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2021 SEC Unit Ranks: Running Backs

Maybe we should go back to the 70s?

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Tennessee
Silky smooth.
Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

Quarterbacks have taken center stage in college football. Running backs used to be the primary stars, but the shift towards the passing game over the past decade has diminished the star power of what was once the glamor position in college sports.

I’m not saying running backs are taking center stage again, but this is a season in the SEC in which the quarterback position has a lot of question marks while the running backs? Well, it is loaded as hell.

A large number of teams not only return their starter, but nearly their full stable of backs. There is an embarrassment of riches at the position this year which means, well, the same thing as always now. A quarterback will still hog the spotlight.

1 TEXAS A&M. While Kevin Harris is easily the best returning runner in the SEC, Isaiah Spiller is not far off (188-1036-9). A&M’s strength isn’t just the top of the depth chart but a shockingly deep room. Devon Achane averaged 8.47 yards per carry and Ainias Smith actually was A&M’s leading receiver, which is why he might move to the outside. They are loaded.

2 SOUTH CAROLINA, Kevin Harris was the SEC’s leading rusher last season by per game average. And he’s back. He rushed for 185-1138-15 last season. Guys, people don’t average over 6 yards per carry when they also have nearly 200 carries. No one comes close to Harris’ combination of efficiency and ability to carry a huge load.

3 GEORGIA. Zamir White (144-779-11) is another stud runner backed up by a deep room full of multiple options. The Dawgs running game comes at you in waves, and Cook and McIntosh keep those carries down to prevent overuse.

4 OLE MISS. The Rebels actually led the SEC last year in rushing yards per game, though a lot of that is Matt Corral. But he’s not the only guy who can run: Ole Miss returns three backs who finished in the top 25 in rushing yards last season, depth matched only by A&M. Jerrion Early (147-745-9) can handle the load, but he has tons of help and these guys can all make plays in the passing game as well.

5 KENTUCKY. The Wildcats lose Asim Rose, but keep the other part of their powerful 1-2 punch, Chris Rodriguez who posted a 119-785-11. He’ll get more carries this season and is a genuine contender to lead the SEC in rushing.

6 AUBURN. Tank Bigsby (138-834-5) is just as good of a runner as anyone in the conference, but the Auburn stable lacks the depth of the top few teams. The Tigers had one of the best backs in the SEC, yet ranked middle of the pack in rushing, which sort of shows you the drop off.

7 LSU. I can’t figure out why LSU’s overall run game was so poor, as the Tigers boast two backs who were top ten runners, if only just barely. They do need one of Tyrion Davis-Price (104-446-3) or John Emery (75-378-3) to emerge as the guy.

8 ALABAMA. The Tide go into the season planning to start a senior running back who is not the returning starter. That’s a red flag anywhere, as the top running backs emerge early in their career and usually go pro early. Now, Bama has always had a stocked stable, but I’m not sure who emerges this year.

9 ARKANSAS. Trelon Smith is a really good running back, too. He rushed for 134-710-5 last season. There’s a depth problem here and he’s not quite elite, but their ranking is more a function of how good everyone else is than an indictment of the Hogs.

10 FLORIDA. OK, we’re getting into the problematic running games. The Gators return Dameon Pierce (106-503-4) who is okay, I guess. Malik Davis has threatened to turn into a player for years but I think the clock has struck midnight on that one. There’s potential, but hope is not a plan.

11 MIZZOU. After years of running Larry Roundtree into the ground, they now are staring at a pretty empty cupboard. Tyler Badie averaged over 5 yards a carry in limited use, so maybe they can do something.

12 TENNESSEE. The Vols had a pretty bad rushing offense last season, and now Eric Gray has entered the transfer portal. They are in deep trouble.

13 VANDERBILT. The Commodores averaged 3.01 yards per carry as a team, which is horrible. They are also rebuilding the room from scratch. Ummm... good luck?

14 MISSISSIPPI ST. Cover your eyes. Hide the children. State rushed for only 43.9 yards per game, which is an unfathomably low number. But hey, that’s just because they throw it a lot, right? Nope. State average 2.37 yards per carry as a team. TWO POINT THREE SEVEN. I can’t even wrap my head around this.