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Top 15 Running Backs in College Football of 2012

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Top 15 Running Backs in College Football of 2012

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Joe Nicholson-US Presswire

Remember that song “Where have all the cowboys gone?” Now its probably stuck in your head; my apologies. But I digress.

In assembling this list, I asked myself a similar question: where have all the running backs gone? Where is the Darren McFadden, the Toby Gerhart or Trent Richardson of this season?

The name of the running back game is changing. In the past a top flight recruit would look at a depth chart before committing, hoping to find vacancies. Now, these top flight recruits are looking for a tag-team partner, hoping to split their carries to keep more tread on the tires.

In fact, it is the formula that has delivered the last three national championships. Nick Saban at the University of Alabama has long been a proponent of using multiple running backs to maintain fresh legs and give defenses different looks. Even the championship won by the Auburn Tigers in 2010 (which seems so long ago right now) featured three players ranked in the top 100 in rushing.

Not only are running backs splitting carries, we’ve also seen one of the more dynamic quarterback classes is recent years. With the likes of Denard Robinson, Braxton Miller, Johnny Manziel and even Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois, quarterbacks are doing more than just throwing the ball in this day and age.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any good running backs because there are still plenty of talented running backs that can make their impact on the game in any given moment. Now, I present to you-the top 15 running backs of the 2012 College Football season.

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Jeff Blake-US Presswire

15. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

Marcus Lattimore was not the same running back he was his freshman year in 2012, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t among the best running backs in the country. Lattimore when healthy is an elite running back, capable of hitting the homerun or pounding the ball up the middle and although he was just a shade of himself early this season, his shear presence forced teams to account for him.

Unfortunately we will not get to see that play for the rest of this season and maybe not until 2014. Lattimore has already fought back to recover from one knee injury and given the type of character he has I am certain he will fight back from his most recent setback.

I am not sure if we will ever see the Marcus Lattimore of the past ever again. However if he does return to form, I can’t say I will be surprised.

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Peter Casey-US Presswire

14. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech

Dixon, a freshman has immediately established himself as one of the best running backs in the Western Athletic Conference. His status in the WAC may not hold much weight with many college football fans, but wait just a minute before you judge.

Dixon has carried the ball just 149 times and for over 900 yards and 20 touchdowns. With such a limited amount of repetitions, imagine what his numbers would be like if he got more carries. Dixon doesn’t just play well in conference; he also assembled a 111 yard, 2 touchdown rushing performance against Texas A&M.

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Cary Edmondson-US Presswire

13. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona

The Wildcats give up a lot of points which is why they’re so fortunate to having a player like Carey in the backfield to help put up some points of their own. The sophomore tailback is a bit undersized, but not by much; if he can pack on about 10-15 more pounds with loosing his speed, it could only help his production.

Carey makes this list because of his ability to produce in the biggest games. Anyone can put up numbers against bottom dwellers, but what about the big boys? Carey has risen to the occasion against every ranked opponent this season with 100 yard games with the only exception coming against the Oregon Ducks.

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Top 15 Running Backs in College Football of 2012

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Andrew Weber

12. Beau Blankenship, Ohio

Blankenship is nothing more than a blue collar running back that will carry the ball as many times as you need him to and get you results. He is not the biggest guy on the team, but the fact he carries the ball 25 times a game earns my respect.

Blankenship is hurt on the list of running backs because of the schedule he has gone up against and the fact he failed to produce in Ohio's loss to Miami of Ohio. Before the game he had rushed for over 100 yards in 6 of 7 games, now he is on a run of two straight.

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Mike DiNovo-US Presswire

11. Venric Mark, Northwestern

At just 5-foot-8 and maybe 180lbs, Mark may not be the best blend of height and weight. However when you examine his statistics just a bit you begin to notice he is the perfect blend of running back: durable, efficient, explosive, and a playmaker.

Unlike other explosive tailbacks Mark does not have a tendency to inflate his numbers with one or two big games while disappearing in others. In fact, there is not a game you can say he didn't show up. There were a few 70 yard performances this season, but that is still a respectable day for any running back.

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Top 15 Running Backs in College Football of 2012

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Scott Olmos-US Presswire

10. DeAnthony Thomas, Oregon

If you want to strike fear into the heart of a defensive coordinator, just mention the name DeAnthony Thomas. Without question he is the most elusive player in the country with an ability to take any play to the house whether it be in the return game, as a receiver or a running back.

While there aren't many faster than the "black momba" there are plenty that are stronger. In fact that is the reason why Thomas is not higher up on this list-no real physical game. In fact he's never carried the ball more than 12 times a game and both times he did carry it that many times his performances were sub-par. If he could put on some size without losing his speed-watch out.

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Top 15 Running Backs in College Football of 2012

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Ron Chenoy-US Presswire

9. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford

Taylor won’t ever put up jaw dropping numbers, but he is incredibly efficient. You know exactly what you get with the senior tailback: a runner who can carry the ball as much as you need and a guy who well consistently come in around 100 yards a game more often than not. His numbers are down this year, but remember the talent the Cardinal lost last year not just in Andrew Luck, but on the offensive line as well.

