College Football Rankings: Top 10 Running Backs in 2011

Andrew Dunn@atdu222Correspondent IIAugust 24, 2011

College Football Rankings: Top 10 Running Backs in 2011

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    One of the greatest things about the NCAA is that the player plays for the love of the game. A bunch of student athletes step onto the field to win for the team, not just to rack up their next paycheck.

    In short, I love the team aspect. Unfortunately, this list is comprised of certain individuals who are destined to break free of the pack in 2011. Naturally, that implies I'll be escaping the team aspect for at least this article.

    There are a couple guys who certainly can break away from the rest of the pack, but there are plenty of good running backs this year.

    Here are the top 10 all-around backs that the NCAA has to offer.

10. Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky University

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    The potential downfall for Rainey is that he plays for the lowly Hilltoppers in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The offensive line for the team is downright atrocious. 

    There will be only one bright spot at WKU, and it will be the small Bobby Rainey. Over his first three years in school, Rainey has shown capabilities of being a breakout star comparable to Darren Sproles. 

    Last season, the Hilltoppers went 2-10 in the lowly Sun Belt, winning games against only Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State. Rainey managed to pull off a 1,649-yard season behind a terrible line, running for 15 touchdowns.

    The interesting tests for the agile Rainey in 2011 will be on November 12 against the LSU Tigers. 

    Still, in his senior season, Rainey's stats will be very similar to his 2010 numbers.

9. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford Cardinal

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    Taylor's toughest task this year will be getting out of the shadow of Andrew Luck. Stanford is going to be a passing team this year.

    However, Taylor brings a great dual-threat to the Stanford offense. 

    He had a stellar sophomore campaign, running for over 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns. Like Bobby Rainey, Taylor is small and agile. He won't run over anyone, but he'll certainly run by them.

    Taylor also caught 28 passes in 2010, so he can be another receiver in Luck's powerful offense. 

    How useful he is for the Cardinal this year will be interesting to see. He only carried 223 times in 2010, but expect to see him get at least 250 in 2011 and break 1,300 yards.

8. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Lattimore is widely considered to be one of the top five runners in the game. Up to now, there hasn't been enough proof, but mostly because the running game has not been the main focus of the Gamecocks.

    That is the reason Lattimore enters at No. 9. He just isn't going to get enough carries to contend with the nation's top runners. In addition, he's rather inconsistent, sometimes averaging two yards a carry, and other times average close to 10.

    On the positive side, he had an impressive 4.8 yards per carry in 2010 en route to a 17 touchdown year, and accumulating 1,197 yards.

    It was an impressive feat for a true freshman. 

    Lattimore certainly has breakaway speed and will sneak through any gap the offense can hand him.  Being in the SEC makes it tough, but Lattimore will run for 1,300 yards.

7. Lance Dunbar, North Texas Mean Green

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    After three years playing for the Mean Green, Dunbar's career yards per carry is 5.7—that's top 10 in the nation in that time frame.

    Last season, Dunbar rushed for 1,553 yards for a North Texas team that never had much to be excited about. Coming in at 5'9" tall, Dunbar's agility and ability to spin away from defenders ranks among the best. 

    This man has the ability to top 2,000 yards, which would be an incredible feat. 

    He's in the Sun Belt conference, which may burden his credibility amongst the nation. With guys like Lattimore running against Alabama and LSU, Dunbar may be overlooked.

    Be that as it may, watch Dunbar run for over 1,800 yards in 2011. 

6. David Wilson, Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Wilson is a tough one to gauge, given his limited amount of carries over the last two years.

    What Wilson is guaranteed to have is a major upside. He has set high goals for himself this season, and most experts would agree that he has the abilities to meet them.

    The starting job in the backfield is now firmly in his grasp, and the powerful running back aims to breakout. He has quick feet and legs strong enough to plow through any defender in the nation. 

    With the departure of quarterback Tyrod Taylor to the NFL, Virginia Tech is going to need a new plan of attack, which is where Wilson comes into the equation.

    He will meet his goal of 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns.

5. Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State Aztecs

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    Hillman had one of the best freshman campaigns a team could ask for. He carried the ball 262 times for 1,532 yards, good for 5.8 yards per carry. Also keep in mind that he ran for an astonishing 228 yards in the Poinsettia Bowl on December 23.

    San Diego State returns to the field on September 3 against Cal Poly, and I fully expect Hillman to pick up at least 200 yards. He looked so good last year for an above average Aztec team.

    With games against Boise State, TCU, Michigan and Fresno State, Hillman's approach will be amazing to watch. He's gotten more patient in finding holes between the lines over the offseason, making him an even more frightening back.

    Hillman will pick up at least 1,800 yards in 2011, and will lead the Aztecs to a great season of two losses or fewer.

4. Doug Martin, Boise State Broncos

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    In 2010, Martin averaged over six yards per carry, and that was having over 200 carries.

    He's not just another "overrated" Boise player, as has been the stereotype by some.

    Martin is capable of carrying defenders on his back down the field, as depicted by the picture. He may not be the best guy to bowl over them, but he can certainly rack up some yards after contact.

    With an offense whose focal point is still Kellen Moore, Martin may be a bit high on this list. However, in terms of being an all-around running back, Martin deserves a lot of credit.

    He caught 28 passes in addition to 201 carries in 2010. Expect both numbers to increase in 2011, and 1,500 rushing yards is inevitable.

3. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh Panthers

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    This is perhaps my boldest prediction of the list.  Graham has one of the largest potentials to breakout.

    Unfortunately, he also has a large potential to bust.

    Still, he's in the Big East, so he's not running against some of the bigger defensive juggernauts in the country.  Last season, Graham carried for only 922 yards, but that was on only 148 carries. 

    Based on that average, if Graham carried 340 times, he would finish the year with over 2,100 yards.

    Thus, the potential I mentioned before.

    The other plus to Graham is that he can be a receiver, having caught for 213 yards in 2010.

    Graham has a major upside, and expect him to break 1,800 rushing yards in 2011, and more than 400 in receiving.

2. LaMichael James, Oregon Ducks

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    Here's a man who was the key star and focal point for the national runners-up Oregon Ducks.

    He ran for 1,741 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2010 en route to a Doak Walker Award. If that's not effective, I don't know what is.

    James will return to the Ducks for his junior season—perhaps his last in Oregon.

    Running through the Pac-12 will be no easy task, but he's certainly the shining star of the conference.  How he runs against LSU on September 3 may say a lot about his season.

    Don't expect to see James in Oregon in 2012, as he will accumulate 1,900 yards and 23 touchdowns, and leave for the NFL.

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama Crimson Tide

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    I may catch some major heat for Richardson being No. 1 over a proven star in LaMichael James, but Richardson has such a unique running style.

    Not many guys can cut through holes with "sweet feet" and also be able to blister through defenders at any time—Richardson can.

    Plus, he's playing for a Nick Saban team. That would be good enough for me as a simple observer, but as a writer, that's just not enough justification.

    Look at what Saban produced in Mark Ingram—that's who groomed Richardson to this point.

    Watch for him to accumulate well over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and win the Heisman Trophy.