Wisconsin's James White starred as a true freshman while splitting carries last year.
This article looks at the 25 best collections of talent at the running back position in college football for the 2011 season.
This isn't about the best back in the country, but the best talent from top to bottom factoring in both production and potential. Production gets the nod over potential, but potential does count for something.
Joseph Randle takes on a Kansas tackler.
A pair of true sophomores had quality seasons as freshmen a year ago, as Joseph Randle ran for 453 yards and two TDs to go with 37 catches for 427 yards and a touchdown in the passing game, while Jeremy Moore ran for 261 yards and seven scores of his own.
While both are expected to improve from their 2010 experience, the best news for Cowboys fans is that the most talented back on the roster is 2011 5-star recruit Herschel Sims, a potential every-down back and difference maker.
Cameron Marshall celebrates a touchdown.
The Sun Devils' ground game emerged behind a pair of young backs last season. Junior Cameron Marshall ran for 787 yards and nine TDs, also adding 21 catches for 227 yards. Sophomore Deantre Lewis showed flashes as a true freshman, running for 539 yards and four TDs while adding 23 catches for 370 yards in the passing game.
Both of the Sun Devils' young backs are only scratching the surface of their potential.
Marcus Lattimore could challenge for the Heisman this year.
The reason for the ranking is solely based on star sophomore Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore was the top running back recruit in the country last year and lived up to the hype from day one as he ran for 1,197 yards and 17 TDs to go with 29 catches for 412 yards and two more TDs in the passing game.
Behind Lattimore are juniors Kenny Miles and Eric Baker. Miles has run for over 750 yards in his career but didn't produce much in limited time last year, while Baker missed last year with a knee injury. Then there is promising recruit Shon Carson, a 4-star prospect and recent Cincinnati Reds draftee in the 2011 MLB Draft.
Bryan Kariya is one of the Cougars three options on the ground.
BYU's run attack is led by a pair of seniors in JJ Di Luigi (917 yards and eight TDs on the ground, 45 catches for 443 yards through the air) and Bryan Kariya (537 yards and six TDs on the ground, 21 catches through the air).
That's not all the Cougars have though, as sophomore Joshua Quezada (505 yards and five TDs) is the back of the future and may see an expanded role this year to help prepare him for 2012 and beyond.
Quarterback Jake Heaps should get plenty of help from his backfield this year.
Power back Cody Johnson gives the Horns a strong short yardage option.
Yes the Longhorns lack a feature back, and yes they do struggle on the ground at times, but it's time to count on one of these talented athletes to take a step up and separate himself from the crowd.
Senior Cody Johnson, a power back used in short yardage situations, led the team with 592 yards and six TDs a year ago. Fellow senior Foswhitt Whitaker added 351 yards and two TDs plus 34 receptions, although he has been a bit of a disappointment so far in his career. Then junior Tre Newton (Nate's son) ran for 229 yards and three TDs and speedy junior DJ Monroe added 195 yards to the ground attack.
If someone does step up into that feature role, it may not be one of the returnees. Recruit Malcolm Brown was a 5-star prospect capable of making a difference from day one, and redshirt freshman Traylon Shead was a 4-star prospect himself. It's amazing that with this many talented options, none has separated himself from the crowd.
Bryce Beall is a big time playmaker.
As if last year's combination of seniors Bryce Beall (870 yards and 12 TDs) and Michael Hayes (629 yards and eight TDs with 30 receptions) isn't enough, 2009 starter Charles Sims is back after being ineligible all of last year.
Sims burst on to the scene in 2009 as a true freshman and took over the job from Beall, running for 698 yards and nine TDs but also catching 70 passes for 759 yards. All three are capable on the ground and through the air, and the only thing limiting their production is each other.
Rex Burkhead's role will likely expand in 2011.
Although not the biggest back around, junior Rex Burkhead ran for 951 yards and seven TDs in a part-time role behind now departed Roy Helu. Burkhead is very capable of helping in the passing game as well as on the ground.
Behind him, the Huskers don't have any proven backs, however redshirt freshman Braylon Heard was a top-100 recruit to some analysts, and this year's top recruit, Aaron Green, is a 5-star prospect.
Bernard Pierce is one of the least heralded elite backs in the nation.
The first true smaller school on the list, the Owls have a pair of guys capable of being feature backs. Junior Matt Brown led the team in 2010 with 830 yards and seven TDs, but he isn't even the best back in the program.
