SEC breakout running backs in 2012

January, 31, 2012
1/31/12
11:45
AM ET
We're always waiting for the next big thing.

The newest, biggest TV. The fastest, neatest cellphone. The funniest TV show.

In the college football world, the players who are next in line almost become more exciting than the players currently getting all of the attention.

(Just look at the wonderful world of recruiting!)

ESPN colleague KC Joyner recently put out his top five breakout running backs for 2012, reminding us that there are always hidden gems lurking on rosters.

Making the cut was Alabama's Eddie Lacy, who placed second on Joyner's list. That shouldn't really come as a shocker. While he spent last season in Trent Richardson's shadow, he certainly proved to be quite the chore for opposing defenses, rushing for 674 yards and seven touchdowns. He's a gutty runner who seems to embrace contact and will benefit from having a more mature quarterback and four returning offensive linemen.

Here's a what Joyner had to say about Lacy:
To get an idea of just how good Lacy could be, consider that in the five-game sample used for this review (Penn State Nittany Lions, Florida Gators, Vanderbilt Commodores and both games against the LSU Tigers), the other Crimson Tide ball carriers posted an 8.8 GBYPA total. That is more than a yard lower than Lacy's 10.4 mark in that metric.

To be fair, a good percentage of Lacy's carries occurred in the later portion of games after the opposing team was worn down from dealing with the powerhouse running of Trent Richardson, but that total still bodes well for Lacy's ability to replace Richardson as Alabama's bell cow runner.

Lacy's a no-brainer, but who are some other SEC running backs primed to have a breakout season?

Well, we've come up with a short list of players that could join Lacy in that category in 2012:

Josh Clemons, Kentucky: He was off to a pretty good start in 2011 before a knee injury cost him the rest of his season after just six games. He rushed for 279 yards and two touchdowns before his injury, and Kentucky's coaches thought he might be the playmaker the Wildcats desperately needed on offense. The rising sophomore is strong, but also has pretty good quickness and speed. Clemons can get the tough yards, and has the potential to hit a few home runs.

Kenny Hilliard/Jeremy Hill, LSU: Even as a true freshman, Hilliard might have been LSU's most gifted running back. He ranked fourth on the team in rushing (336), but averaged 5.4 yards per carry and tied for the team lead with eight touchdowns. Hill was supposed to enroll last year, but didn't sign with LSU after an arrest last January. He took a year off from football and enrolled this month after his charges were lessened from a felony to a misdemeanor. People around LSU think he could be special and could push for a lot of playing time this fall.

Marlin Lane, Tennessee: He wasn't great last season, and only rushed for 280 yards and two touchdowns, but if the passing game is better, which it should be if everyone is healthy, that will open things up for the Vols' running game. Lane is a bigger body, and has the talent to really make a name for himself in 2012.

LaDarius Perkins/Nick Griffin, Mississippi State: Now that Vick Ballard is gone, the Bulldogs will now turn to both Perkins and Griffin to carry the load in the backfield. Perkins has the makings of being a home-run threat with his explosion, but Griffin might be more like Ballard for the Bulldogs. He didn't get a lot of attention last season (he only carried the ball 16 times), but he's a real bruiser, and some around Starkville think he could be a real star and eventually be the every-down back for Mississippi State this fall.

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