- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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We’ve already examined the quarterbacks in the SEC most likely to pass for 3,000 yards this season.
The guess here is that there will be at least four of them.
Now, it’s on to what the SEC does best: running the football.
Last season, there were four 1,000-yard rushers in the league. In 2010, there were six, and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton led all rushers that season with 1,473 yards.
How many 1,000-yard rushers will there be in 2012?
Here’s the way we would rank them in order of most likely to accomplish that feat:
1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: The only concern is that Lattimore is coming off a knee injury that cut short his sophomore season. But he’s a tackle-breaking machine who will get a ton of carries. The Gamecocks will ride him, although maybe not quite as much as they did last season. In 20 career games, he’s carried the ball 412 times.
2. Knile Davis, Arkansas: Similar to Lattimore, Davis is also coming off an injury. He missed all of last season with a fractured ankle, but churned out 1,322 rushing yards in 2010, which led all SEC running backs. The thing that makes Davis so special is that he can get the tough yards and also has breakaway speed. He averaged 6.48 yards per rush in 2010, which led all NCAA running backs that carried the ball at least 200 times.
3. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Talent’s not the issue with Crowell. It’s more mental toughness and durability. But here’s betting that he’s matured and will better be able to grind it out in the fourth quarters of games. He rushed for 850 yards as a true freshman and that’s despite missing large chunks of games. The Bulldogs will have some depth at running back, but Crowell’s too talented not to eclipse 1,000 yards his second time through the league.
4. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt: He’s the only player returning in the SEC that rushed for 1,000 yards last season. Stacy was outstanding for the Commodores, setting a school-record with 1,193 yards. He’ll again be the centerpiece of the Vanderbilt offense, and the offense as a whole should be better. The Commodores made huge strides on that side of the ball last season, and Stacy is as driven as ever to prove that he’s one of the league’s premier runners.
5. Eddie Lacy, Alabama: The Crimson Tide have had a 1,000-yard rusher three of the five seasons Nick Saban has been in Tuscaloosa. And even though Saban likes to use multiple backs, Lacy is the kind of bruiser that will pile up the carries and the yards. He rushed for 674 yards on just 95 carries while backing up Trent Richardson last season. Now, it’s time for Lacy to be the feature back, and he’ll be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the country.
6. Christine Michael, Texas A&M: Michael has had his last two seasons shortened by injuries, and the one last season was an ACL tear. He was on his way to a terrific season a year ago before he was injured and finished with 899 yards in nine games. The Aggies will be looking for something to cling to on offense this season, and Michael is their most proven weapon. If he’s able to finish this season, look for him to do so with 1,000 yards.
7. Spencer Ware, LSU: Take your pick of LSU’s deep stable of running backs. Ware was the workhorse last season until his suspension, and talk about a violent runner. He absolutely punishes people. Watch Michael Ford, too. He actually led the Tigers in rushing with 756 yards last season. Then there’s also Kenny Hilliard, Alfred Blue and the newbie of the group, freshman Jeremy Hill. The best part is they’re all running behind a talented, veteran offensive line.
8. James Franklin, Missouri: Running around and making plays is a big part of Franklin’s game, and you’re talking about a 6-foot-2, 225-pound guy who rushed for 981 yards last season. But coming off shoulder surgery, Franklin may be a little more judicious in determining when he takes off and runs in 2012. The Tigers will need him to stay in one piece.
9. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State: There’s a lot to like about Mississippi State’s running back quartet. There’s speed, power and a couple of talented redshirt freshmen eager to get onto the field. Keep in mind that the Bulldogs have had a 1,000-yard rusher two of the three years Dan Mullen’s been there, and Vick Ballard just missed it by 32 yards two years ago. Perkins has great speed, but keep an eye on Nick Griffin, too.
10. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: After seeing Yeldon this spring, he’s the real deal. It may be a long shot for him to get to 1,000 yards as a freshman, but he’s going to get his touches. And if something happens to Lacy or if Yeldon simply emerges as the Tide’s most explosive threat the second half of the season, look out. He’s one of those backs who can do it all.
11hDavid Ching and Edward Aschoff
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