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Busting Loose: 2014 SEC Running Back Rankings

No matter where we ranked your team, they still suck.

Kevin C. Cox

A Note From the Authors, In Which They Argue

For the last few weeks, we've placed a note on our methodology for these rankings1 at the top of the page, but apparently some number of casual readers can't distinguish between the rankings that we make (a serious endeavor striving for accuracy) and the comments that we append to said rankings (a humorous compilation of dumb jokes, pop culture references, hit-or-miss puns, and general attempts to mock and disparage all our SEC compatriots). So this week, to dispel any misconceptions, we've decided to provide a glimpse into the process.  We're all about transparency, baby!

The following is an accurate, though non-comprehensive, recounting of the creation of our rankings (some of the texts have been maneuvered for readability, but the content is unaltered).

Step 1: Parameters


Step 2: Cast of Characters



Step 3: Best Back Debate




So there you have it.

Also, it appears that other people (some of whom we like) -- but whose teams we certainly don't -- are writing ballots as well, so feel free to peruse and mock the contents mercilessly: Ale 8 drinkers and Old South fetishists (who do not count spelling as one of their strengths....Marlon Lane.....come on, man!).

Without further ado, we present for your convenience, entertainment, and education the Rocky Top Talk running back rankings for 2014:


1.  Alabama (tie)

This isn't even fair. I'm really high on Derrick Henry.  Like, if I were any higher on Derrick Henry, I'd be Derrick Henry's hairline.  I mean, the man blitzkrieg'd through Oklahoma like the second coming of General George Custer.  It was one of those moments when you knew you were watching somebody special.  That what you were witnessing on the television in front of you was greatness.  Greatness doesn't take a "wait and see" approach. You can see it in a single play, and Henry gave us more than a handful.


That honor goes to junior T.J. Yeldon, who ran over, around, and through Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o in the 2012 National Championship game in one of the biggest mismatches since Bo Jackson embarrassed the Boz. For an encore, Yeldon knocked up Te'o's fake girlfriend and then took Te'o's mother Dorothy Te'o out for a nice seafood dinner and never called her again.

The only good news is that there's still just one ball.

1.  Georgia (tie)

I don't normally like to say nice things about Georgia, but here's the thing: Todd Gurley (see above text message convo) is arguably the best back in the league, and Georgia recruited two elite backs in the 2014 class, so the Dawgs should be fine even if Keith Marshall returns a step slow from injury (which should be expected; knee injuries are no joke).

About those two freshmen running backs: Sony Michel played for a powerhouse American Heritage squad that won a state championship despite being one of the most poorly coached teams I've ever seen. Seriously, it's just a bunch of talented athletes who have no idea how to play football running around like headless chickens. Gus Malzahn must masturbate furiously while thinking about how many points he could have scored with this lineup: Torrance Gibson (ATH), Michel (RB), Dredrick Snelson (WR), Tarvarus McFadden (CB), Brandon Johnson (WR), and Isaiah McKenzie (WR/CB, also a Georgia commit), all of whom are four or five star recruits. Malzahn probably could have hung a hundred on the regular with that squad at the high school level.

Anyway, back to the original point: Michel might be a bit of a tweener and overrated as a prospect, but Nick Chubb was one of my favorite running back recruits in the nation, mainly due to his style being uncannily reminiscent of high school Travis Henry. Basically, Chubb runs like a gazelle... a short, stocky, bowling ball shaped gazelle. He's going to be really good in Athens.

3. LSU

Jeremy Hill was really really good and, in his role as certifiable featured back, represented a departure from LSU's usual nameless, faceless, four-headed running back monster.  But, again, that's because he was really good.  And LSU, with Magee and Hilliard returning, might be expected to revert back to a RB-by-committee approach this year, but then again Leonard Fournette might just be really really good.  I mean, have you seen clips of that kid?  Nasty.  Filthy.  Straight up disgusting.  Sicker than an Ebola patient.

Too soon?


4. Arkansas

Coach Bert actually has two decent runners coming back from last year in Alex Collins, who rushed for 1,000 yards last season, and Jonathan Williams, who finished with 900 rushing yards and a substantially satisfactory 6 per carry.  So they have good talent, and they have good depth, and, most importantly, they have Coach Bert.  And you can't go wrong with that guy.

5.  Tennessee

For some reason (poor reading comprehension, laziness, brains rotted by scurvy), our fellow SEC bloggers have placed a ton of emphasis on the loss of Rajion Neal, who had great measurables but was never better than adequate come game time. Predictably, Neal is again impressing at the Green Bay training camp, which means he'll be using his speed to overrun holes and run into the back of his own linemen for seasons to come. Back in Knoxville, newly juvenated senior Marlin Lane will more than competently replace Neal, assuming he can hold off incoming freshmen Jalen Hurd and Derrell Scott. No position on the Tennessee football team has received more of a makeover than running back, and the Vols will surprise people with the increase in speed and athleticism this year.

6.  South Carolina

I wanted to rank South Carolina higher on the basis of Mike Davis, and the fact that he's really good at the game of football. Hunter argued that they lack depth, and that running backs get injured like crazy, and so you gotta have depth at that position, and so we gotta factor depth into the rankings, and yadda yadda this and that.

And, listen, what my co-author is saying isn't entirely untrue as a general matter.  But methinks head coach Steve Spurrier is setting a fine example for his charges on the strength and conditioning front, and that South Carolina's running backs -- and the team in general -- will be nigh uninjurable as a result.


