College Football 2011: Running Back Report Card for the Top 50 Teams

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IJune 13, 2011

College Football 2011: Running Back Report Card for the Top 50 Teams

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    It's that time of year again!

    Time for report cards on each position.

    We'll start off with running backs.

    There are many great ones to keep an eye on this season including Heisman Trophy hopeful LaMichael James and the great Wisconsin duo of Montee Ball and James White.

    Follow along as we hand out running back grades for the nation's top 50 teams.

    (Top 50 rankings courtesy of Athlon Sports College Football Preview magazine)

1. Alabama

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    Trent Richardson returns after coming off a 2010 season that saw him rush for 700 yards and six touchdowns.

    Eddie Lacy should be a reliable backup.

     

    Grade: A

2. Oklahoma

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    Bob Stoops' Sooner attack will be using a committee approach at running back.

    Roy Finch, Brennan Clay, Jonathan Miller and true freshman Brandon Williams will all get snaps in 2011.

     

    Grade: A-

3. Oregon

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    Athlon Sports' college football preview mag ranks Oregon's running back unit as the best in the nation heading into this season.

    The unit will be led by Heisman favorite LaMichael James.

    Kenjon Barner will be a solid backup after rushing for 551 yards last season.

     

    Grade: A

4. Florida State

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    The Seminoles return all five running backs from a year ago.

    The group is led by returning leading rusher Chris Thompson and senior Jermaine Thomas.

     

    Grade: B+

5. Boise State

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    The Bronco rushing attack will be bolstered by returning starter Doug Martin.

    D.J. Harper will give him a breather every now and again.

     

    Grade: B

6. Notre Dame

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    Notre Dame's rushing attack will be led by Cierre Wood who came on strong at the end of last season.

    However, a lack of depth at the position may come back to bite the Irish.

     

    Grade: B

7. Virginia Tech

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    The Hokies will miss Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, who both left early for the NFL.

    David Wilson will be the starter after rushing for 619 yards and five touchdowns on 113 carries last season.

     

    Grade: B

8. LSU

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    Last year's leading rusher Stevan Ridley is gone and now it is up to Spencer Ware to lead the ground game.

    Ware impressed in the spring game, rushing for 94 yards and two scores.

     

    Grade: B-

9. Ohio State

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    With the stunning departure of Terrelle Pryor, the Buckeyes will surely rely more on the ground game.

    However, that will be difficult for the first five games of the season, as the Buckeyes' top lineman and back are suspended for that span.

    Jordan Hall will start the first five games in Dan Herron's absence.

     

    Grade: B

10. Nebraska

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    Rex Burkhead will be the starter at running back in the Huskers' revamped offensive attack that will emphasize a physical running game.

    A talented group of freshmen will compete for second-string snaps.

     

    Grade: B

11. Texas A&M

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    Cyrus Gray is back after rushing for 1,133 yards and 12 scores in 2010.

    He should accomplish even more this season behind an offensive line that remains intact.

     

    Grade: A

12. Oklahoma State

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    The Cowboys will miss All-American back Kendall Hunter, but running production won't drop off too much.

    The talented duo of Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith will fill Hunter's shoes.

     

    Grade: B+

13. Stanford

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    The Cardinal rushing attack will benefit from the return of Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for 1,137 yards and 15 scores last season.

    Jeremy Stewart will get carries when filling in for Taylor.

     

    Grade: A

14. Georgia

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    The Bulldogs will rely on true freshman Isaiah Crowell to lead the running game.

    Crowell was rated as a 5-star prospect by Rivals.com.

     

    Grade: B

15. TCU

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    Ed Wesley will anchor the running game in an offense that returns only one other starter aside from Wesley.

    2010 saw him rush for 1,078 yards and 11 scores on 166 carries last season.

    Matthew Tucker will be Wesley's backup.

     

    Grade: A-

16. Arkansas

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    Bobby Petrino's Razorback squad will benefit from the return of Knile Davis, who led SEC running backs with 1,322 yards last season.

    Ronnie Wingo will be a reliable backup.

     

    Grade: A

17. West Virginia

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    The Mountaineers will miss Noel Devine at running back, but will be just fine with Shawne Alston as the new starter.

    Daquan Hargrett will challenge him for starting duties.

     

    Grade: B

18. Florida

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    The Gators have two very talented backs returning this season in seniors Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.

