One of the best aspects of the college game is that no matter how many players graduate or leave early to move on to the next level, at the end of the day the football program remains — and readies itself for the next season with a new batch of emerging talent.
With the 2010 NFL Draft in the books and the spring football season coming to a close on college campuses, the National Football Post takes a look at some of the players who will be replacing the marquee names drafted two weeks ago.
Second in the series will be a look at the running backs who will become household names by the time opening kickoff arrives on Thursday, Sept. 2. This is part two in the running backs series. See part one here.
Allen Bradford/Marc Tyler/Curtis McNeal/Dillon Baxter, USC: Joe McKnight had one of the quietest 1,000-yard rushing seasons in recent memory in 2009, but look for the Trojans to make some noise on the ground in 2010 under new head coach Lane Kiffin. Allen Bradford led a combined 252-yard effort from the backfield against Monte Kiffin’s defense in the team’s spring game despite running behind a banged-up offensive line. Junior Marc Tyler and sophomore Curtis McNeal combined for 75 yards in 15 carries in the scrimmage, while Dillon Baxter displayed his phenomenal skill set, albeit mostly against the second-team defense. Still, after a 129-yard performance, it’s hard to believe that the freshman won’t get a decent amount of touches in the fall within the offense. Under Kiffin, expect this unit to be tougher and more physical in short-yardage situations. At least, that’s what the new staff has stressed throughout the spring.
Bradford: 115 rushes for 668 yards and 8 TDs (5.8 YPC)
Tyler: 5 rushes for 72 yards and 1 TD (14.4 YPC)
McNeal: 6 rushes for 33 yards and 0 TDs (5.5 YPC)
Robert Elliott/Vick Ballard/Montrell Connor, Mississippi State: There may not have been a more overlooked back than the Bulldogs’ Anthony Dixon last season. Where would Dan Mullen’s offense have been without the workhorse and new San Francisco 49er? We may find out this fall as no one stood out this spring in the competition to replace Dixon in the backfield. Junior Robert Elliott is the most experienced of the three battling for carries, but junior college transfer Vick Ballard and redshirt freshman Montrell Connor will have their chance to gain an upper hand in the fall.
Elliott: 44 rushes for 221 yards and 1 TD (5.0 YPC)
Anthony Allen/Roddy Jones, Georgia Tech: Anthony Allen will take over for former ACC player of the year Jonathan Dwyer at the B-back spot, while Roddy Jones will play the A-back in the Yellow Jackets’ triple option attack. At B-back, Allen will be more of a power runner, as that position is equivalent to that of a fullback in a traditional offense. Spring practice provided an opportunity for the entire offense to get used to the changes. Allen led all rushers with 91 yards on 15 carries in the team’s spring game. And while he may not have the breakaway speed of Dwyer, he’s very tough between the tackles, quick to the hole and a better pass catcher. Head coach Paul Johnson’s offense will once again be tough to beat in the fall.
Allen: 64 rushes for 618 yards and 6 TDs (9.7 YPC)
Jones: 53 rushes for 345 yards and 3 TDs (6.5 YPC)
Stevan Ridley/Richard Murphy/Michael Ford, LSU: While much of the talk will focus on replacing Charles Scott, don’t forget that Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday were also valuable commodities for the Tigers, although the ground game as a whole was rather disappointing last season. But head coach Les Miles should see a revived rushing attack in 2010. Junior Stevan Ridley showed flashes of talent last season when injuries plagued Scott and Williams. He runs with power, but there are questions about his agility against speedy SEC defenses. Richard Murphy returns after missing most of ‘09 with a knee injury. And then there is the highly recruited back who redshirted last year, Michael Ford. Ford ran for 139 yards on 19 carries in the team’s spring game and displayed the speed and vision that could pose problems for defenses across the league.
Ridley: 45 rushes for 180 yards and 3 TDs (4.0 YPC)
Murphy: 2 rushes for 10 yards and 0 TD (5.0 YPC)
Other notable running backs stepping into bigger roles:
Kendall Hunter for Keith Toston, Oklahoma State: After missing half of the ‘09 season with a foot injury, Kendall Hunter is now healthy and says he’s comfortable in the new offensive scheme in Stillwater, Okla. Head coach Mike Gundy believes Hunter could touch the ball as much as 250 times in his senior year — in varied fashion, as the new offense will utilize running backs in unique ways, including different pass-catching roles. In 2008, Hunter led the Big 12 with 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns.
DeMarco Murray for Chris Brown, Oklahoma: Can DeMarco Murray go through an entire season without injury? The oft-injured back had his best season as a redshirt freshman in 2007, averaging 6 yards per carry and running for 13 touchdowns. Since then? Injuries and disappointing play. With Chris Brown gone, the Sooners desperately need a big year from Murray, whose 35 rushing touchdowns rank ninth on OU’s all-time list.
Vincent Smith/Michael Shaw/Fitzgerald Toussaint for Carlos Brown/Brandon Minor, Michigan: Diminutive Vincent Smith is coming off knee surgery, but he averaged 5.8 yards per carry last season. Michael Shaw will also see plenty of touches, with Fitz Toussaint looking to make an impact during fall camp.
Damien Berry for Javarris James, Miami (FL): Graig Cooper would have been the starter if not for the terrible knee injury that will sideline him for the entire season. Damien Berry has been described by head coach Randy Shannon as “the total package.”
Ronnie Wingo for Michael Smith, Arkansas: At 6-3 and near 230 pounds, sophomore Ronnie Wingo is the big back that head coach Bobby Petrino loves. He improved as the ’09 season progressed, finishing with 319 yards on just 49 carries and three scores. Big and fast, Wingo will see a huge jump in his numbers next fall. However, he is just one of four running backs who Petrino will count on throughout the season — including sophomore Knile Davis, junior Broderick Green and junior Dennis Johnson.
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