about the former Auburn star, Knile Davis will help refresh your memory in 2011.
Davis has all of Brown’s special traits, and he appears to be the most complete back in the conference.
The 6'0", 220-pound junior has a perfect blend of size, speed and power, and he proved to be unstoppable in his first season as a starter.
The conference’s leading returning rusher ran for over 1,300 yards and 13 TDs in 2010, and he did so for an Arkansas offense that favors throwing the football.
3. Trent Richardson, Alabama
It’s never easy replacing a Heisman winner, but if you ask some Alabama fans, they’ll tell you that Trent Richardson has been the best player in the Alabama backfield since he arrived in Tuscaloosa.
Yes, Mark Ingram was the older and more experienced of the two and therefore was given a bigger workload, but Richardson was still able to prove his worth on a a limited number of touches.
The 5'11", 220-pound sophomore has put up consecutive 700-yard-plus efforts in his first two seasons, and he’s shown that he should be a more than capable replacement for Ingram.
Richardson will be asked to shoulder much more of the offensive load this season, and he should have plenty of opportunities to show that he’s just as good as, if not better than, his award-winning predecessor.
4. Michael Dyer, Auburn
Marcus Lattimore wasn’t the only true freshman to take the SEC by storm in 2010. Auburn’s Michael Dyer, one of the most highly touted recruits of the 2011 class, also made a considerable impact in his first year on the job.
Dyer rushed for over 1,000 yards and five TDs in 2010, and he ended up breaking the most important run of the national title game.
With QB Cam Newton gone, Dyer, along with backfield mate Onterio McCalebb, will be asked to carry the Auburn offense this season.
The 5'9", 215-pound sophomore should put up even bigger numbers in his second season and really solidify his place as one of the top running backs in not just the SEC, but the entire country as well.
5. Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss
This year’s senior running back class was decimated by early entrants for the 2011 NFL draft, but there are still a few prospects with evident pro potential.
Mississippi’s Brandon Bolden is one of the best backs of his class, and this season he should continue to build on an already strong résumé.
The 5'11", 215-pound senior rushed for 14 scores and nearly broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark in 2010.
Bolden won’t have much help at the quarterback position, but he will have the benefit of a strong, experienced offensive line to open up holes for him.
The Rebels don’t have the talent to be a conference contender this year, but their three-headed backfield attack, led by Bolden, should keep defenses on their toes.
6. Tauren Poole, Tennessee
Tauren Poole’s rise to prominence was certainly aided by star running back recruit Bryce Brown leaving the program after coach Lane Kiffin’s departure.
It doesn’t really matter what the circumstances may be; all that’s important is that Poole has seized his opportunity and made the most of it.
Playing behind a very inexperienced offensive line, Poole was somehow able to break the 1,000-yard rushing mark in 2010.
If Tennessee wants to continue to progress as a team, the Volunteers are going to need a similar type of effort out of the 5'10", 210-pound senior this season.
7. Jeff Demps, Florida
Jeff Demps is only 5'8", but he could be 4'9" and it still wouldn’t change the fact that he’s the fastest player in all of college football.
People throw the term "world-class speed" around a lot, but Demps is one of the few athletes who actually has it.
The track star is one of the rare college football players who can break 10 seconds in the 100-meter dash.
It should be interesting to see how Demps fits into Charlie Weis’ new pro-style offense.
Demps, who has already rushed for over 1,900 yards in his college career, was perfectly built for Urban Meyer’s spread attack, and it remains to be seen how well he’ll make the transition.
8. Vick Ballard, Mississippi State
Dan Mullen’s spread offense could be ready to soar to new heights in 2011.
Mullen’s offense has come along slowly but surely down in Starkville, and now that the two most critical pieces, QB Chris Relf and RB Vick Ballard, are comfortable, the unit is capable of producing at a high rate.
Ballard will once again be the driving force for Mississippi State’s ground game.
Last year, the 5'11", 215-pound senior tied for the SEC lead with 20 rushing TDs, and his 981 yards were good enough for seventh in the conference.
Ballard is a strong, workhorse type of back who is capable of carrying a heavy load.
9. Onterio McCalebb, Auburn
With star QB Cam Newton gone, it’s likely that Auburn will rely on its two-headed backfield duo of Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb to pick up much of the offensive slack.
The two combined for over 1,900 yards on the ground and 14 rushing TDs in 2010.
While Dyer is the bigger and more powerful of the two, McCalebb has the game-breaking speed to be a premier player for this Auburn offense.
The 5'10", 170-pound junior averaged an astounding 8.5 yards per carry last season, showing that he’s capable of breaking a big run on any give play.
10. Jeff Scott, Ole Miss
Jeff Scott, Mississippi’s version of Jeff Demps, may not have the same type of raw, blazing speed as his Gainesville counterpart, but Scott certainly looks to be a nearly identical clone of Demps.
The 5'7", 175-pound sophomore is like a Conan O'Brien "If They Mated" version of Demps and former Rebel Dexter McCluster.
Scott rushed for 429 yards and three TDs as a freshman, and he should once again be a great complement to steady starter Brandon Bolden in 2011.
Considering he’ll be joined in the backfield by Bolden and Enrique Davis, the young Rebel may not accumulate enough touches to become a star this season.
Still, once Bolden and Davis head off to the NFL after this year, Scott's name should have quite a buzz surrounding it.
Keep an Eye On...
Ronnie Wingo Jr., Arkansas
Mike Gillislee, Florida
Eddie Lacy, Alabama
Spencer Ware, LSU
Warren Norman, Vanderbilt
Michael Ford, LSU
Caleb King, Georgia
Ladarius Perkins, Mississippi State
Enrique Davis, Ole Miss
Raymond Sanders, Kentucky
Isaiah Crowell, Georgia