SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts on RBs
USC's Marcus Lattimore
USC's Marcus Lattimore
Posted May 29, 2011

CFN's SEC Bloggers put the conference's running back position under the microscope

Barrett Sallee: On who are the SEC's best returning RB's?

What the SEC lacks in proven quarterback talent it more than makes up for with its stable of top-tier running backs. Seven of the top 10 running backs from last season return, including South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore, Arkansas' Knile Davis, Alabama's Trent Richardson and Auburn's Mike Dyer. These four running backs are not only the cream of the crop in the SEC, but also the nation, and will be mentioned prominently in the season-long Heisman Trophy debate.

With both of their teams being in legitimate national title contention from the jump, Davis and Richardson will begin the season with the spotlight shining brightly on them. Davis was an absolutely monster when he took over as Arkansas' feature tailback mid-way through last season. Richardson has never been a featured back for Alabama, but that's only because Mark Ingram stood in his way. Whatever doubt there is on Richardson should be answered long before the southern leaves start to change color.

Lattimore and Dyer probably won't get the benefit of being magnified by their team's success (neither South Carolina nor Auburn are legitimate national title contenders), but that doesn't mean they will go unnoticed. Lattimore became the focal point of South Carolina's offense 60 minutes into the 2010 season, and he led the Gamecocks to their first ever SEC East Championship. Everybody knew that he was getting the ball, and not many defensive coordinators were able to stop him. Dyer's freshman season - in which he broke Bo Jackson's Auburn freshman rushing record - got overshadowed by the Cam Newton hype and the national title run. But don't be fooled - Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzhan will put Dyer in a position to put up Xbox numbers again this year.

We all know how good these four can be, but the next tier of SEC running backs is also littered with talent, all of whom are capable of taking over football games. Tennessee's Tauren Poole, Ole Miss' Brandon Bolden and Mississippi State's Vick Ballard were all overshadowed by the Big Four last season, but could become household names by the end of 2011. Keep an eye on LSU's Spencer Ware, who could be added to this list really quick, after putting up 102 yards in the Cotton Bowl trouncing of Texas A&M, and following it up with a strong spring.
What's that? No mention of Georgia true freshman running back Isaiah Crowell? Let's hold off on anointing him the "next Herschel" until he actually plays a college football game.

Billy Gomila: On who will be the next breakout running back?

LSU's Ware took hold of the starting running back job this spring and looks primed to build on his big Cotton Bowl performance (102 yards on 10 carries). The 225-pound Ohio native saw time in 10 games during the regular season, showing versatility at both tailback and as a pass-catching fullback -- he even threw a 50-yard touchdown against Auburn.

Ware brings workhorse size and power with the athleticism of a former quarterback -- he even spent time in the Tiger baseball team's outfield this spring.

He gives LSU one of the SEC's most versatile backs, with soft hands for receiving and the skill-set to be a Wildcat quarterback. With an experienced offensive line blocking, look for him to be the centerpiece of a run-heavy offense.

Russ Mitchell: On which team has the most riding on the RB position?

There are a number of directions to take with this. Arkansas' Davis needs to perform like his breakout 2010 season plus improve his receiving out of the backfield, in order to take pressure off new QB Tyler Wilson... But Bobby Petrino's offense is pass first, second, and third... and only then run.

Folks at the Capstone will be relying heavily on Richardson; and given some of the turnover on offense, his importance cannot be underestimated... But no one in America has more talent stockpiled than Alabama, which lessens the dependency on any single player. Even a player of Richardson's talent.

Bolden might be the only legitimate offensive threat in Oxford, Jeffrey Demps needs to step up this final year to take pressure off his beleaguered quarterback, John Brantley, and given the turnover at wide receiver, running back and offensive line in Athens, senior Caleb King must finally live up to his lofty expectations, or Georgia (and Mark Richt's job) will be relying on the legs of a true freshman in Isaiah Crowell.

But if 2010 is any barometer, no team has more riding on its RB than Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks. In SC's five loses last season, Marcus Lattimore averaged just 11 carriers, 45 yards (and only got to 16 carries once). And in their nine wins (of which he played eight)? 24 carries, 122 yards - including 37 carries against UGA (182 yards), 29 carries against Tennessee (184 yards) and a breathtaking 40 carries at Florida (212 yards).

The Gamecocks might indeed have the best wide receiver in the conference in Alshon Jeffery, a fifth year senior quarterback in Stephen Garcia (maybe), a mostly seasoned offensive line and, historically under the Head Ball Coach in Columbia, a stellar defense.

But as Lattimore goes, so goes South Carolina.

Gabe Harris: On which SEC school is today's RB U?

Running Back University. A badge of honor for the school carrying it, particularly in the smash-mouth world of SEC football.

In this conference laced with powerful, fast defensive linemen, if you can control the line of scrimmage, you win. Being RB U means you are tougher than all others. Running back, not quarterback, has been the position that the SEC loves more than all others.

Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama have all longed to be called RB U, and each has a legitimate claim. While Arkansas with McFadden, Jones and Davis has made a recent run (pun intended).

But there has only been one RB U in last 40 years, and that school is Auburn. But do they still carry the torch in this decade?

Alabama has had the lone RB Heisman winner from the SEC in Mark Ingram, while Arkansas' Darren McFadden finished 2nd - twice. Auburn's Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown each had 1,000 yard seasons and were drafted in the top five of the NFL. Tennessee has had some good backs like Arian Foster, while LSU churns out big NFL backs regularly, but they don't make a whole lot of national noise while in college.

But Auburn remains RB U due to its consistency with 1,000 yard rushers and the way it uses multiple backs to achieve great results. Adding recent transfer Mike Blakely to the mix, along with the upcoming recruiting efforts, and it doesn't appear that Auburn plans on giving the crown back anytime soon.

Brian Harbach: On who will be the conference's next first round NFL running back?

There are four talented draft eligible players that will heavily featured in their schools running game this fall: Ballard, Bolden, Davis and Richardson. Of that list, two have first round potential: Davis and Richardson. Barring injury it would be surprising if either returns for their seniors seasons.

Davis has the potential to expand upon a break out season based on his physical abilities as well as an Arkansas offense that will pressure defenses with the passing game. Richardson is a little smaller than Davis but might be a more physical force running the ball.

Regardless, both of these players have a great opportunity to be first round picks even with the NFL's recent trend of marginalizing first round backs. If Mark Ingram almost falls out of the first round, it says a lot about where NFL teams think they can get starters at running back.

Of those two Richardson is likely to be more coveted by NFL teams because of the offense Alabama runs. Teams could marginalize Davis because of the Razorback passing game, but Richardson is on a team that runs first. Both could end up being drafted on the first day of the NFL draft, but Richardson will be the next SEC running back drafted.

Please follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec, Brian Harbach @harbabd and Barrett Sallee @barrettsallee.

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