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How's Your Unit? - Running Backs
Notre Dame RB George Atkinson III
Notre Dame RB George Atkinson III
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 28, 2013


The most interesting running back situations this offseason.

2013 Spring Preview

Top Position Battles - RBs

- More key 2013 running back situations

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1. Notre Dame
The running game took a bit of a step back in the spotlight with Manti Te’o, Everett Golson, and several other parts of the Irish getting most of the attention in the run to the BCS championship. Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood might not have been sensational, but they were a key part of the puzzle with Riddick tearing off 917 yards and five scores with four 100-yard games, and Wood adding three 100-yard efforts and 742 yards after doing next to nothing over the first four games. Now they’re gone.

Is George Atkinson III the type of runner who can handle the ball 25 times a game? Probably not, but he’s a gamebreaker who needs a role that gets him the ball in his hands in the open field and on the move. Amir Carlisle is a dangerous all-around back with the talent and skill to be the star of the backfield, but he has to come back healthy after suffering a broken collarbone. Cam McDaniel can be part of the rotation and involved in the passing game, but he’s hardly a workhorse. The wild cards are new recruits Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, two of the team’s best new prospects who could be the best running backs right out of the box.

2. Alabama
And here’s the scary part – Alabama just lost the best running back in the 2013 NFL Draft and might be even better in the backfield.

Eddie Lacy is gone, and life will go on, just like it did for the Tide ground game after losing Trent Richardson, and just like it did after losing Mark Ingram. All Nick Saban did was bring in more NFL talent in Derrick Henry – a Lacy-like big back with quickness – Alvin Kamara, Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones. All are good enough to be the starter right now at 75 other schools, minimum, and all are good enough to form a whale of a backfield.

Of course, it’s going to be hard for the superstar freshmen to see the light of day since Alabama is coming back loaded. T. J. Yeldon might turn out to be the most dynamic back from a pure speed and quickness standpoint in the Saban era, while veteran Kenyan Drake saw enough mop-up duty to do more in a backup role. Like everyone else in the Tide backfield, he’d be a sure-thing No. 1 starter just about anywhere else. Meanwhile, Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler are big-time talents coming back from injury.

Unfortunately, there’s only one football to go around.

3. California
Sonny Dykes is known for cranking up the passing game, but last season he took true freshman Kenneth Dixon and got a dominant star with 1,194 rushing yards and a record-setting 27 scores. Can new recruit Khalfani Muhammad be the Cal version? No – he’s only 5-7 and a wispy 170 pounds - but the Bears need help with top runners C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele gone. Junior Brendan Bigelow is the top retuning back with 431 yards and three touchdowns last season, while sophomore Daniel Lasco ran for 109 yards and a touchdown – that’s about it in terms of sure-thing production. Considering Dykes is going to want a ying to the yang with a ground attack to go along with the passing game, finding the right back is going to be tough.

4. Wisconsin
Who gets to be the next statistical superstar out of Madison, and will it be business as usual with Montee Ball gone? New head man Gary Andersen knows how to get production out of his backs, but he’s not going to be running the same offense he used at Utah State. It’s still going to be Wisconsin and it’s still going to be about the power game, and that means James White gets his turn to be the main man. The senior ran for 1,052 yards and 14 scores as a freshman and added over 1,500 yards and 18 scores over the last two seasons working behind Ball. He might not have Ball’s cutback quickness and feet, but he’s a better athlete who can be used in a variety of ways. Sophomore Melvin Gordon is another talented back who’ll get a chance to be a bigger part of the rotation, but he suffered a slight ankle injury opening the door this offseason for junior Jeffrey Lewis, a pure speed back with excellent size and home-run hitting ability. On the way is Corey Clement, a top recruit out of New Jersey who fits the Badger running back mold.

5. South Carolina
The running game should be fine, but it’s probably going to take a village to replace No. 21. Marcus Lattimore’s horrible midseason knee injury didn’t kill the Gamecock ground game; Kenny Miles stepped up and provided a little bit of help, while Mike Davis came through as a key part of the tandem. However, it wasn’t the same without Lattimore, and now Miles is gone. Davis, a true sophomore, is going to get the longest look at the open starting job, but the more physical Brandon Wilds is a terrific back with fresh legs after sitting out last season. Injuries have been a problem for the quick and speedy Shon Carson and Kendric Salley, but they’re going to be back and given every shot this fall.

6. Michigan State
Le’Veon Bell was given his chance to carry the offense, and he literally ran with it, shouldering the load when the mediocre passing game sputtering. He ran for 1,793 of the team’s 1,942 rushing yards and accounted for 12 of the 13 running scores, while Larry Caper was No. 2 with 108 yards. Junior Nick Hill was the only other Spartan to run for a score, but he’s not going to be Bell this year. At 5-8 and 193 pounds he’s a much smaller, quicker back, while junior Jeremy Langford brings a bit more thump. Redshirt freshmen Nick Tompkins and sophomore Tony Fant Jr. add even more quickness.

7. Florida
We tried to pump him up, but Mike Gilislee should’ve received even more national attention for what he did to carry the middling Gator offense in wins over LSU and Florida State. He was a punishing back who was the only real positive for the attack, but now he’s done. The No. 2 runner was quarterback Jeff Driskel, and while he’ll still take off, Florida needs a few backs to become bigger factors. Matt Jones was the third-leading rusher and now is the odds on favorite to be the new top back with good toughness with bigger size than Gillislee. One-time star recruit Mack Brown has never been able to shine through, and now he has to fight with ultra-talented Kelvin Taylor, a top prospect who could see the ball right away as a true freshman.

8. Arkansas
Mom gave the okay, and now the running game could revolve around Alex Collins from the start. The crown jewel in Bret Bielema’s first recruiting class really is that good, and soon he’ll be known for more than the bizarre was he signed on the dotted line. Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis are both gone, and while Jonathan Williams isn’t an awful option after getting in a little bit of work last year, he’s not Collins, and he’s not Montee Ball. Fair or not, Bielema will be expected to get the same type of rushing production out of his Hogs that he did out of Wisconsin, but that could take a while unless the 5-11, 207-pound Collins is the real deal right out of the box.

9. South Florida
Western Kentucky has been among the most productive rushing teams in America with four straight 1,500-yard runners. Willie Taggart did wonders with the Hilltoppers after helping Toby Gerhart and Stanford backs come up with massive numbers. So who’s going to run the ball for the Bulls with top backs Demetris Murray and Lindsey Lamar both gone? Senior Marcus Shaw got more and more work over the second half of the season, but he closed out with just seven yards on two carries against Pitt. At 5-9 and 178 yards, he’s not big enough to be a workhorse, meaning new recruit Stafon McCray could be pressed into duty right away. He’s the perfect fit for what Taggart wants to do.

10. Fresno State
Everything is in place to be this season’s hot team from outside of the BCS, but there’s one key part missing – Robbie Rouse. The mighty mite was a rock, running for 1,492 of the team’s 1,975 yards with 12 of the 19 scores. True sophomore Marteze Waller got his feet wet, finishing second on the team with 174 yards and a score, but he hasn’t been able to show what he can do this offseason thanks to a minor leg injury. Former BYU cougar Josh Quezada is a big back with the talent to handle a big workload from time to time, but it’s Waller who’s expected to be the star. Finding the right option for the job could be the difference between a good season and a run for a BCS game. 

- More key 2013 running back situations