The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the running backs in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel.
Here's how Athlon ranks the running backs in the Big East for 2012:
1. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh (SR)
Rushing Stats: 164 att., 958 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 30 rec., 200 yards, 0 TD
Graham was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season, but a torn ACL in Pittsburgh’s eighth game ended his 2011 campaign. Through the first eight games, Graham posted 958 yards, including 201 in the opener against Buffalo and 226 in a 44-17 victory over South Florida. His production was even more impressive considering the struggles of the passing attack and an offensive line that never seemed to jell. Graham did not practice this spring, but is expected to return in time for the season opener. The Panthers won’t rush the senior back into action, but as long as he returns at full strength, Graham should be the Big East’s leading rusher at the end of 2012.
2. Lyle McCombs, Connecticut (SO)
Rushing Stats: 275 att., 1,151 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving Stats: 19 rec., 172 yards, 1 TD
The Huskies have pieced together a string of productive rushers, as three running backs have reached 1,000 yards since 2008. Donald Brown posted 2,083 yards in 2008 and Jordan Todman posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2009-10. McCombs was an unknown going into last year, but quickly emerged as the Huskies’ go-to back. He rushed for 141 yards and four touchdowns in the 35-3 rout of Fordham in the season opener and recorded 118 yards against Vanderbilt in Week 2. McCombs posted a season-high 152 yards against Syracuse and rushed for 130 yards on 32 attempts against South Florida. His rushing total is even more impressive when you consider Connecticut struggled to establish a passing attack last year, allowing defenses to key on stopping the run. McCombs is expected to be the Huskies’ No. 1 back once again in 2012 and should have a chance to equal last season’s numbers.
3. Matt Brown, Temple (SR)
Rushing Stats: 155 att., 916 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 7 yards, 0 TD
At 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds, Brown was the perfect complement to Bernard Pierce over the last three years. However, Pierce left early for the NFL and Brown will assume the No. 1 role in Temple’s backfield for 2012. In three years with the Owls, Brown has rushed for 2,275 yards and 18 scores and caught 24 passes for 95 yards. Although the senior is averaging 5.6 yards per carry throughout his career, will he hold up with over 200 carries in 2012? There’s no question Brown can be effective, but at his size, Temple needs to be sure to find another back that can handle 5-10 carries a game.
4. Jawan Jamison, Rutgers (SO)
Rushing Stats: 231 att., 897 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 62 yards, 0 TD
The Scarlet Knights expected a freshman back to handle most of the workload in the rushing attack last year, but Jamison wasn’t the pick in the preseason. Most expected Savon Huggins to become Rutgers’ No. 1 back, but Jamison emerged as the workhorse. He recorded his first 100-yard effort against Navy and posted 200 yards in a 20-3 victory over Cincinnati. Jamison capped off the season on a high note, rushing for 131 yards and two scores in the 27-13 Pinstripe Bowl win over Iowa State. Although Huggins is back from injury, Jamison will begin the year as the No. 1 back and should threaten the 1,000-yard mark once again in 2012.
5. Demetris Murray, South Florida (SR)
Rushing Stats: 121 att., 503 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 18 rec., 205 yards, 0 TD
With Darrell Scott departing early for the NFL, Murray is expected to take on the No. 1 role in the South Florida backfield. He has rushed for at least 500 yards in each of the last two seasons and has 12 scores on the ground during that span. Murray did not record 100 yards in a game last year, but posted 86 yards on a 37-17 win over Syracuse. Although Murray will likely lead the team in carries and rushing yards, offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will work in speedy Lindsey Lamar and another back to keep the senior fresh.
6. Jeremy Wright, Louisville (JR)
Rushing Stats: 73 att., 334 yards, 1 TD
Receiving Stats: 7 rec., 27 yards, 0 TD
There were high expectations for Wright going into 2011, but he finished with just 334 yards and one touchdown. After rushing for 327 yards and four scores as a freshman, Wright was supposed to push Victor Anderson for the No. 1 spot in the backfield. However, Wright posted only one 100-yard effort (108, Rutgers) and registered only seven rushing attempts in the final three games. Anderson finished as the team leader in rushing yards, but Dominique Brown surpassed Wright in the pecking order. Assuming Louisville’s offensive line performs better in 2012, Wright should easily surpass last season’s totals and emerge as the leading rusher.