I mean, come on, have you ever done three inch push-ups while balancing the family jewels on an inflatable plastic ball?  Yeah, I didn't think so.  And have you ever been injured?  Yeah, I thought so.


7.  Auburn

Malzahn is an offensive wizard 2 -- though there's no evidence indicating attendance at Hogwarts3 -- and his smorgasbord of spells, potions, incantations, and the like can nicely Spanx up  attributes in a running back that might be otherwise undesirably exposed.  BUT...Tre Mason was still Tre Mason, and neither Cameron Artis-Payne nor Corey Grant are Tre Mason.  Now this isn't to say that Auburn won't finish the season with the most rushing yards in the league.  Smart money says that they will.  But we're ranking the means to the end here, and not the end itself.  Don't get 'em twisted, Tiger.


8.  TAMU

Tra Carson is good. Attitude problems. Mack Brown something something.  Oh, and the other Trey is pretty solid as well.  Which brings up an interesting point.  And when I say "interesting point", I mean "allow me to step on this soapbox for a minute".  Do you really name a child anything that sounds like "Trey" unless he has the same name as his dad and also his granddad?  Come on, man.   "Trey" is something you call a kid instead of "Herbert John Hancock III", or the like.  You don't *name* a kid Trey, which means you also don't name a kid Tra.

But maybe you don't name a kid kidbourbon either.  So what the heck do I know?

9.  Florida

Dear Kelvin Taylor:

Yeah, your pops was good.  So was Gerald Riggs Jr.'s.  Show us more than 4.2 ypc and we'll talk.  Good talk.

KidB and Hunter

P.S. Tell Coach Ropes we said sup.

10.  Mississippi State

The running game for The Fighting Cowbells last year was fairly pedestrian.  Dak Prescott was the leading rusher with 829 yards, and was followed by Ladarius Perkins, who had 542 yards on 137 carries, but who is now gone.   And so the team with the worst gimmick in college football (grown men bringing cowbells to a game and making incessant noise with said cowbells during said game gets the lameness silver medal only because Virginia Tech's best "tradition" involves a mediocre 1991 Metallica song, and that's something that's just too pathetic to even adequately articulate with the written word) will look to Josh Robinson, Nick Griffin, and Ashton Shumpert for carries.  Josh Robinson actually had solid YPC numbers last season (with 5.9 on 76 carries), and so without any further knowledge on the subject, I'd venture to intuit that he'll get the lion's share of the rushing workload this season.

11. Ole Miss

Bill Connelly, in one of his 128 excellent team previews, wrote about how the Rebels' offense last year not only performed drastically better in passing downs than running downs, but frequently found themselves in "passing down" situations because the run game simply wasn't that effective.  What can reasonable minds intuit about the quality of the running backs at Ole Miss in view of the previous sentence and further in view of the fact that the top two backs in 2014 are the same two guys who were the top two backs in 2013?  "But this is the year that I'Tavius Mathers breaks out!" says no one who has actually watched tape on the guy.


12.  Missouri

Henry Josey was the main guy last year for Mizzou and was quite productive in gaining 1166 yards and 6.7 per carry with 16 touchdowns.  Josey left for the NFL, but was not drafted.  Which is weird because the OOTs are a veritable assembly line for the NFL.  Errbody knows that.  Oh, and they rock out on APR ratings.  Which is at least arguably footnoteworthy if not noteworthy.  What is worth noting is that neither Russell Hansborough nor Marcus Murphy were rated highly by any talent rating entity outside their respective high school yearbook committees.  No matter.  Coach up dem diamonds in the rough, Gary.  Do what you do.

And keep your head up, Henry.  Arian Foster didn't get drafted either, and look at him now.  He's sticking to the script, baby!

13. Kentucky

JoJo Kemp is pretty decent, and that's more than I can say for the next team on this list.  Also, JoJo Kemp is not the same guy who was in the Hummer commercial with Da Coach O.  This is a bummer.  I was really hoping they were the same guy.

HOLD ON...what is going on up here?4 I just had a movie idea!  Middle aged car salesman suddenly finds himself as the running back on an SEC football team.  Some stuff happens.  Hilarity ensues. Friendships are made.  More hilarity.  Conflicts arise and are resolved, and this is all interspliced with hilarity.  Yes yes!  Actually, hold on, they maybe kind of already made this movie, except it was a QB instead of a RB, and the QB was played by the guy who played in Quantum Leap, whereas the middle aged running back named JoJo would obviously either be played by JoJo himself, or perhaps John C. Reilly.   I smell a sequel!

And I don't know much in this world, but what I do know is that any movie -- and I mean ANY movie -- is automatically better if you have Kathy Ireland playing the kicker.  #fact


14. Vanderbilt

Jerron Seymour was voted "fifth most athletic" by his high school yearbook committee.  To be fair, Hialeah High School is like 5A or something.


1. We arrived at the below rankings with a highly complicated methodology that involves College Football Stats, the 2013 rushing stats from Bill Connelly, Football Outsiders' advanced metrics, Phil Steele's returning starters data, several highly competitive rounds of rock, paper, scissors Rochambeau, gallons of illicitly procured moonshine, an almost complete collection of Sailor Moon anime, an unnatural regard for the Bachelorette (our hearts are open and ready to love), a bag of unknown pills procured from the Internet, and loads of snark.

2. No, Kristi Malzahn has never offended you, and do not call her a witch. Kristi Malzahn is not a witch. Speaking of which -- see what I did there? -- shout out to @EmWatson. Luv ya girl!

3. Big shout out to my girl @EmWatson. Been too long, girl. Let's catch up over tacos.