The SEC consistently produces some of the most effective rushing offenses in college football. With players like Todd Gurley and Derrick Henry coming through the conference, it’s easy to see why coaches lean on the rushing game.
Nine of the top 15 rushers in the SEC last season will return in 2016. Some, including LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb, could be prepping themselves to enter next year’s NFL draft early.
In a conference filled with talented rushing attacks, here are five that could rise above the rest this season.
LSU’s offense starts with one name: Fournette. The Heisman-caliber running back rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns last season despite being the primary focus of every defense the Tigers faced.
With plenty of talent coming back offensively, Fournette should once again lead LSU to the top rushing offense in the SEC this season. Fournette is expected to be back with a vengeance in what could be his final collegiate season. Additionally, backup Derrius Guice rushed for 436 yards and 8.5 yards per attempt as a freshman last season. He could step into a bigger role should Fournette struggle to replicate his 2015 performance.
Alabama just lost a Heisman Trophy winner in Henry but might not miss a beat. The Crimson Tide will replace Henry and Kenyan Drake with Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. The latter pair certainly doesn’t have the experience yet, but both are starting to make names for themselves.
Scarbrough signaled his arrived in the first spring scrimmage, where the 6-foot-2, 230-pound beast rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns. Harris countered in the spring game with 114 yards on 11 carries in front of the crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Having an ultra-talented offensive line should only make the running game that much better.
The Razorbacks’ offense is in some trouble after losing QB Brandon Allen and RBs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams in the same offseason. At this point, it remains unclear who Bret Bielema will run out at running back this season.
While there is uncertainty for Arkansas, it’s hard to ever count out a Bielema-led run game. The Razorbacks return running backs Kody Walker and Rawleigh Williams. The addition of elite high school running back Devwah Whaley also could add to the intrigue at the position. There are several pieces to replace on the offensive line, but the talent to produce another top running offense is on campus.
Georgia ran the ball fairly effectively last season, but lost a dimension after Chubb suffered a horrific knee injury. Chubb was expected to be one of the top running backs in college football last season, but severely injured his knee six games into the year. Sony Michel stepped in and rushed for 1,161 yards.
At this point, both Chubb and Michel (arm) are questionable to start the season healthy. Being without either would be a huge blow to a Georgia offense that will rely on the running game. Kirby Smart comes from the Nick Saban coaching tree, which has had teams historically built around effective running backs.
With some luck, Tennessee could put together one of the most productive rushing threesomes in college football this season. RB Jalen Hurd has accumulated nearly 2,200 rushing yards while establishing himself over the past two seasons. Former blue-chip recruit Alvin Kamara added 698 yards on 6.5 yards per carry last season.
But perhaps the game-changer of the Tennessee offense will be QB Joshua Dobbs. Having a legitimate dual-threat option at quarterback stretches the field in a unique way. Dobbs, Hurd and Kamara will benefit greatly from running behind an experienced offensive line in Knoxville. There is a reason many think Tennessee could win the SEC East – the run game will be a vital piece to the puzzle.