We continue our team position rankings today with running back. The running back situation in the league is similar to the receiver situation. Only one team returns its leading rusher from a year ago (Rutgers leading rusher Jordan Thomas is now at cornerback). Most everyone has a lot of young, unproven talent waiting in the wings.
So how to judge? To make these rankings, I considered returning starters, accolades for returning starters, depth and potential. I went with the top 2 teams based largely on the belief that their No. 1 running backs will be the two best in the league even though depth is lacking. Everybody else has significant questions so I weighed depth and potential more heavily.
1. Cincinnati. The Bearcats have perhaps the best back in the league in Isaiah Pead, a second-team Big East selection last year after he ran for 1,029 yards and six touchdowns. A healthy Darrin Williams should help, too. Joining them this year are two highly touted true freshmen in Jameel Poteat and Akise Teague, making this a unit that has returning talent and even more potential than last season.
2. Pittsburgh. The Panthers have one of the best running backs in the league in Ray Graham, but behind him there are major questions. Zach Brown is transferring in from Wisconsin, so that should help. Depth is a major concern, but Graham is the reason this unit is up so high. Some of the incoming true freshmen among Malcolm Crockett, Jeremiah Bryson, Isaac Bennett, and Corey Davis are going to have to play.
3. West Virginia. Noel Devine is gone, leaving a big hole to fill at the running back spot. This is one of the biggest positions of intrigue going into fall camp because it is so wide open. True freshman Vernard Roberts came in during the spring and did a nice job. Ryan Clarke, Shawne Alston, Matt Lindamood and Trey Johnson are in the mix. But expectations are high for true freshmen Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison to contribute as well. The Mountaineers have the best depth but no No. 1 back right now, which is why they are here.
4. Louisville. Another big-time rusher in Bilal Powell is gone and so are his 1,405 yards. Victor Anderson had a nice spring, leaving many to hope he can return to the form that he showed as a freshman. He and Jeremy Wright could be a fearsome 1-2 combo. The Cardinals are committed to running the ball, so that is a plus, and a big reason why the Cardinals are ranked No. 4. The big question here is how an inexperienced offensive line is going to affect the run game.
5. Syracuse. The Orange lose Delone Carter and his 1,233 yards. But Antwon Bailey is back and ready to assume the starting job. Bailey had 554 yards last season, but he is not the power back Carter was. Prince Tyson Gulley is second on the depth chart, and there are others who could contribute: Steven Rene, Jerome Smith, Mario Tull and maybe even freshman Greg Tobias. There also is freshman Adonis Ameen-Moore, a bruiser with speed.
6. USF. Hopes are high for Darrell Scott to come in and transform the Bulls rushing game. He is eligbile after transferring in from Colorado, and so is Dontae Aycock, a transfer from Auburn. Demetris Murray, who ran for 573 yards last season, also returns. But there are questions here. Will Scott be the savior? He was OK at Colorado and had a so-so spring. Who is the game-breaker? The Bulls traditionally have struggled to run the ball consistently. USF has not had a 1,000 yard rusher since 2005.
7. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have struggled in the run game since Ray Rice left and believe they might have a game-changer in true freshman Savon Huggins. No question the young man has talent, but will he step in right away to start and make a huge impact out of the gate? Jeremy Deering, De'Antwan Williams and Jawan Jamison are in the mix as well, but all eyes are going to be on Huggins. One key to this whole mix -- how much better will the offensive line be to help the run game?
8. Connecticut. The Huskies lose their MVP in Jordan Todman, who led the league with 1,695 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. Also gone is backup Robbie Frey, leaving this position a gigantic question mark. DJ Shoemate is penciled in to start and is the team's leading returning rusher with 115 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs also will be in the mix to start and there are some true freshmen who might play as well.