Top performer: Running back

Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 continues with the running backs.

Past producers:

Just five of the top 10 statistical rushers return in 2012. The league's top two rushers from last year -- Trent Richardson and Michael Dyer -- are gone, leaving the race wide open for the title as the SEC's best running back this fall.

Here is the conference's top returning producer at running back:

Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt: He ranked third in the SEC in rushing with 1,193 yards and was second only to Richardson with 14 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 5.7 yards per carry in SEC games, while scoring seven of his rushing touchdowns in those contests. In four of Stacy's last seven games, he rushed for more than 100 yards an outing. In those games, he averaged 161.3 yards. Twelve of his 14 rushing touchdowns came in the last seven games of the season. Stacy isn't the biggest back in the league, but he can be quite elusive and has great vision. His speed gives him the ability to break long runs if the right hole opens up.

The SEC returns four more of the top 10 statistical rushers from a year ago:

  • Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: He rushed for 850 yards, five touchdowns and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

  • Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: In barely seven games, he rushed for 818 yards, 10 touchdowns and averaged 5 yards per carry.

  • Michael Ford, LSU: He rushed for 756 yards, seven touchdowns and averaged 6 yards per carry.

  • Spencer Ware, LSU: He rushed for 707 yards, eight touchdowns and averaged 4 yards per carry.

Lattimore would have been much more productive and probably would have challenged Richardson as the SEC's best back if not for his ACL injury halfway through the season. A totally healthy Lattimore is arguably the nation's top running back in 2012.

But don't forget about Arkansas' Knile Davis. Davis burst onto the scene back in 2010, after he rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns. However, he missed all of the 2011 season with a broken ankle. He didn't go through contact this spring, but Arkansas' coaches expect him to be 100 percent this fall. He probably isn't as powerful as Lattimore between the tackles, but he's faster and more agile. He'll be extremely fun to watch this fall.

Eddie Lacy just missed the cut because he finished the year ranked 11th in the SEC in rushing and now takes over for Richardson. He'll have a couple of other players to work with, but Lacy will be in charge of Alabama's running game and if he can overcome some nagging injuries, he'll be tough to stop this fall.

Newcomers Kendial Lawrence at Missouri or Texas A&M's Christine Michael will challenge for top dog, too. Even though Michael shared carries with Cyrus Gray and tore his ACL against Oklahoma halfway through the year, he ranked eighth in the Big 12 in rushing (899 yards). He was ahead of schedule this spring with his rehab.

Lawrence finished with 566 yards last year, after starter Henry Josey went down with a devastating knee injury. He took the majority of the reps this spring and while he isn't the biggest guy, he'll make defenders work to bring him down.

There are a host of talented players flying under the radar as well, so don't be shocked if some unheralded guys make some noise this fall.