Fellow junior Bernard Pierce, who ran for 728 yards and 10 TDs, is the team's (and conference's) best back. Pierce was limited last year by injuries that kept him from matching his 2009 freshman numbers of 1,361 yards and 16 TDs. A healthy Pierce and more experienced Brown will only strengthen the unit.
Montel Harris is within striking distance if the all time rushing lead in the ACC.
It's all about star senior Montel Harris, who ran for 1,242 yards and eight TDs with little to no help from the passing game last year. Harris has been an absolute stud the last two years, and that should only continue this year as he makes a run at being the ACC's all time leading rusher.
The future is sophomore Andre Williams, who ran for 461 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first look.
Jeff Scott is the future for the Rebels.
Senior Brandon Bolden is the leader of the unit, after his strong junior season which saw him finish with 976 yards and 14 TDs on the ground and contribute 32 reception, 344 yards and three more touchdowns through the air.
Sophomore Jeff Scott had a strong year as a true freshman, running for 429 yards and three TDs, and senior Enrique Davis (337 yards, three TDs) can't be forgotten about either. This is a typical strong Houston Nutt backfield.
Jonathan Franklin was the best back in L.A. last year.
For the last couple years heading into 2010, the Bruins ground game was simply awful. The emergence of junior Jonathan Franklin (1,127 yards, eight TDs) and senior Derrick Coleman (487 yards, five TDs) have changed that.
The youth injected last year in true sophomore Malcolm Jones (200 yards) and redshirt freshman Jordon James (highly rated 4-star recruit), should help that continue into the future. The question for the Bruins isn't going to be if they could find a feature back, but how to split up carries.
Vick Ballard fighting for the end zone
Junior college transfer Vick Ballard came in his first year on campus with 981 yards and 20 TDs, impressive numbers for sharing the load. Sophomore LaDarius Perkins ran for 566 yards and three TDs and senior Robert Elliott added 221 yards.
The Bulldogs also add in redshirt freshman Nick Griffin, a youngster with some potential. Now that Ballard and Perkins had their first FBS action, they should be even better in 2011.
Ed Wesley led TCU's ground game last year.
The Frogs do not technically have a true feature back, but they are loaded with talented options.
Junior Ed Wesley led the team with 1,076 yards and 11 TDs, splitting most of the carries with fellow junior Matthew Tucker, who had 709 yards and seven TDs. Sophomore Waymon James had 513 yards and five TDs as a third stringer and fourth stringer Aundre Dean added 223 yards of his own.
The focus could be even more on the ground as the Frogs try to break in a new quarterback.
Polk will try to carry the Huskies on his back.
Junior Chris Polk will take on his new role of being the face of the program following the departure of quarterback Jake Locker, after making last year his second 1,000-yard-plus season. He ran for 1,415 yards and nine TDs.
Jesse Callier came up big as a true freshman last year, putting up 433 yards in a backup role that may increase this year to spell Polk more. Highly recruited incoming freshman Bishop Sankey and redshirt freshman Deontae Cooper could earn some carries as well.
Jermaine Thomas looks to rebound from a disappointing 2010.
The Noles biggest issue is going to be finding time for everyone in their stable of talented backs.
Senior Jermaine Thomas ran for 490 yards and six TDs in a down year last year, but in his career, has run for 1,800 yards and 17 TDs. Junior Chris Thompson led the Noles in rushing last year with his 846 yards and six TDs. Senior Ty Jones was second on the team with his 527 yards and five TDs.
Debrale Smiley was a 4-star junior college transfer last year, although he didn't do much in his first year on campus. Junior fullback Lonnie Pryor is also capable of carrying the ball, adding 112 yards but scored four TDs. Freshman Devonta Freeman was a big recruit but may have a hard time seeing the field this year.
Knile Davis is a rising star.
Junior Knile Davis ran for 1,322 yards and 13 TDs in his first season being the man for the Hogs ground attack.
Senior and former USC transfer Brodrick Green is a big back that ran for 365 yards and three TDs. Versatile Ronnie Wingo had 253 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught 27 passes for 274 yards and four TDs.
Marc Tyler's status for this year is up in the air.
USC is the highest ranked team with no clear cut number one back, although senior Marc Tyler led them in rushing last year with 913 yards and nine TDs. Tyler's status for 2011 is up in the air after a pair of off-field incidents.
Explosive Dillon Baxter didn't live up to the hype as a true freshman, finishing with just 252 yards and one TD, however, he was slowed by an early season suspension and could easily rebound this year.
Redshirt freshman DJ Morgan had a monster spring and will compete to be the feature back. Throw in Curtis McNeal, who is back after being ineligible last year, and recruit Amir Carlisle, and you get one of the deepest backfields in the country.
