August 19, 2010

Preseason power rankings: Running backs

Starting today, we unveil our preseason power rankings at each position.

You can check out our final 2009 power rankings here. We will update the power rankings each week during the regular season and release the final rankings for the season after the BCS title game.

The rating of a player and coach can fluctuate each week during the season depending on how they fared the previous week, but the power rankings measure overall career performances as well as their most recent results.

Here are the nation's top 20 running backs. Next up: wide receivers and tight ends.


1. Mark Ingram, Alabama (5-10/215, Jr.)
BUZZ: The reigning Heisman winner, Ingram went from solid backup in '08 to bona-fide star in '09. He ran for 1,658 yards and 17 TDs and averaged 6.1 yards per carry. He had at least one run of 20 yards in nine games and at least one of 30 in six games. He had nine 100-yard games and scored at least twice in eight games.

2. Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh (5-8/195, Soph.)
BUZZ: Lewis ran for 1,799 yards last season; that's second-most in school history, behind only Tony Dorsett. He was the Big East's rookie of the year and offensive player of the year.

3. LaMichael James, Oregon (5-9/185, Soph.)
BUZZ: The suspension of LeGarrette Blount opened the door last season for James, a redshirt freshman who was expected to be a backup. He barely played in the first two games, then burst on the scene. He rushed for 1,546 yards and had six 150-yard games.

4. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech (5-10/211, Soph.)
BUZZ: As with James, another's player travails (an injury to Darren Evans) opened the door for Williams. He responded by rushing for a school-record 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns. He was fifth in the nation in rushing and tied for fourth in scoring.

5. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State (5-7/191, Jr.)
BUZZ: Despite his lack of size, Rodgers is a tough between-the-tackles runner who also can turn the corner. He ran for 1,440 yards and had 78 receptions last season.

6. John Clay, Wisconsin (6-1/248, Jr.)
BUZZ: Clay is the latest model off the Wisconsin running back assembly line. He ran for 1,517 yards last season and was named the Big Ten's offensive player of the year. Clay had surgery on both ankles in the offseason and has said he's finally feels healthy for the first time as a collegian.

7. Noel Devine, West Virginia (5-8/180, Sr.)
BUZZ: The nation's most explosive player, Devine also has proved - despite his lack of size - that he can run inside, too. Devine rushed for 1,465 yards and 13 TDs last season. He had at least one 20-yard run in 11 games, and he was the only player in the nation to have at least one 70-yard run in four games.

8. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State (6-2/228, Sr.)
BUZZ: Thomas played quarterback and linebacker in high school in tiny Hilliard, Fla., but after transferring in from junior college, he became the focal point of K-State's offense last season. He led the Big 12 with 1,265 yards and had five 100-yard games.

9. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State (5-8.197, Sr.)
BUZZ: Hunter was hampered by injuries last season, but he's healthy now and the Cowboys need him to match his 2008 production. That season, he led the Big 12 in rushing with 1,555 yards and rushed for 16 TDs.

10. Bernard Pierce, Temple (6-0/212, Soph.)
BUZZ: Pierce was the main reason the Owls received their first bowl bid since 1979. He rushed for 1,361 yards and a school-record 16 TDs. Those numbers become more impressive when you consider that the Owls' passing attack was atrocious and that, because of injuries, he had four games with seven or fewer carries, including a two-game stretch when he had one carry.

11. Evan Royster, Penn State (6-1/228, Sr.)
BUZZ: Royster topped 200 carries for the first time in his career last season, rushing for 1,168 yards and 16 touchdowns. He's a quick and elusive runner who has averaged more than 6.0 yards per carry in his career. Penn State may rely on him even more as a senior, his first season without a seasoned quarterback.

12. Shane Vereen, California (5-10/204, Jr.)
BUZZ: Cal lacked a 1,000-yard rusher last season for the first time since 2001. Vereen came close, though, with 952 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He and Jahvid Best split carries because of Best's injury issues. With Best off to the NFL, Vereen appears to be a lock to join Cal's crowded 1,000-yard club under Jeff Tedford.

13. Montel Harris, Boston College (5-10/200, Jr.)
BUZZ: Boston College dipped into Jacksonville to sign Harris (the Eagles pried him away from ... Duke). He started paying dividends immediately, rushing for a BC freshman-record 900 yards. As a sophomore last season, he was the second-leading rusher in the ACC with 1,457 yards, topping 100 yards in each of the last four games.

14. Donald Buckram, UTEP (5-10/195, Sr.)
BUZZ: Playing on a 4-8 team didn't help Buckram get noticed, but Conference USA defensive coordinators are plenty familiar with his work. He was fourth in the nation in rushing last season with 1,594 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also was a factor in the passing game with 30 catches. His breakout came in a 262-yard, four-touchdown performance in an upset of Houston.

15. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma (6-1/207, Sr.)
BUZZ: With 45 touchdowns in 36 games, the oft-injured Murray is the nation's active leading scorer excluding kickers. Despite his career accomplishments, he's coming off career-lows in rushing yards (705), rushing touchdowns (eight) and total touchdowns (12). If Murray can stay healthy, he can easily eclipse his numbers from last season.

16. Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech (6-0/229, Sr.)
BUZZ: Allen has waited his time at two schools - Louisville and now Georgia Tech - for his turn. Jonathan Dwyer left school early for the draft, leaving Allen as the primary back in the Yellow Jackets' offense. He's a big back who rushed for 618 yards and averaged 9.7 yards per carry last season.

17. Vai Taua, Nevada (5-10/220, Sr.)
BUZZ: Taua emerged in 2008 after replacing an injured Luke Lippincott. When Lippincott returned last season, Nevada couldn't afford to cut down on Taua's carries - or Lippincott's, or quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Wolf Pack found room for all three. They became the most prolific trio in NCAA history as the first three backs to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Taua ran for 1,345 yards and 10 TDs last season.

18. Derrick Locke, Kentucky (5-9/190, Sr.)
BUZZ: Locke was a super-sub for the Wildcats in 2007 before playing only seven games because of a knee injury as a sophomore in 2008. Last season, his first as a full-time player, Locke rushed for 907 yards and six touchdowns while catching 31 passes. He's also one of the best kick returners in the SEC.

19. Jordan Todman, Connecticut (5-9/193, Jr.)
BUZZ: Todman and Andre Dixon combined for 2,281 yards and 28 touchdowns last season as both finished in the top five in the Big East in rushing. Todman is the only one to return, but he'll have several young Huskies running backs looking to share carries this season. Randy Edsall likes to run the ball, so Todman - who ran for 1,188 yards and 14 TDs in '09 - should be in for another productive season.

20. Allen Bradford, USC (6-0/235, Sr.)
BUZZ: USC signed a glut of highly touted running backs in 2006 and '07 and has needed just about every one of them. Bradford backed up Joe McKnight last season and still rushed for 668 yards and eight touchdowns. His best moment came against Oregon State, when he rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.

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