One of the great things about college football is that every year we are introduced to a whole new crop of players that we have never heard of before.
The NFL, on the other hand, has an extremely over-hyped draft, and most of the players that enter the league as rookies we are already hugely familiar with from their college days.
In college, it is just too tough to keep track of over 10,000 kids at any given point in time. Hence guys like Pat White and Steve Slaton took the college football world by storm in their freshman seasons at West Virginia back in 2005.
Thus, as with the start of any college football season, we fully expect to see some surprises and fully expect to see some breakthrough performances by players that are relatively unknown at this point in time.
The following are twelve running backs that have the potential to make a splash on the 2011 college football season.
Eddie Lacy scoring a touchdown against Michigan State in last year's Capital One bowl game.
Everybody has heard about Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson. He is one of the preseason favorites to win that prestigious award.
However, outside of Alabama and SEC circles, you'll likely not find many people that know about Eddie Lacy. (OK, maybe Michigan State fans.)
For every Batman, you need a Robin. And while Trent Richardson played Robin to Mark Ingram's Batman over the past two seasons, it will be Eddie Lacy's turn to do him the favor of being the Robin to his Batman.
In their own version of Thunder and Lightning, Richardson and Lacy could be equally as effective as Ingram and Richardson were in their 2009 national championship season.
It won't be just given to Lacy, however, as the depth chart is stacked with players more than willing to take his spot should he become injured or not able live up to his billing.
Running behind what is arguably the best offensive line in the country, look for the 1-2 punch of Richardson and Lacy to entertain near 2,500 yards rushing or more this year.
Brandon Bolden scampering in for a touchdown in their contest with LSU last year in Baton Rouge.
Lost in the shuffle of last year's disappointing 4-8 regular season for Mississippi was a solid performance put together by the then-junior running back Brandon Bolden. Nearly rushing for 1,000 yards, Bolden earned Honorable Mention All-Conference honors.
This big and bruising running back should now be the focus of an offense that struggled to find an identity last year with the transfer of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli from Oregon.
The schedule is brutal being in the SEC West, but Bolden does have every starting offensive lineman back from last season. Look for the Rebels to ride his legs, and if things go well he could approach 1,300 to 1,500 yards rushing this season, setting himself up for a solid spot in next year's NFL draft.
Washuan Ealy is no longer a member of the Georgia football team.
With the departure of Washaun Ealey (last years' starter), and with Caleb King unable to make grades coming into his senior season, the running back position at Georgia is wide open.
That very well could open the door for super recruit Isaiah Crowell to crack the starting lineup for the Bulldogs as early as the first game of the season. While the cupboard isn't completely bare with Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome, talents like Crowell are tough to keep off of the field.
Standing at 5'10" and 210 pounds, Crowell has the body and frame that is needed to play right away. Throw in a second year starter at quarterback in Murray, and the 'Dawgs have an experienced QB that they can rely upon while Crowell is brought up to speed as the year progresses.
Of all the freshman running backs in the country, Crowell may be stepping into the right position at the right school, at exactly the right time. While it is likely to be a running back by committee at Georgia this year, Crowell will be given plenty of chances to show that he is the No. 1 guy.
Dan Herron, picture here, will have to sit out the Buckeyes first five games this year.
With the suspension of Dan Herron for the first five games of the 2011 football season, the door is wide open for a Buckeye running back to come in and take over his starting spot.
From everything that I have read or heard, that likely guy is Rod Smith.
The 6'3", 220-pound redshirt freshman is being compared to Eddie George. Obviously, his size and frame are intimidating, but it is his maneuverability for such a big man that has the Buckeye fans excited to see this bruising running back come this fall.
There is ample competition for this spot, but if there is to be a star emerging in Columbus with the Herron suspension, then it is likely that Smith will be that Buckeye running back to emerge in 2011.
Sure, three-year starter Evan Royster is gone, but the Nittany Lion faithful aren't exactly fretting over him being that big of a loss.
In solid backup duty last year, Redd showed his ability to slash and gash for yards. And while he isn't a huge running back, he can also gain the tough yardage between the tackles if need be.
With Royster's departure, it will be Redd's show in 2011.
What is also nice about Redd's status for this coming season is that they return three starters on the offensive line, a solid WR corps, and the quarterback play this year will undoubtedly be better than we saw from Penn State just last year.
That should all add up to a breakthrough season for Redd. If Redd isn't up to the task, then Stephfon Green is more than capable to fill Royster's shoes. After all, it was just last year that Green was to be the one to step out of Royster's shadow and be the next guy in line at Penn State.
Marcus Coker in his breakout performance against Missouri in last year's Insight Bowl.
In case you missed it, Marcus Coker ran over, around, and through the Missouri defense in last year's Insight Bowl, bulling his way to 219 yards rushing with two touchdowns.
Decimated by injuries and fallout, the Iowa backfield was looking grim up to that point in time. Guys like Adam Robinson, Jewel Hampton, and Brandon Wegher were looked at to be the next guy after the departure of Shonn Greene to the NFL after the 2008 season.
Now it looks like it is Coker's turn, and with little depth behind him, it looks like Iowa will depend greatly upon his legs as James Vandenburg gains his traction as the new starting quarterback.