    It remains to be seen how effective each can be behind a retooled offensive line and in a new scheme under coordinator Charlie Weis

     

    Grade: A-

19. Miami

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    The 'Canes will benefit from having two of the ACC's fastest players in running backs Lamar Miller and Storm Johnson.

    Miller rushed for 646 yards and six scores on 108 carries last season.

     

    Grade: B+

20. USC

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    USC and head coach Lane Kiffin need the running backs to be consistent this season to take the pressure off quarterback Matt Barkley and the passing game.

    Marc Tyler and touted freshman D.J. Morgan should provide for a solid rushing attack.

     

    Grade: A-

21. South Carolina

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    Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks feature one of the nation's best running backs in Marcus Lattimore.

    Lattimore rushed for 1,197 yards and 17 scores on 249 carries.

    Kenny Miles will back up Lattimore.

     

    Grade: A

22. Michigan State

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    Mark Dantonio's MSU squad returns the Big Ten's leading returning rusher in Edwin Baker.

    Baker rushed for 1,201 yards and 13 scores on 207 carries last season.

    He and sophomore Le'Veon Bell form one of the nation's best running back duos.

     

    Grade: A

23. Wisconsin

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    The nation's best running back duo features Montee Ball and James White for Brett Bielema's Wisconsin Badgers.

    White is the Badgers' leading returning rusher, gaining 1,052 yards and 14 scores on 156 carries last season.

    Ball and White will each likely eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season.

     

    Grade: A+

24. Texas

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    The Longhorns will feature fifth-year running back Fozzy Whittaker in a revamped offense under co-offensive coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite.

    Cody Johnson is another fifth-year senior who rushed for 592 yards and six scores on 134 carries in 2010.

    Freshman Malcolm Brown, one of the nation's top recruits, will push each for playing time.

     

    Grade: B+

25. Missouri

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    Gary Pinkel's offense will feature a committee approach at running back.

    That committee will be led by senior De'Vion Moore who rushed for 517 yards and eight scores on 99 carries last season.

    The other backs who will play are Henry Josey (437 yards) and Kendial Lawrence (422 yards).

     

    Grade: B+

26. Iowa

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    Marcus Coker will lead the Hawkeye rushing attack this season after rushing for 219 yards in last season's victory over Missouri in the Insight Bowl.

    Freshman De'Andre Johnson will be Coker's backup.

    Coker will be a 1,000-yard rusher in the grind-it-out offensive scheme.

     

    Grade: A-

27. Mississippi State

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    Mississippi State's ground attack will be led by senior running back Vick Ballard, who had a school-record 20 touchdowns last season.

    LaDarius Perkins will split time with Ballard this season.

     

    Grade: A-

28. Arizona State

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    The Sun Devil offense lost some critical parts over the offseason, which means it will rely heavily on the rushing game this season.

    Cameron Marshall will lead that ground attack after rushing for 787 yards and nine scores on 150 carries last season.

    Deantre Lewis will also get a few snaps every game.

     

    Grade: B

29. Air Force

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    Air Force's option offense, under co-offensive coordinators Clay Hendrix and Blane Morgan, was only a few yards short of the 4,000-yard mark last season.

    Halfback Asher Clark was a key part of that potent rushing attack, amassing 1,031 yards and five scores on 182 carries.

    Clark should expect to increase those figures this season.

     

    Grade: A

30. Penn State

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    Silas Redd will be the Nittany Lions starting running back after serving as Evan Royster's backup last season.

    Redd amassed 437 yards and two scores on only 77 carries last season.

     

    Grade: B

31. North Carolina State

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    Mustafa Greene returns after leading the Wolfpack in rushing yards last season with 597 yards.

    Brandon Barnes will also get snaps this season.

     

    Grade: C+

32. Illinois

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    Jason Ford will be the starting running back for the Fighting Illini this season after serving as Mikel Leshoure's backup last season. 

    Troy Pollard will serve as the second-string back.

    Grade: C+

33. Maryland

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    The Terrapins will feature a physical rushing attack under first-year head coach Randy Edsall.

    Devin Meggett will be the starter after rushing for 720 yards on 126 carries last season.

    Sophomore D.J. Adams will also earn playing time in Edsall's offense.

     

    Grade: B

34. Brigham Young

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    The Cougar rushing attack will be solid, as the team returns last season's leading rusher JJ Di Luigi who rushed for 917 yards on 178 carries.

    BYU features a two-back set that will feature Di Luigi as well as returning starter Bryan Kariya.

