College Football Rankings: Marcus Lattimore and the 10 Best Running Backs

Andrew Dunn@atdu222Correspondent IISeptember 23, 2011

College Football Rankings: Marcus Lattimore and the 10 Best Running Backs

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    While the NFL has clearly become a passing league, it's clear the NCAA is still utilizing some of the best running backs the nation has seen in recent years. 

    Having a good runner is key to victories.  Some people will say you can win without certain aspects, but a stellar running game is not one of them.  If your running backs are no good, your team is going to suffer for it.

    The men on this list are of the most value in the nation at this point in the season.  They've proven they can be the catalyst for their teams and be the determining factor in how games turn out.

    Some of the pressure has to be taken off the quarterback—unless you're either Case Keenum or a quarterback playing at Hawaii.  Still, these men have been the best in the nation so far in 2011 and will continue to run wild.

Honorable Mentions

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    There were three men that it hurt me to keep of this list, but I thought they at least deserved a shout out.

    Henry Josey, Missouri: 29 carries, 400 yards, three touchdowns  

    The reason he's been kept off despite an incredible start to the year is because of how many carries he's got.  To have 29 carries and 400 yards is impressive, but most men among the nation's leaders right now have at least 40 or more.  If he keeps up at this rate, Josey could be a surprise Heisman candidate.

    John White IV, Utah: 61 carries, 380 yards, five touchdowns

    White has had a great start in Utah as the main focal point of the offense.  The issue with him so far is that he averaged more than seven yards per carry in two games, but less than three yards in the other one.  Inconsistency is frowned upon.

    Montee Ball, Wisconsin: 48 carries, 272 yards, seven touchdowns

    Ball has been Wisconsin's cornerstone player so far, but he's on the low end in yards.  Is he effective?  No doubt, but not up to the caliber the rest of these guys have seen so far.  I admire Ball's talent because he has plenty of it, and he would probably make the 11 slot if this list had one.

10. Vick Ballard, Mississippi State

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    2011: 41 attempts, 339 yards, four touchdowns

    Ballard, three weeks into the season, is carrying at a rate of 8.3 yards per carry.  He may not be the cornerstone to the Bulldogs offense, but gaining that many yards per play is a great way to show how good you are.

    His last game wasn't so impressive, so those of you upset about me leaving off John White because of inconsistency may come get me for this.  Here's the difference:

    Ballard's last game (where he carried for only 38 yards) was against a tough LSU defense.  Playing in the SEC is not going to be easy for Ballard to keep up such a pace, but he's got speed and power.  This can be a lethal combination against any team in the nation.

9. Bernard Pierce, Temple

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    2011: 55 carries, 347 yards, seven touchdowns

    Pierce is in the most danger of falling off this list as the season wears on.  He's had a great start to the season, as his seven touchdowns would indicate, and he is the offense's greatest asset.

    Unfortunately, the Owls are now starting to get into the bulk of their schedule.  Pierce had great games against the likes of Villanova and Akron, which aren't exactly quality opponents.  He then ran into Penn State and he was limited to just 50 yards.

    Still, Pierce is a bigger back, coming in at over six feet tall.  He's got a lot of power driving in those legs and can plow through defenders like a fullback. 

    Seeing if he can keep up a good pace throughout the season is going to be fun to watch.

8. LaMichael James, Oregon

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    2011: 42 carries, 325 yards, five touchdowns

    LaMichael James is one of the best pure runners in the nation, and has "Franchise NFL Running Back" written all over him.  In 2011, he's started off in a decent way.

    James is the opposite of Pierce, as he now has the biggest opportunity to move up.  He had one of his worst games of his college career against LSU, but has improved in each of the last couple games since. 

    He's one of the top Heisman candidates in 2011.  You can bet James is going to be among the leaders of this list by the year's end.

7. Trent Richardson, Alabama

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    2011: 50 carries, 315 yards, eight touchdowns

    Richardson is one of the most powerful backs in the league in 2011.  While most runners enjoy being able to juke defenders out of their shoes, it seems Richardson enjoys blasting through them more.

