By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - The collegiate running back gets to handle the ball more than any other position outside of the quarterback, so it is no wonder that they can have the biggest impact on the game. There are straight-line runners who can wear down the opposition with power and determination.
There are those who can simply out-run defenders to the end zone and still
others who use their elusiveness and field vision to produce jaw-dropping runs
that find their way to highlight reels.
Despite different skill sets, these tailbacks all got the job done in 2009 and
will highlight college football backfield play in 2010.
MARK INGRAM, ALABAMA
There is no denying the fact that the Heisman Trophy winner was a central
figure in leading the Crimson Tide to the National Championship. The 5-10, 212
pounder rumbled for well over 1,600 yards last year with 20 total touchdowns
(17 rushing) while averaging just over six yards per carry. The scary thing is
that he might just be scratching the surface in terms of his overall talent and
progression to the pro game. Of course the NFL will have to wait at least one
more year, much to the chagrin of the rest of the SEC. The Alabama defense may
have some rebuilding to do in 2010, but the offense should be potent again,
with Ingram as its workhorse.
RYAN WILLIAMS, VIRGINIA TECH
Fresh legs proved to be the difference for a lot of teams last season,
including Virginia Tech. With the loss of talented tailback Darren Evans to a
knee injury prior to the season's start, Frank Beamer was forced to go with the
5-10, 206-pound freshman Williams, who seized the opportunity by rumbling for
1,655 yards and 21 TDs on 5.6 yards per carry. Evans is by all accounts ready
to roll in 2010, but it may be awfully tough to wrestle carries away from
Williams, who received plenty of Heisman attention in 2009 despite being a
freshman. Tech's path to an ACC title this season will be led by the second-
year tailback, who could very well be the fourth straight sophomore to take
home the Heisman.
JACQUIZZ RODGERS, OREGON STATE
What he lacks in prototypical size at just 5-7, 195 pounds, Rogers more than
makes up for in playmaking ability. Despite his diminutive stature, Rodgers is
as dangerous a player as there is in the country, regardless of where he lines
up on the field. Last season, he rushed for 1,440 yards and 21 TDs, while
hauling in an impressive 78 receptions, for 522 yards and another score. In a
predominantly pass-happy offense (and conference, for that matter), expect
Rodgers to once again thrive in a dual role in Corvallis. While he may not top
his 2009 campaign, you can expect the numbers to be similar when all is said
and done in 2010. If that happens, the Beavers might just find themselves vying
for a Pac-10 title and a BCS bowl bid.
EVAN ROYSTER, PENN STATE
Royster could have departed for the NFL last season, and Joe Paterno had to be
thrilled to welcome him back to Happy Valley for his senior campaign in 2010.
The 6-1, 209-pounder has the speed, elusiveness and power to excel at the next
level. Despite his numbers tailing off slightly as a junior (1,169 yards, six
TDs), Royster has shown the ability to come up huge in big-game situations. He
will go toe-to-toe with Alabama's Ingram this season, as Penn State heads to
Tuscaloosa early on in one of the top non-conference games of the season. How
Royster fares in that one could determine the direction of his Heisman
candidacy early on, and perhaps be a precursor of things to come for the
Nittany Lions and their Big Ten slate.
NOEL DEVINE, WEST VIRGINIA
Don't let his size fool you. The 5-8, 180-pound Devine has lived up to his last
name in Morgantown. A home run hitter, the tailback netted just over six yards
per carry and rushed for a career-high 1,465 yards and 13 TDs as a junior in
2009. As elusive as they come in the country, this Mountaineer is a "game-
changer" in every sense of the word. West Virginia has won nine or more games
in five straight seasons, so don't expect Bill Stewart to try to fix something
that isn't broken. The Mountaineers are a running team first and foremost, and
if Devine can continue to improve on his play, the Mountaineers will once again
vie for the Big East crown.
JOHN CLAY, WISCONSIN
Going from 155 carries in 2008 to a whopping 287 totes in 2009, you might
wonder if this talented Badger will hold up physically at that pace. But at
6-2, 247 pounds, Clay has a frame befitting his workhorse role. A scary,
punishing runner, Clay looks the part of an NFL fullback despite proving an
ability to dominate as an every-down ball-carrier. In 2009, all he did was
rumble for 1,517 yards and 18 TDs on just over five yards per carry, en route
to being named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. With a navigable 2010
schedule (including Ohio State coming to Madison) and Clay clearing the path,
look for the Badgers to be a front-runner for the Big Ten title this season.
DONALD BUCKRAM, UTEP
Buckram is probably the player on this list with the least amount of hype, as
few outside of Conference USA have heard of him, but that could change in 2010.
As a junior last year, Buckram shattered UTEP's single-season rushing record
(which had stood since 1948), averaging 6.2 yards per carry en route to an
astounding 1,594 yards, with 18 TDs. The 5-10, 195-pounder also showed his
versatility by amassing 30 receptions and an additional three TDs through the
air. Mike Price has a diamond in the rough in Buckram and after winning just
four games in 2009, expect him to utilize his one true weapon as much as
possible in 2010 in the hopes of returning the Miners to relevancy in C-USA
DANIEL THOMAS, KANSAS STATE
The second Bill Snyder era began in Manhattan last year and for the junior
college transfer Thomas, it couldn't have gone any better. The 6-2, 225-pounder
will head into 2010 as an All-American candidate after rumbling for a
conference-best 1,265 yards and 11 TDs, en route to being named the 2009 Big 12
Offensive Newcomer of the Year. It remains to be seen whether Snyder can
duplicate his efforts from his first stint with KSU, often mentioned in the
discussion of the greatest turnarounds in the history of college football. If
he can, however, Thomas could be just the building block needed to catapult the
Wildcats back to that gridiron glory.
MONTEL HARRIS, BOSTON COLLEGE
Another player who is diminutive in stature (5-10, 192) but plays much larger,
Harris is a "jitterbug" type of back who is as elusive as any runner in the
country. As a sophomore in 2009, Harris was tabbed an ACC-Second Teamer,
rushing for 1,457 yards and 14 TDs, improving significantly on a highly
successful freshman campaign in 2008 (900 yards and five TDs). Another "game-
changer," if Harris sees a similar progression in terms of production in 2010,
expect his name to be mentioned in the Heisman mix and for the Eagles to remain
in the hunt in the ACC.
BERNARD PIERCE, TEMPLE
Al Golden and the Temple Owls were one of college footballs' top stories in
2009, as the perennial doormat almost won the MAC, piling up nine wins and
reaching the postseason for the first time in 30 years. The ceiling is
extremely high for the talented Pierce in 2010, as the 6-0, 218-pounder had a
record-setting season as a freshman, earning Freshman All-American and All-MAC
First-Team honors after rushing for 1,361 yards and a school-record 16 TDs.
It won't be another 30 years before the Owls are in a bowl game, and in fact,
if Golden gets similar results from Pierce in 2010, it may just be back-to-back
postseason appearances for the Owls.
OTHER TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Robert Turbin (Utah State), Daniel Herron (Ohio
State), Roy Helu (Nebraska), Shane Vereen (California), DeMarco Murray
(Oklahoma), Darren Evans (Virginia Tech).