The SEC is home to a ton of great players, but there are two standout sophomore running backs that are attracting higher than average attention from SEC fans and national media.
South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore has been absolutely impressive so far thus season, and Lattimore will have another chance to showcase his skills when the Gamecocks host the defending BCS champion Auburn Tigers—which also happens to be the team of the other impressive SEC sophomore back, Michael Dyer.
Both of these players are clear Heisman candidates, so why will Auburn's Michael Dyer win a Heisman before South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore?
4 games, 426 yards, 6 touchdowns, 6.87 yards per carry, 106.50 yards per game
Any time your top running back is averaging over 100 yards per game, you know you're going to have a solid run offense.
Micheal Dyer can be counted on to move the chains on almost any down, and he's about as close to automatic on third downs as any back in the nation.
4 games, 611 yards, 8 touchdowns, 5.71 yards per carry, 152.75 yards per game
So far this season it's very clear that the South Carolina offensive scheme is built around Lattimore.
And why not? When you have a player that accounts for such a large percentage of his team's total offense, it's clear that he's going to be the horse ridden all the way to the winners circle.
The real difference between Lattimore and Dyer is deeper in the stat book that yards and touchdowns.
While it might be too early to tell who will end the season with more yards or touchdowns, Lattimore has the inside track on both numbers.
The argument is, of course, that Auburn's level of competition thus far has been a touch higher than South Carolina.
Auburn has a signature win over a then-No. 16 Mississippi State, and a tough loss on the road to then-No. 21 Clemson.
South Carolina, on the other hand, has yet to play a single team ranked in the Top 25.
What stands out about Dyer is the fact that against stiffer competition, he has a higher yards per carry average than Lattimore, and the percentage of total and rushing yards attributed to Dyer is lower than Lattimore.
Let's take a look at Lattimore's contribution, and discuss why these seemingly inverted numbers favor Dyer.
There's no question that Marcus Lattimore is the cornerstone of the Gamecocks offense. So far in 2011, against less-than-stellar opponents, Lattimore has accounted for a whopping 71.21 percent of South Carolina's rush offense. He also accounts for nearly four out of every 10 yards gained by the Gamecocks so far this season (38.89 percent of total yards).
While those are both important and impressive numbers—especially for a sophomore—it underscores a hidden danger in relying on one player for so much production.
Lattimore is clearly a special player, so why is Dyer going to win a Heisman first?
Running backs are built for speed and strength, and they're also built to take a beating.
No FBS running back will be able to survive for long if they can't take a hit—sometimes 30 or more hits per game.
While it's difficult to imagine players as strong and agile and well-conditioned as Dyer and Lattimore tiring out or getting injured, it does unfortunately happen in football.
The real danger with Lattimore accounting for such a high percentage of his team's output is that South Carolina may run into a situation where it runs into an opponent who is able to contain Lattimore, or, worse yet Lattmore tweaks an ankle, pulls a groin, sprains a knee.
Those risks increase the more he carries the ball. And South Carolina likes to run the ball (more than 54 percent of South Carolina's offensive yards come on the ground).
The SEC is not a conference of push-over defenses. Any running back in the conference must be prepared for punishing hits.
The loss of Lattimore—even a brief one—could easily stall the Gamecocks' offense, and event he loss of a few series could spell defeat for the SEC-East favorite this season.
As for Auburn, so far this season the Tigers have been less of a “one trick pony.” There are a number of options on offense, and Gene Chizik seems apt to exercise any option he has available this season. Compared to South Carolina, Auburn's run game accounts for far less of the total offense—just 46 percent of total offense.
Dyer is certainly an important part of the Tigers' game plan, but he accounts for just 62.01 percent of Auburn's rushing attack, and less than three out of every ten Auburn yards come from Dyer (28.49 percent).
So why is this a benefit for Dyer?
Most importantly, it allows the Tigers to keep Dyer relatively rested during games. There are enough options on offense for Auburn that Dyer isn't needed on nearly every play. Heading into November, it's a huge benefit to have a back that isn't running on empty.
The final stat that's of major importance when it comes to determining overall success of a running back is yards per carry.
While Lattimore sports an impressive 5.71 yards per carry average, Dyer is more than a full yard ahead of his counterpart at Carolina.
Michael Dyer has faced some big, stout defenses, and has still managed a 6.87 yards per carry average. That's downright jaw-dropping, considering the level of competition thus far in the 2011 season.
If both Dyer and Lattimore play for their respective programs for two years beyond 2011, it's possible—perhaps even likely—they could both find themselves bringing hardware home from New York.
But with the way things are stacking up now, Dyer will likely be the first of these two backs to strike the famous pose.