2010 FBS Positional Analysis: Running Backs
Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The collegiate running back gets to handle the ball more than any other position outside of the quarterback, so it is no wonder that they can have the biggest impact on the game. There are straight-line runners who can wear down the opposition with power and determination. There are those who can simply out-run defenders to the end zone and still others who use their elusiveness and field vision to produce jaw-dropping runs that find their way to highlight reels.
Despite different skill sets, these tailbacks all got the job done in 2009 and will highlight college football backfield play in 2010.
MARK INGRAM, ALABAMA
There is no denying the fact that the Heisman Trophy winner was a central figure in leading the Crimson Tide to the National Championship. The 5-10, 212 pounder rumbled for well over 1,600 yards last year with 20 total touchdowns (17 rushing) while averaging just over six yards per carry. The scary thing is that he might just be scratching the surface in terms of his overall talent and progression to the pro game. Of course the NFL will have to wait at least one more year, much to the chagrin of the rest of the SEC. The Alabama defense may have some rebuilding to do in 2010, but the offense should be potent again, with Ingram as its workhorse.
RYAN WILLIAMS, VIRGINIA TECH
Fresh legs proved to be the difference for a lot of teams last season, including Virginia Tech. With the loss of talented tailback Darren Evans to a knee injury prior to the season's start, Frank Beamer was forced to go with the 5-10, 206-pound freshman Williams, who seized the opportunity by rumbling for 1,655 yards and 21 TDs on 5.6 yards per carry. Evans is by all accounts ready to roll in 2010, but it may be awfully tough to wrestle carries away from Williams, who received plenty of Heisman attention in 2009 despite being a freshman. Tech's path to an ACC title this season will be led by the second- year tailback, who could very well be the fourth straight sophomore to take home the Heisman.
JACQUIZZ RODGERS, OREGON STATE
What he lacks in prototypical size at just 5-7, 195 pounds, Rogers more than makes up for in playmaking ability. Despite his diminutive stature, Rodgers is as dangerous a player as there is in the country, regardless of where he lines up on the field. Last season, he rushed for 1,440 yards and 21 TDs, while hauling in an impressive 78 receptions, for 522 yards and another score. In a predominantly pass-happy offense (and conference, for that matter), expect Rodgers to once again thrive in a dual role in Corvallis. While he may not top his 2009 campaign, you can expect the numbers to be similar when all is said and done in 2010. If that happens, the Beavers might just find themselves vying for a Pac-10 title and a BCS bowl bid.
DION LEWIS, PITTSBURGH
The most decorated freshman in the country last year, the 5-8, 195-pounder finished third nationally in rushing (138.4 ypg), amassing 1,799 yards and 17 TDs on 325 carries, en route to a ton of All-American accolades and being tabbed the Big East's Offensive Player of the Year. Lewis will not sneek up on anyone this season, as he is definitely a player that must be gameplanned for week-in and week-out. With the ability to run between the tackles or bounce it outside, there are few tailbacks that rival Lewis in the FBS. The Panthers won 10 games a year ago and to duplicate that in 2010, Pitt will need to once again lean on its workhorse back.
EVAN ROYSTER, PENN STATE
Royster could have departed for the NFL last season, and Joe Paterno had to be thrilled to welcome him back to Happy Valley for his senior campaign in 2010. The 6-1, 209-pounder has the speed, elusiveness and power to excel at the next level. Despite his numbers tailing off slightly as a junior (1,169 yards, six TDs), Royster has shown the ability to come up huge in big-game situations. He will go toe-to-toe with Alabama's Ingram this season, as Penn State heads to Tuscaloosa early on in one of the top non-conference games of the season. How Royster fares in that one could determine the direction of his Heisman candidacy early on, and perhaps be a precursor of things to come for the Nittany Lions and their Big Ten slate.
NOEL DEVINE, WEST VIRGINIA
Don't let his size fool you. The 5-8, 180-pound Devine has lived up to his last name in Morgantown. A home run hitter, the tailback netted just over six yards per carry and rushed for a career-high 1,465 yards and 13 TDs as a junior in 2009. As elusive as they come in the country, this Mountaineer is a "game- changer" in every sense of the word. West Virginia has won nine or more games in five straight seasons, so don't expect Bill Stewart to try to fix something that isn't broken. The Mountaineers are a running team first and foremost, and if Devine can continue to improve on his play, the Mountaineers will once again vie for the Big East crown.
JOHN CLAY, WISCONSIN
Going from 155 carries in 2008 to a whopping 287 totes in 2009, you might wonder if this talented Badger will hold up physically at that pace. But at 6-2, 247 pounds, Clay has a frame befitting his workhorse role. A scary, punishing runner, Clay looks the part of an NFL fullback despite proving an ability to dominate as an every-down ball-carrier. In 2009, all he did was rumble for 1,517 yards and 18 TDs on just over five yards per carry, en route to being named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. With a navigable 2010 schedule (including Ohio State coming to Madison) and Clay clearing the path, look for the Badgers to be a front-runner for the Big Ten title this season.
DONALD BUCKRAM, UTEP
Buckram is probably the player on this list with the least amount of hype, as few outside of Conference USA have heard of him, but that could change in 2010. As a junior last year, Buckram shattered UTEP's single-season rushing record (which had stood since 1948), averaging 6.2 yards per carry en route to an astounding 1,594 yards, with 18 TDs. The 5-10, 195-pounder also showed his versatility by amassing 30 receptions and an additional three TDs through the air. Mike Price has a diamond in the rough in Buckram and after winning just four games in 2009, expect him to utilize his one true weapon as much as possible in 2010 in the hopes of returning the Miners to relevancy in C-USA this year.
DANIEL THOMAS, KANSAS STATE
The second Bill Snyder era began in Manhattan last year and for the junior college transfer Thomas, it couldn't have gone any better. The 6-2, 225-pounder will head into 2010 as an All-American candidate after rumbling for a conference-best 1,265 yards and 11 TDs, en route to being named the 2009 Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. It remains to be seen whether Snyder can duplicate his efforts from his first stint with KSU, often mentioned in the discussion of the greatest turnarounds in the history of college football. If he can, however, Thomas could be just the building block needed to catapult the Wildcats back to that gridiron glory.
MONTEL HARRIS, BOSTON COLLEGE
Another player who is diminutive in stature (5-10, 192) but plays much larger, Harris is a "jitterbug" type of back who is as elusive as any runner in the country. As a sophomore in 2009, Harris was tabbed an ACC-Second Teamer, rushing for 1,457 yards and 14 TDs, improving significantly on a highly successful freshman campaign in 2008 (900 yards and five TDs). Another "game- changer," if Harris sees a similar progression in terms of production in 2010, expect his name to be mentioned in the Heisman mix and for the Eagles to remain in the hunt in the ACC.
OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Bernard Pierce (Temple), Robert Turbin (Utah State),
Daniel Herron (Ohio State), Roy Helu (Nebraska), Shane Vereen (California), DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma), Darren Evans (Virginia Tech).