Today, we take a look at the ground games of all 11 SEC teams (and Vanderbilt).
1) South Carolina
Marcus Lattimore on his own can get the Gamecocks the top slot here. But it also has something to do with the fact that the Gamecocks can pass really well too, and so it’s not like Lattimore is the only guy that can hurt a defense. Kenny Miles is a worthy backup and could probably start for some lower SEC teams. It’s not really a one two punch, more like a hydrogen bomb followed by a grenade. Both have explosive power, but Lattimore has more. Anyway, if South Carolina is going to repeat as SEC East Champs, their running game will carry them.
2) Auburn Tigers
Mike Dyer is every bit as good as Lattimore, but nobody knew it because Cam Newton and Nick Fairley stole the limelight. Even with his spectacular BCS Championship performance, where he saved the Tigers with a pair of big fourth quarter runs, Wes Byrum, Newton and Fairley all got the praise. He’ll share the load with fellow speedster Onterio McCalebb. Together, the pair will be the focal point of Auburn’s offense. Whatever success Auburn has in 2011, it will be thanks to these ridiculously underrated two running backs.
3) Alabama Crimson Tide
With Mark Ingram dearly departed, it finally becomes Trent Richardson’s show. There’s no doubt that Richardson is better. He’s far more explosive than the Brandon Jacobs-esque Ingram and showed it against Penn State a year ago. Eddy Lacy and Dee Hart, two promising underclassmen, will back Richardson up. This is probably the deepest corps of great running backs, but neither Lacy nor Hart has proven anything, so they have to sit at #3 for now. I will say this- if both of them reach their full potential, this Alabama offense will be something to fear.
4) LSU Tigers
LSU has quietly established itself as running back university- RBU. First was Jacob Hester, then came Charles Scott, and then came Stevan Ridley- all very dependable, solid running backs that would always get the tough yards for you. Who’s next in line? How about Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, two lightning quick tailbacks that can also pound it up the middle? Yeah, and there’s also Reuben Randle and Russell Sheppard, who will play the Percy Harvin/Dexter McCluster position. If those two are used at running back at all, LSU’s running game will be deadly.
5) Arkansas Razorbacks
Knile Davis is working with the gift of being the sideshow to the offense. That’s just fine and dandy with him. He’s an incredibly gifted running back who will likely be used early to ease Tyler Wilson into the offense. The problem for Arkansas is that he’s the only proven threat at running back. Until the Hogs get another big time ball carrier, they’ll just sit here in the middle of the pack in the running game. And they might not even care, given how deadly their passing game appears to be in the 2011 season.
6) Mississippi State Bulldogs
Dan Mullen loves running spread oriented offenses. His QB, Chris Relf, will be a huge part of it. Vick Ballard is the running back taking the pitches, and he’s a major threat to break one and be gone. He’s big with speed, a scary combo for any defense. Sophomore LaDarius Perkins may get the next highest number of carries, and he has some speed as well despite a big frame. Next comes Robert Elliot, an agile running back who hasn’t gotten a shot to do much yet with everyone ahead of him. In short, this is an extremely deep pool of good, but not great, running backs.
7) Mississippi Rebels
Brandon Bolden is a one man show. He can do it all: juke, power forward, run like hell, and block. He is a legitimate NFL running back playing on a bad team, which is why the Rebels are so low. There’s nobody else nearly as good as Bolden to back him up. Enrique Davis figures to get the backup role, and though he’s certainly not bad, he’s no Bolden. The Rebels also have decent blocking to give these guys holes to run through. This will be Ole Miss’s only offense for now, so they will rely heavily on Bolden to carry them.
8) Florida Gators
Many might be surprised to see the Gators this low. But with Jeff Demps’ future up in the air, it’s impossible to say how good the running game really is. I’m assuming for now that Demps is NOT returning because it’s only going to hurt if we assume we have him and then don’t. The Gators do have some talent, with Mack Brown and Michael Gillislee returning. But it’s never easy for running backs to get the hang of completely new offenses. All of this would be OK if Chris Rainey were a running back. But with Charlie Weis moving him out wide, there’s no saying who Florida has at running back at their disposal.
9) Vanderbilt Commodores
The Commodores have a solid tandem of running backs in Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. Norman’s season ended four weeks early and Stacy’s ended against Florida. They had a combined 790 yards through 15 total games- about 53 yards a game each- not bad considering that they had horrible blocking. The offensive line should be a little better this year, freeing them up some. It should launch their names as running backs to keep an eye out for for the NFL Draft.
10) Tennessee Volunteers
Had Bryce Brown stayed at UT, this would have been a fearsome ground game. But Tauren Poole will have to do it all by himself, with a little help from David Oku. I’m not sure how much the Vols will run, though, with Justin Hunter being the most underrated receiver in the SEC. They’ll probably throw a lot more, but Derek Dooley can get unpredictable at times with his play-calling (where have we heard that before?) so who knows?
11) Kentucky Wildcats
They’ve lost everything from Hurricane NFL Draft 2011. It came and swept away Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and QB Mike Hartline. So who steps in and runs the ball? Donald Russell is the leading rusher returning, and he had a decent 2010, hidden behind the aforementioned Cobb/Locke. Raymond Sanders will back him up, but it’s so hard to have success when you have no offensive line AND two new running backs. And Kentucky will struggle plenty.
12) Georgia Bulldogs
Everybody take a timeout and laugh at Georgia. Now you probably look idiotic laughing in public, so stop.
It seems like every day, another UGA runner runs away from the program. Isaiah Crowell is literally the only one left, and he very well may be the best running back in the country. But he better be, because if not, Georgia’s football program will sink to depth previously only reached by German submarines and Cecil Newton’s morals.