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Running backs will dominate SEC play in ’14

Published 10:09am Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Everything always runs in cycles. Conference power, fashion trends, my dishwasher – all have cycles.
Last year for the SEC it was the year of the quarterback. A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger and Johnny Manziel were all record-setters,  if not history makers. James Franklin, Nick Marshall and Connor Shaw were nothing to sneeze at, either.
At times, any of those seven names could have been considered for first team all SEC honors. However, 2014 will probably see a drop off in league-wide QB quality, as most of those players have moved on or lost key components to their success.
But is losing your starting quarterback necessarily a death sentence? Not at all.
Last year, the two BCS title game participants had new QBs. One was a redshirt freshman (Jameis Winston), and the other didn’t even go through a spring practice before starting (Nick Marshall).
Before the BCS title game in 2012, Notre Dame, the  BCS runner up, had played with a new starter. Alabama won the 2011 national crown with a guy named A.J. McCarron, who had been in a heated battle for the starter’s gig that fall.
In 2009 and 2010, ‘Bama and Auburn respectively won trophies using first-year QBs.
So breaking in a new QB isn’t always a precursor to a bad season. However, in 2014 SEC teams may revert to an old favorite to compete for titles: the running back.
The league that gave the world Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Darren McFadden and Shaun Alexander may have the best collection of backs in decades.
While it is true the league lost offensive MVP Tre Mason and LSU back Jeremy Hill,  it should still see fantastic production from just about every team.
A healthy Todd Gurley at Georgia is as powerful of a back as there is in the country. His back up, Keith Marshall, is no slouch either.
Alabama has T.J. Yeldon returning after what seemed like a sophomore slump (despite his 1,235 yards, he didn’t seem as dynamic as he was as a freshman), but all of the talk this summer will be about Derrick Henry. Henry is not only the national high school leader in career yards, but his breakout performance in the Sugar Bowl was the lone bright spot for the Tide.
LSU may have lost Hill as I mentioned before, but I could argue the Tigers actually upgraded at RB when they signed Leonard Fournette. Fournette was the most sought-after back in more than five years and my bet is he starts day one in Baton Rouge.
Arkansas’ Alex Collins was a shoo-in for Freshman of the Year in 2013, and he is poised to easily eclipse the 1,026 yards from last season – as long as the Arkansas coaches can find a way to keep his head on straight.
I haven’t even mentioned South Carolina’s Mike Davis yet either. That kid is a compact powerhouse who is the league’s second leading returning rusher.
There is no telling who will be running the ball for Auburn, but last year taught us their running game will be potent. Besides, the Tigers have more good legs than a cannibal’s pickling jar (see, cannibals like to eat people and they …  may … have … a jar to … ahhh, forget it).
In the new fast-paced, toss-it-everywhere world of college football, the SEC will have the best collective line up of running backs in years. I, for one, am happy to see it.
Robinson is a sports columnist for The Outlook.

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