Even in the SEC where nobody ever agrees on anything, I think we can all agree on who has the best set of running backs in the league.
That said, most of the top runners from a year ago have moved on.
Here’s how they rank heading into the 2010 season:
1. Alabama: This is a pretty easy choice when you have the two best running backs in the league on the same team, and one of them -- Mark Ingram -- won the Heisman Trophy last season. Here’s the kicker: The “other” guy -- Trent Richardson -- might be even more explosive. Redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy would be starting for a lot of teams around the country.
2. Georgia: Washaun Ealey was one of the more impressive freshmen in the league last season and had a brilliant November. He’ll team with Caleb King to give the Bulldogs the kind of one-two punch that should take some of the pressure off redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray. Senior Shaun Chapas is one of the better fullbacks in the country and a relentless blocker.
3. Auburn: Even with the departure of Ben Tate, the Tigers should have one of the strongest backfields in the league. Mario Fannin has been waiting for his shot at tailback after moving around to different positions. The coaches think he will have a Tate-like senior season. Onterio McCalebb has speed and moves, while incoming freshman Michael Dyer was one of the most coveted running back prospects in the country.
4. Arkansas: There aren’t any big names … yet. But check back again this time next year. Sophomore Ronnie Wingo Jr. weighs 230 pounds, has track speed and is just waiting to break out. Broderick Green is a 245-pound bruiser who scored 12 touchdowns last season. Dennis Johnson is coming off a terrific spring, and Knile Davis is another 220-pound speedster who’s run a sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash.
5. Florida: The problem is depth. There’s not a lot of it, especially when you consider that Chris Rainey has moved to the slot and Emmanuel Moody has never been able to stay healthy. Jeff Demps, though, has the kind of speed that scares anybody. He’s one of the best big-play threats in the league and will get even more chances this season. Look for the Gators to use a fullback more than they have in the past under Urban Meyer.
6. South Carolina: It’s unfair to brand true freshman Marcus Lattimore as the savior, and he’s not claiming to be. But the South Carolina fans can’t wait to see him in a Gamecocks uniform. One of the top running back prospects in the country, Lattimore possesses the speed, burst and power that all the great ones have. He also won’t have to do it alone. Kenny Miles, Brian Maddox and Jarvis Giles give South Carolina some quality depth.
7. Kentucky: Not only is Derrick Locke underrated, but he’s also one of those guys who can do a little bit of everything. He’s one of the top kickoff returners in the SEC and also caught 31 passes last season. A track athlete when he came to Kentucky, Locke has great speed and runs a lot bigger than his size (191 pounds). The Wildcats also like what they’ve seen from sophomore Donald Russell and redshirt freshman Jonathan George.
8. Vanderbilt: When last season began, it looked like Zac Stacy might be Vanderbilt’s candidate for SEC Freshman of the Year honors. But Stacy was slowed by an ankle injury, and Warren Norman set sail on a record-breaking season. He broke Herschel Walker’s freshman record in the SEC for all-purpose yards. Norman and Stacy will be joined this season by redshirt freshman Wesley Tate, the younger brother of former Notre Dame star Golden Tate.
9. Ole Miss: Nobody could touch Dexter McCluster, literally, once the Rebels turned him loose last season. Now comes the hard part – finding somebody to make all the plays he did a year ago. The reality is that it won’t be just one person. Brandon Bolden is the starter. He’s lost weight and was a warrior in the Rebels’ offseason program. Junior Enrique Davis, a big-time recruit a couple of years ago, had his best spring, while Rodney Scott will also factor into the rotation.
10. LSU: The Tigers’ entire running game was a disappointment a year ago, and much of that was on an offensive line that simply didn’t play very well. Charles Scott is gone, and the Tigers will miss him. But when given the chance last season, Stevan Ridley showed flashes of being a marquee SEC back. He’s got a nice blend of size and speed. The Tigers could sure use a healthy Richard Murphy this fall, and the newcomers to watch are redshirt freshman Michael Ford and true freshman Spencer Ware.
11. Tennessee: Montario Hardesty came out of the shadows to have a fabulous season a year ago and wound up going in the second round of the draft. The Vols hope Tauren Poole can be that guy this season. Buried on the depth chart behind Hardesty and Bryce Brown last season, Poole showed what he could do in the spring. Brown has since departed, but the other touted running back Lane Kiffin brought in last year, David Oku, will also see his role increase.
12. Mississippi State: Anthony Dixon was the heartbeat of the Mississippi State offense last season, and replacing him won’t be easy. When the spring concluded, Robert Elliott and junior college newcomer Vick Ballard were running a neck-and-neck battle for the starting job. Elliott is one of those guys who just needs to figure it out, because he’s plenty talented. Redshirt freshman Montrell Conner (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) also had his moments in the spring.