With a solid offensive line in front of him, look for the Hawkeyes to do their normal ground and pound attack with a big back in Coker handling a large number of carries on every given Saturday.
If he can stay healthy, a 1,500-plus yard season running the football isn't out of reach.
Fozzy Whitaker in action just last year.
Since the departure of Jaamal Charles from the Texas sidelines after the 2007 season, Mack Brown has been searching valiantly for the next great running back to stand in the Longhorns backfield.
While Vondrell McGee, Cody Johnson, DJ Monroe and Tre' Newton have all provided sparks here and there throughout their careers, they simply haven't matched the expectations that have been left behind by such names as Charles, Cedric Benson, and Ricky Williams.
The 'Horns may have found their man in the highly recruited Malcolm Brown. At 6'0" and 215 pounds, Brown is a bruising runner in the mold of an Earl Campbell from Texas year's past.
Mack Brown has a history of putting talented freshman on the field early in their careers, and he'll likely have little trouble putting this bruiser on the field as early as possible.
With a move towards a new offense with new coaches and coordinators in place, look for Texas to finally be a much more physical team up front, and look for Brown to possibly spark them on the ground as Texas tries to recover from an embarrassing 5-7 season just a year ago.
Joseph Randle eluding a Kansas Jayhawk
With the departure of Kendall Hunter to the NFL, his 1,548 rushing yards are up for grabs among a talented stable of running backs in Stillwater.
After all, Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, and Josh Cooper are all back to prove that last year wasn't a fluke. Tack on all five starters on the offensive line returning, and the stage is set for somebody to comfortably step in and gain a ton of yards on the ground in the 'Pokes high powered offense.
Joseph Randle looks to be that guy that will step in. However, the backfield won't be void of talent as Jeremy Smith and Herschel Sims would be more than capable to pick up the slack if Randle isn't ready to carry a load comparable to Hunter from last year.
In an offense that limits the pounding on its running backs, look for Randle to have a huge year with all the focus on Weeden and Blackmon.
Bryce Brown toting the rock as a Volunteer.
Back in 2009, it was Bryce Brown that was the talk of the recruiting world. Gaining almost as much hype as Terrelle Pryor the year before, Brown eventually settled on Lane Kiffin and the Tennessee Volunteers.
With all that hype, Brown actually produced some decent numbers for a true freshman in the SEC—460 yards rushing and three TD's. Not bad in a backup role for a 7-6 team with an embattled coach that left after only one season.
Since that time, Brown has transferred back to his home state to play for the Kansas State Wildcats and veteran coach Bill Snyder.
Many times these transfer deals don't work out, but this one feels right. Bryce is getting back to his roots and will be playing for a team in dire need of his services as they look to replace the rock that was Daniel Thomas.
Kansas State is still rebuilding under Snyder in his second stint there, but if there is one thing for sure, if Snyder has a horse he'll ride it till it can't be ridden no more. Thomas carried the football over 540 times the past two seasons.
The 'Cats will be replacing their QB and three offensive lineman, so the going may be a little rough. Either way, one should fully expect that Brown will likely get over 250 and upwards to 300 touches this season as long as he stays healthy, and as long as he is somewhat effective.
Sharing time with Jamie Harper last year, Andre Ellington looks ready to step to the table and be the next great running back for the Clemson Tigers.
Dating back to the Thunder and Lightning show of James Davis and CJ Spiller, Ellington may well team with super recruit Mike Bellamy this year to form their own Thunder and Lightning combination.
With nine starters returning on offense including all five offensive lineman, the Tigers will be breaking in their new starting QB in Tajh Boyd. While he is an electric talent, we should expect Clemson to rely upon a solid ground game while Boyd gets his feet wet under center.
That opens the door for Ellington and Bellamy (more importantly Ellington) to have breakout seasons for the Tigers as they try to capture an ACC title.
Well, certainly Virginia Tech is doomed with the departure of Darren Evans and Ryan Williams to the NFL. They also lose a four-year starter at QB in Tyrod Taylor, thus the Hokies are surely rebuilding this year, right?
Not so fast.
David Wilson is one of the fastest and most electrifying players in all of college football.
While they will be breaking in a new QB, they have seven other starters returning, including four offensive lineman. The WR corps is solid, and the schedule has been set up for a memorable run deep into the season.
Josh Oglesby will likely provide a nice 1-2 punch for Virginia Tech, but it will be Wilson that provides the Sportscenter highlights on a weekly basis for the Hokies.
A 1,200 to 1,400-yard season running the football isn't out the question, and Wilson can also be a huge threat in the passing and return games as well.
Stepfan Taylor in action against Virginia Tech in last year's blowout win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Hard to believe that a guy with 1,137 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns last year would still be flying under the radar. But such is the case for Stepfan Taylor, who couldn't even garner a First Team Pac-10 All-Conference selection.
When you play your games west of the Rocky Mountains, your quarterback is the sensational Andrew Luck, and your conference had a bevy of great running backs in LaMichael James, Chris Polk, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Shane Vereen, you will likely get overlooked.
But not this year.
Even with only one offensive lineman returning to the fold for the Stanford Cardinal, we should all look for Stepfan to have yet another solid season in carrying the football and emerge a bit from the huge shadows being cast out west by Andrew Luck, LaMichael James, and Kellen Moore.