     

    Grade: A

35. South Florida

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    The South Florida offense will feature a strong running game led by Colorado transfer Darrell Scott, who was the nation's top recruit in 2007.

    Aside from Scott, Demetris Murray will earn playing time after rushing for 542 yards on 120 carries last season.

     

    Grade: B+

36. North Carolina

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    Butch Davis' North Carolina squad will have a suspect running game this season.

    2009 starter Ryan Houston returns in 2011 after sitting out last season.

    Freshman Giovani Bernard will likely serve as Houston's backup.

     

    Grade: B-

37. Tennessee

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    Returning starter Tauren Poole will be one of the main weapons in offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's offense.

    Poole was one of the SEC's most productive backs in 2010, accumulating 1,034 yards and 11 scores on 204 carries.

    Sophomore Raijon Neal will back up Poole, but needs to prove that he can be a consistent player for head coach Derek Dooley.

     

    Grade: B

38. Clemson

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    Andre Ellington will be a key player in new offensive coordinator Chad Morris' up-tempo offense.

    Ellington should see his numbers increase in this new offense after rushing for 686 yards and 10 scores on 118 carries last year.

    Touted freshman Mike Bellamy will serve as a reliable backup.

     

    Grade: B+

39. Texas Tech

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    The Red Raiders' ground game will feature junior Eric Stephens as the starter after he rushed for 686 yards on 127 carries last season.

    Aaron Crawford should be a good second option.

     

    Grade: B-

40. Michigan

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    First-year head coach Brady Hoke has scrapped Rich Rod's spread option in favor of a pro-style attack.

    That means that the running backs will be much more involved in the offense.

    Stephen Hopkins and Fitzgerald Toussaint figure to share time at running back this season.

     

    Grade: B-

41. Pittsburgh

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    First-year head coach Todd Graham has installed an up-tempo read-option offense at Pitt.

    That usually means less carries for the running backs, but Graham will get talented back Ray Graham the ball this season.

    Graham rushed for 922 yards and eight scores on 148 carries this season.

    The other Graham will most likely get him over 1,000 yards this season.

     

    Grade: B

42. Auburn

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    Head coach Gene Chizik faces the challenge of returning a majority of his starters from a BCS championship-winning squad.

    This is the one position he won't have to worry about with the return of Michael Dyer.

    Dyer amassed 1,093 yards on 182 carries last season, including a few key runs against Oregon in the title game.

     

    Grade: A

43. Syracuse

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    The Orange face the challenge of replacing 2010 leading rusher Delonte Carter.

    Senior Antwon Bailey should be a suitable replacement after gaining 554 yards on 114 carries last season.

     

    Grade: C+

44. Washington

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    The focal point of the 2011 Husky offense will be running back Chris Polk.

    He's coming off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and still has two years of eligibility remaining.

    Sophomore Jesse Callier will be a solid backup to Polk.

     

    Grade: A

45. Boston College

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    Running back Montel Harris will be the centerpiece of the Eagle offense after consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

    He has 3,600 in his career and needs only 125 more to become the school's all-time leading rusher.

     

    Grade: A

46. Northwestern

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    The Wildcats really need to establish a consistent running game in order to take the pressure off quarterback Dan Persa and the running game.

    The backs they've had the last four seasons have been mediocre, so the coaches and fans have been waiting for a breakout player at the position.

    Mike Trumpy will split time with Adonis Smith this season.

    Trumpy rushed for 530 yards on 116 carries last season.

     

    Grade: C

47. Baylor

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    Baylor faces the challenge of replacing last season's leading rusher Jay Finley.

    The candidates to fill his shoes are Jarred Salubi and Terrance Ganaway.

     

    Grade: C

48. Utah

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    Gone are Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata, last season's leading rushers.

    Touted freshman Harvey Langi will take the load in offensive coordinator Norm Chow's offense.

    The Utes will need to have a steady run game if they want to compete in their first year in the Pac-12.

     

    Grade: B-

49. SMU

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    June Jones' Run N' Shoot offense features one running back and Zach Line has done a great job in that role.

    The junior rushed for 1,494 yards on 244 carries last season.

    Those figures should increase this season behind an experienced offensive line.

     

    Grade: B+

50. Georgia Tech

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    Head coach Paul Johnson's triple-option offense is now without star running back Anthony Allen.

    It is up to Roddy Jones and Orwin Smith to fill the shoes he left behind.

     

    Grade: B+

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