Note that this ranking assumes Tyler is eligible. If Tyler doesn't play, the Trojans would come in at No. 23 due to lack of proven production.
Stepfan Taylor stepped in successfully for Toby Gerhart last year.
Stepfan Taylor was very successful in taking over for Toby Gerhart, finishing with 1,137 yards and 15 TDs plus 28 receptions. Sophomore big back Anthony Wilkerson stepped up as a true freshman, running for 408 yards and three TDs.
Throw in 255 yards and four TDs from fullback Tyler Gaffney and the addition of 4-star recruit Remound Wright, and you get a deep and talented backfield with versatility.
Without Terrelle Pryor, Daniel Herron will be asked to step up in 2011.
Daniel "Boom" Herron ran for 1,155 yards and 16 TDs despite sharing the load with the now-departed QB Terrelle Pryor and RB Brandon Saine. Herron's production will likely take a hit this year as he serves a five-game suspension—if not more.
When he returns, Herron has to fend off speedy Miami product Jamaal Berry, a sophomore who posted 266 yards and a touchdown in his debut. Junior Jordan Hall is a more than capable reserve and redshirt freshman Roderick Smith was a very highly recruited prospect with some high expectations to produce right now.
Note that this ranking is with an eligible Herron. If Herron is gone for longer than five games then the Buckeyes ranking will fall.
Edwin Baker emerged in 2010.
Junior Edwin Baker ran for over 1,200 yards and 13 TDs last year but was hardly the only back featured. True sophomore Le'Veon Bell ran for over 600 yards and eight TDs and had some games (especially early on) where he just took over.
You also can't forget about junior Larry Caper, a former top recruit who is now fighting for the opportunity to carry the ball. Redshirt freshman Nick Hill could add an element of speed to the bigger backs ahead of him on the depth chart, and incoming freshman Onaje Miller was a 4-star recruit himself.
Trent Richardson should make a run at the Heisman this year.
As good as Mark Ingram was, Trent Richardson is better. Richardson is a complete back who should make a serious run at his own Heisman trophy before being a first-round pick when he declares for the draft.
Richardson may be the man, but he won't have to carry the load alone, as junior Eddie Lacy (406 yards and six TDs) was the best number three back in the SEC last year, if not the nation's top third-string back.
Highly regarded recruit Dee Hart could steal some carries as soon as he steps on campus, as could big back Jalston Fowler.
Michael Dyer lived up to the hype as a true freshman.
As a true freshman, Michael Dyer was everything that the hype promised he would be. Dyer played a huge role in leading the Tigers to the national title with 1,092 yards and five TDs while splitting time.
The back that Dyer split time with is speedster Onterrio McCalebb, who added 810 yards and nine TDs of his own. As if that's not enough, a pair of 4-star recruits are scheduled to be added to the position in Quan Bray and Tre Mason.
Cyrus Gray led the Aggies in rushing last year.
Due to injury, the Aggies best back, junior Christine Michael only put up 631 yards and four TDs. However the speedy Cyrus Gray made up for it with his 1,133 yards and 12 TDs on the ground along with 34 receptions.
A pair of talents from the 2010 recruiting class, Ben Malena and DJ Jones, will add even more depth behind the big two for the Aggies.
LaMichael James improved upon his 2009 numbers as a sophomore.
Junior LaMichael James overcame his early season suspension to better his impressive freshman numbers last year when he went for over 1,700 yards and 21 TDs. Fellow junior Kenjon Barner was more than effective in his reserve role, running for 569 yards.
The talent behind the top two is very strong with as 2010 5-star recruit Lache Seastrunk will lose his redshirt and compete for carries as will 2011 stud recruit Tra Carson and DeAnthony "Black Mamba" Thomas, an all-everything recruit who could have played anywhere in the country.
This backfield just missed the top slot because some of that potential hasn't had the chance to turn into production just yet.
Montee Ball is half of the nation's best backfield.
Believe it or not, this backfield was even stronger last year, but 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay went to the NFL and talented, proven backup Zach Brown has transferred.
Still, true sophomore James White (1,052 yards and 14 TDs), out of famed St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida and junior Montee Ball (996 yards and 18 TDs) each went above 996 yards and 14 TDs last year.
While those numbers are impressive enough, they get a little added meaning when you figure they shared enough carries with Clay to allow Clay to top 1,000 yards. Incoming recruit Melvin Gordon is the next in line of talented Badger backs.