    He's been more effective in the red zone, and he's got eight touchdowns to prove it.  He's had multiple touchdowns in each of the Crimson Tide's first three games. 

    Now that Greg McElroy has departed for the NFL, the passing game is going to need a season to completely get back on top.  Richardson is the man in Alabama this season, and his breakaway from the pack is going to begin shortly.

    For now, his good (but not great) performance is good for seventh.

6. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh

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    2011: 79 carries, 419 yards, six touchdowns

    Graham is third in the nation in rushing yards, but has the lowest yards-per-carry average among the top 10 runners so far. 

    In any case, Graham has been the Pittsburgh offense so far in 2011.  Having that much pressure and confidence on you deserves some praise.

    Not being very big, Graham has a Darren Sproles style of play.  He's not as fast, but making defenders miss is pretty easy given his small stature. 

    Everyone is banking on Graham to be the one to help Pitt win a lot of games in 2011, and he's been impressive as a junior so far.

5. David Wilson, Virginia Tech

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    2011: 62 carries, 387 yards, four touchdowns

    Wilson is averaging an impressive 6.3 yards per carry and ranks fifth in the nation in rushing yards.  His touchdowns are low, but the entire Virginia Tech offense has been bringing in touchdowns in 2011 thus far.

    It appears that Wilson is the class of the ACC backs this season.  He's been one of the best performers overall that the conference has seen.

    It will only get tougher for him, but Wilson is a junior with a plethora of experience.  This is going to be his biggest season as he's the main back and Tyrod Taylor is no longer throwing.  

4. Michael Dyer, Auburn

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    2011: 48 carries, 358 yards, six touchdowns

    Dyer was one of the most hyped running backs even before the season started.  Given the departure of Cam Newton, he's finally got proper time to shine.

    An average of 7.5 yards per carry is extremely impressive after 48 carries.  None of his first three games can be classified as "bad," and he's scored two touchdowns in each of them.

    He may not be in the top 10 in yards, but Dyer brings such a great energy to the Tigers.  They needed it after Newton's departure.  So far, Dyer has been the one picking up the slack on the ground that Newton has left.

3. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State

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    2011: 62 carries, 378 yards, seven touchdowns

    Oklahoma State has come out hot in 2011, and Randle is a big reason why.  Carrying for more than 120 yards in three consecutive games is a tough feat, but that's what Randle has been able to do in the beginning of his sophomore campaign.

    The Cowboys have dominated their opponents this year.  Randle has been terrorizing defenses, proving to be one of the best at findings seems in defenses and exposing every weakness.  He's an extremely quick and agile player and shows that every time he steps on the field.

    Randle had only 452 yards in all of 2010; I could be wrong, but I think he'll at least triple that outcome in 2011.

2. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

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    2011: 87 carries, 534 yards, seven touchdowns

    This is the leader in rushing yards in 2011 after three weeks of play.  Lattimore is a sophomore who is answering all the hype that surrounded him throughout the offseason. 

    There's no doubt that Lattimore is the stud of the Gamecocks.  He's trampled through the first three games, having accumulated more than 240 yards in South Carolina's most recent victory against Navy.

    He's got power, speed and good hands.  The lethal trio is going to be South Carolina's golden ticket towards a run at the SEC title.

1. Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State

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    2011: 77 carries, 497 yards, eight touchdowns

    Oh, the heat I'm going to be getting for ranking Hillman (out of the Mountain West) over Lattimore (out of the SEC).

    Hillman is beating Lattimore in terms of yards per carry and touchdowns.  They're both by meager amounts, but I did take that into consideration. 

    It also helps that Hillman gives his team the best chance to win out of anyone else on this list.  San Diego State is a team out to prove something in the football world, and Hillman's speed is the way it's got to do it. 

    Up to now, he's been plowing through opponents just as experts thought he would.  How he competes against some upcoming contenders will show just how long he stays atop the nation's best backs in 2011.  He's got the talent, but he's also got fierce competition.

    Ronnie Hillman, for now, has proven the most among college running backs.  Will he keep doing it?