Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Last week we took a look at the top quarterbacks coming into the 2008 college football season, and this week it is time to seek out those players that make the QBs' jobs a lot easier, the talented tailbacks across the country that if not already household names, will have an opportunity to become so with solid campaigns.
Chris Wells is regarded as the top tailback in the nation.
Chris Wells (Ohio State) - This junior is regarded as the top tailback in the nation heading into the season. Wells is a powder keg, with tremendous size (6-1, 237) and great vision. He carried the ball 274 times as a sophomore in 2007 and averaged nearly six yards per carry, totaling 1,609 yards, with 15 TDs. Not much of a receiver out of the backfield (five receptions), but that is not what is asked of him in Columbus. He is asked to move the chains on the ground, and few players in the country do it like him.
Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) - Just a sophomore, this Georgia Bulldog has a chance to be the nation's top rusher in 2008. Wells is considered 1A on the list, but Moreno brings an entirely different set of skills to the mix and could very well be 1B. At 5-11, 207 pounds, last year's SEC Freshman of the Year tallied 1,334 yards and 14 TDs and has shown the ability to carry the load (33 carries against Florida last year), and possesses the elusiveness that Wells may lack at nearly 240 pounds. Moreno also has an extra gear in the open field and will run away from defenders if he sees daylight. On one of the top teams in the country, Moreno could make the difference in a national title run.
Ian Johnson (Boise State) - An All-American in 2006 after leading the nation in scoring (12.67 ppg) and touchdowns (25) and ranking second in rushing (142.8 ypg), the 6-0, 200-pound Johnson came back to reality a bit in 2007, rushing for 1,030 yards and 16 scores. Still, this productive Bronco ranks fourth in school history in rushing (3,406 yds) and second in TDs (46). Johnson was a part-time player in 2005, so his 599 career rushes are indicative of just how important a role he has in Boise State's juggernaut offense.
LeSean McCoy (Pittsburgh) - One of Pennsylvania High School's most prolific rushers, McCoy didn't disappoint in his freshman campaign at Pittsburgh. The 5-11, 200-pound youngster toted the rock 276 times and amassed 1,328 yards, with 14 TDs. His rushing total was a Big East freshman record, earning him unanimous Freshman All-American status. He also showed great versatility, ranking third on the team in receptions, with 33 catches and another score. Expect big things from this Panther in 2008.
DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma) - His freshman year was cut a bit short after suffering a dislocated kneecap in game 11 against Texas Tech, but Murray was still named a Freshman All-American and honorable mention All-Big 12. The 6-1, 205-pounder is a home run hitter with an explosive running style. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry before his injury last year with a total of 13 TDs. He missed spring drills, but should be ready to go by the start of the season. He is on a loaded team on both sides of the ball, and that should give him the opportunity to put up huge numbers if the knee holds up.
LOOK OUT FOR THESE GUYS:
Eugene Jarvis (Kent State) - This diminutive tailback plays much bigger than his 5-5, 170-pound stature would suggest. All he did in 2007 as a sophomore was tally an impressive 1,669 yards with 10 TDs, averaging almost 140 yards per game, ranking fifth nationally in rushing. A jitterbug type of runner, Jarvis is ultra-elusive and can take it to the end zone any time he touches the ball.
Damion Fletcher (Southern Miss) - Fletcher set Conference USA's freshman rushing record in 2006 with 1,388 yards, and eclipsed that total as a sophomore, totaling nearly 1,600 yards (1,586) with 15 TDs, finishing 13th nationally with 122 yards per game in 2007. Another smallish back (5-10, 175 pounds), but a strong runner with great instincts.
Javon Ringer (Michigan State) - Another productive Big Ten runner, this Spartan put it all together last season, averaging nearly 6.0 yards per carry and finishing with 1,447 yards. His TD total is nothing to get all that excited about (just 12 rushing TDs in his career), but Ringer is a great open field rusher who seems to be peaking at the right time.
Arian Foster (Tennessee) - Foster is a versatile runner who can handle the workload on the ground (245 carries in 2007), as well as being able to swing out of the backfield and make plays (39 receptions last year). At 6-1, 215 pounds, Foster can run through would-be tacklers. In 2007, he averaged a steady five yards per carry and rushed for 1,193 yards with 12 TDs. Not flashy by any stretch, but you can expect more of the same from the senior in 2008.
James Davis (Clemson) - Part of a tailback tandem in Death Valley (C.J. Spiller), Davis has proved to be the more productive back, having eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in each of the last two seasons and amassed over 3,000 yards rushing in his three seasons thus far. Last year, the 5-11, 210-pounder averaged 5.0 yards per carry, finishing with 1,064 yards and 10 TDs.
BEST OF THE REST:
Noel Devine (West Virginia), C.J. Spiller (Clemson), Tyrell Sutton (Northwestern), P.J. Hill (Wisconsin), Joe McKnight (USC)