7. Dominique Brown, Louisville (JR)
Rushing Stats: 140 att., 533 yards, 4 TDs
Receiving Stats: 16 rec., 98 yards, 1 TD
Brown was not expected to play a significant role at running back last season, but he finished second on the team in yards. The converted quarterback recorded 533 yards and four rushing scores, while catching 16 receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown. Brown did not record 100 yards in any game, but he rushed for 91 yards on 14 attempts in the 24-17 victory over Kentucky and 69 yards and one touchdown in the 34-24 win over South Florida. The junior will team with Jeremy Wright to anchor Louisville’s rushing attack in 2012, but the guess here is Wright will edge Brown for the lead in yards.
8. George Winn, Cincinnati (SR)
Rushing Stats: 40 att., 219 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 2 rec., 6 yards, 0 TD
As if losing quarterback Zach Collaros wasn’t enough, Cincinnati has to replace running back Isaiah Pead. The Bearcats probably won’t replace Pead’s production from one rusher, but Winn has the inside track on the No. 1 role going into the fall. The senior has been used sparingly throughout his career, but rushed for 81 yards on 19 attempts against Miami (Ohio) in 2010 and recorded 78 yards and a score in the bowl victory over Vanderbilt. Winn will likely lead Cincinnati in carries, but sophomores Ralph David Abernathy IV and Jameel Poteat will also figure into the mix.
9. Lindsey Lamar, South Florida (SR)
Rushing Stats: 17 att., 150 yards, 0 TD
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 157 yards, 3 TDs
A case could be made that Lamar has been under utilized in his career at South Florida. The 5-foot-9 speedster is averaging 23.1 yards per kickoff return, but has only 354 receiving yards and 361 yards on the ground in his career. The senior started his career at running back, but was moved to receiver in 2010. However, Lamar has been shifted back to running back for his senior year and is expected to be a change of pace option to Demetris Murray.
10. Isaac Bennett, Pittsburgh (SO)
Rushing Stats: 58 att., 237 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 14 rec., 88 yards, 1 TD
With Ray Graham coming off a torn ACL, it’s a good thing Pittsburgh has some depth at running back. Bennett became the Panthers’ go-to option in the backfield after Graham’s injury last year, rushing for 237 yards and two scores over the final five games. He posted back-to-back efforts of 69 yards against Louisville and West Virginia and rushed for 51 yards in the 33-20 win over Syracuse. Bennett will face competition for the No. 2 role in the backfield when highly-touted freshman Rushel Shell arrives in the fall.
Others to Watch
Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati (SO) – The Bearcats will struggle to replace Isaiah Pead’s production, but the team isn’t hurting for options. George Winn will likely start, but the speedy Abernathy will also serve as a change of pace option.
Kenneth Harper, Temple (SO) – Expected to win the battle to be Temple’s No. 2 back in 2012. Considering starter Matt Brown is only 5-foot-5, Harper will see plenty of carries this year.
Savon Huggins, Rutgers (SO) – Huggins was the top recruit in the Big East last season, but never got on track. He rushed for 146 yards and five touchdowns before a knee injury ended his season. If Huggins stays healthy, he will compete with Jawan Jamison for snaps.
Jameel Poteat, Cincinnati (SO) – Expected to team with Ralph David Abernathy IV to spell George Winn in 2012. Rushed for 108 yards and one score in 2011.
Rushel Shell, Pittsburgh (FR) – Shell ranked as the No. 33 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and is expected to figure into the mix for carries as soon as he arrives on campus. Isaac Bennett holds the lead on the No. 2 spot on the backfield…for now.
Jerome Smith, Syracuse (JR) – Antwon Bailey has finished his eligibility in Syracuse, leaving Smith as the likely No. 1 back for 2012. However, the Orange expect to use Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore in the rotation. Smith rushed for 134 yards and one touchdown in limited work last year.
by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter)
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