Ranking the SEC running backs

What a thankless task it is to rank the top 10 running backs in the SEC.

Can I cheat and do it alphabetically?

The talent at this position is extraordinary, and you’re going to see a lot of these guys in the NFL over the next few years.

We are including freshmen and newcomers in these rankings, because the idea is to pick who we think will be the 10 best players for this coming season.

So here goes:

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama, Jr.: Now we get to see Richardson as Alabama’s go-to back, and it should be something to see. He’s a freak physically and runs through defenders and around them in equally stunning fashion.

2. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, So.: I’m sure we’ll hear it from South Carolina fans for not having Lattimore in the No. 1 spot. The truth is that it could go either way. Lattimore has bulked up to 230 pounds, which should help his durability.

3. Knile Davis, Arkansas, Jr.: To have a guy coming off a 1,322-yard season No. 3 on this list tells you how good the running backs are in this league. What separates Davis is that he can get the tough yards and also has the speed to break the long ones.

4. Mike Dyer, Auburn, So.: The Offensive MVP of the BCS National Championship Game a year ago, Dyer will be even better as a sophomore. He’s hard to tackle, runs low to the ground and will be the centerpiece of Auburn’s offense in 2011.

5. Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss, Sr.: In just about any other league, Bolden would be right there at the top. He averaged 6 yards per carry last season and scored 17 touchdowns. He’s also one of the best pass-catching backs in the SEC.

6. Spencer Ware, LSU, So.: The LSU coaches can’t wait to turn Ware loose this coming season. The 5-foot-11, 225-pound sophomore showed off his electrifying moves in the Cotton Bowl last season and will show off even more of them in 2011.

7. Vick Ballard, Mississippi State, Sr.: Nobody knew much about Ballard this time a year ago. They do now after he rushed for 968 yards and 19 touchdowns in his debut season in Starkville after coming over from junior college.

8. Onterio McCalebb, Auburn, Jr.: One of the premier home-run threats in college football, McCalebb is a quick-strike touchdown waiting to happen. Just ask LSU from a year ago. McCalebb has also bulked up and is more durable than he was when he arrived on the Plains.

9. Chris Rainey, Florida, Sr.: When he returned from his suspension last season, Rainey was the Gators’ top playmaker. Charlie Weis will see to it that Rainey gets touches as both a runner and receiver, and when he gets a step, look out.

10. Tauren Poole, Tennessee, Sr.: He’s not a burner, and he’s not exceptionally big, but Poole runs with his heart on his sleeve. He rushed for 1,034 yards last season and tied for the SEC lead with six 100-yard games.