It's Friday, and that means it's time to answer your SEC questions.
Fall camp is right around the corner, which means position battles are near, unknown players are on the brink of becoming superstars and the seats of coaches are about to heat up. Thanks for your questions, and if they weren't answered this week, I'll be sure to save them for the future.
And we're off!
@BarrettSallee How close is the SEC to having a Heisman winning RB? Since 1960, just FOUR RB from the current SEC have won.— Dan Vasta (@CI_StatsGuru) June 10, 2014
Those four, of course, are Alabama's Mark Ingram, Auburn's Bo Jackson, Georgia's Herschel Walker and South Carolina's George Rogers (South Carolina wasn't a member of the SEC at the time).
As far as the running back crop this year in the SEC, this is as good as it has been in a long time. Georgia's Todd Gurley, South Carolina's Mike Davis and Alabama's duo of Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon will be featured prominently on Heisman watch lists and Las Vegas odds boards this summer. All of them are not only immensely talented, but will be catalysts for their respective offenses, even if Alabama goes more by committee.
So from that perspective, the SEC is set up well. The combination of extremely talented running backs and offensive coaches who know how to feature them will allow several SEC running backs to put up gaudy numbers.
The problem is that it's also blocked by quarterbacks who are going to light up opposing defenses with video game stats. That will play well in the race to win what has become a quarterback-driven award. UCLA's Brett Hundley, Florida State's Jameis Winston, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Oregon's Marcus Mariota are just a few of the talented quarterbacks in college football who will benefit from high-profile games and video game statistics.
With that said, though, this is probably the best shot SEC running backs have had to win the Heisman since Ingram won it in 2009. It's going to be a little more of a run-heavy league in 2014, and while there are quarterbacks around the country blocking the SEC's running backs, offensive coordinators around the country are becoming more creative with their schemes, allowing quarterbacks to put up video game statistics and make it difficult for running backs to claim college football's greatest individual prize.
Simply put, if you're thinking about going to Las Vegas and placing a Heisman bet on an SEC running back this year, just send your money to me instead. I'll go buy some ribs for the smoker this weekend.
@BarrettSallee Who will become the number 1 running back for Auburn this year?— Mitchell Tate (@Mitchell_Tate4) June 6, 2014
Speaking of Heisman Trophy running backs, Auburn's looking to replace a Heisman finalist from a year ago at the position.
Tre Mason is gone at Auburn and takes his 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns from 2013 with him to St. Louis to play on Sundays. In his place, seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will get the first crack at the top spot on the depth chart, with redshirt freshman Peyton Barber and true freshman "Roc" Thomas vying to unseat them.
While head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will give Grant—who thrived as an edge rusher last year—to win the job outright, Artis-Payne will win the "1A" role, be the feature back and thrive in that role. Grant will settle back into his role from last year as a weapon off the edge, and Barber and Thomas will be relegated to backup duties.
Whether I'm right or wrong, the running backs at Auburn will move the football. Malzahn has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight college seasons, and with quarterback Nick Marshall and four offensive linemen returning, they'll move it on the ground again in 2014.
Don't be surprised if Artis-Payne—or whoever emerges as the No. 1 running back—gets some Heisman love this season.
@BarrettSallee Could you please compare Arkansas' and A&M's RB talent? I actually think it's comparable.— Carlos Toraño (@catorano) June 7, 2014
Initially, people will look at this question and say "no way" and that it's not comparable.
Well, maybe not before the season. Arkansas returns sophomore Alex Collins and his 1,026 yards and junior Jonathan Williams and his 900 yards, and sophomore Korliss Marshall has big-play ability. On paper, Arkansas boasts one of the nation's top rushing attacks and is coached by a head coach in Bret Bielema who likes to feature a small village of running backs.
But after the season, it wouldn't shock me at all if Texas A&M jumps into that discussion.
Tra Carson is more than just a bruiser and will emerge as one of the top backs in the SEC now that he's likely going to be the feature back. Trey Williams is dangerous in space, Brandon Williams has a ton of upside as long as he holds on to the ball and redshirt freshman James White should provide quality depth.
Couple that with the flexibility of the offense that head coach Kevin Sumlin has demonstrated throughout his college coaching career, and you have a recipe for success.
Sumlin plays to his strengths, and with uncertainty and youth at the quarterback position whether sophomore Kenny Hill or freshman Kyle Allen wins the job, his most reliable move would be to focus more on the running backs—especially early—and allow the eventual winner at quarterback to settle in to the new role.
The gap is pretty wide between Arkansas' running backs and Texas A&M's right now, but that won't last for long once toe meets leather in 2014.
Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.com, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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