While some may say that he was just a benefactor of all the talent around him for the past few seasons, you can not say he doesn't show up in big games. In games against ranked opponents he has missed the 100 yard mark twice, by one yard each time. That is the type of constancy you can build around.

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Ron Chenoy-US Presswire

8. Stefphon Jefferson, Nevada

Jefferson is the nation's leading rusher and carries the ball more times than anyone in the country. So why is he not getting more respect on this list? Well in large part because of the schedule he goes up against. Sure he has the numbers, but I can't get excited about a running back crushing the likes of Northwestern State and Texas State to pump up their stats.

While his numbers are high, it should also be noted that he carries the ball on average of 30 times a game. At first glance his numbers look pretty good, but on closer examination, they aren't as great as they'd first appear because he does carry the ball so much. Thus he is the top rusher in the country but only the eighth best rusher on this list

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Crystal LioGiudice

7. TJ Yeldon, Alabama

Yeldon is the type of back that people know is good, but have yet to see what he is truly capable of just yet. The thought is a scary one for opposing teams because he's already played so well. While he doesn't get a ton of touches, he makes the most of his opportunities rushing for 725 yards on just 104 caries (6.97 ypc average).

Although he has made a name for himself as a rusher, he's made just as much of an impact as a receiver. You may have heard about his first receiving touchdown. It wasn't any big deal, just a reception on a screen pass that saved the Crimson Tide's title hopes in Death Valley. Barrett Jones said he felt like Yeldon could be the next great running back at Alabama; looks like he may be right.

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Bob Donnan-US Presswire

6. Giovanni Bernard, North Carolina

Bernard is the best kept secret in college football. Hidden away in the North Carolina backfield he is lost by much of the national media, however there is a lot to like about this sophomore running back. First off, he is explosive- 7.4 yards per carry on this season. Second, he is consistent: rushing for at least one touchdown in every game this season. Third he is extremely valuable to his team: two of North Carolina's losses came early in the season when Bernard did not play. 5 points was the combined difference in those two games, and it is hard to imagine that Bernard wouldn't have changed the outcome of those games.

The Tar Heels could realistically finish the season 9-3. If that is the case and Bernard continues his stellar play, he should find himself in the discussion for some post season recognition.

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Jeff Hanisch-US Presswire

5. Montee Ball, Wisconsin

Ball is in this spot moreso because of reputation than actual production this season. Last year the 5-11, 210 pound back tortured opposing defenses all year long, running for what seemed like days-to the tune of 1923 yards and 33 touchdowns. When Ball announced that he was coming back for his senior year, to say expectations were high is an understatement.

However, the season started slow as he was involved in some off the field issues prior to the season, then struggled to find his grove early. It wasn't until the first weekend of October against Illinois when it looked like the old Montee Ball was back, however after last weeks disappointing performance against Michigan State, some wonder if he will truly return to form. Ball has already rushed for over 1000 yards and is just a few breakout performances away from getting his numbers close to where they were last year.

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Mike Carter-US Presswire

4. Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State

I know Michigan State has struggled, but I don't know if there is a running back more valuable to his team that Bell. When it comes to putting a team on his back, Bell has been a workhorse carrying the ball on average of 28 times a game, helping to alleviate the pressure on first year starter Andrew Maxwell.

Not since the Greg Jennings YouTube video have I seen a player put a team on his back the way that Bell did week one at home against Boise State. With the game close throughout, the Spartans needed him to carry the load and then some to the tune of 44 rushes for 210 yards and two touchdowns, then followed it up with a 253 yard performance on 36 carries against Eastern Michigan just three weeks later.

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Gary A Vasquez-US Presswire

3. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA

Franklin has been a running back of peaks and valleys this season. He has had games where he has shown he can handle the workload and games where he has been shutdown. However at the end of the day he is the nation's fifth leading rusher with over 1200 yards, averaging 6.69 yards per carry.

While the overall statistics are nice, Franklin got my attention in week two of the season at home against a highly ranked Nebraska team. It was that game that I think he really burst on the scene, carrying the ball 26 times for over 200 yards. Since then, he has not reached the 200 yard plateau; however he has rushed for over 100 yards in 5 of the last 7 contests and has been a major component to UCLA's success.

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Daniel Shirey-US Presswire

2. Todd Gurley, UGA

If this list was being based on statistics there is no way Gurley would make this list. In fact, some might feel he is ranked too high on this list, but I have seen everything I need to see from the true freshman. He is a big back with speed who burst on the seen on day one with just 8 carries for 100 yards and two touchdowns; oh by the way he also added a score on special teams.

The only thing that has limited Gurley's numbers this year has been his carries. He has reached 20 carries just two times this season, but has rushed for over 100 yards in 6 of 9 games; that is an explosive player. It is not as if Gurley couldn't handle a 25-30 carry a game workload, I have no doubt in my mind he could. However, why ruin a good thing for the sake of statistics.

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Kirby Lee-US Presswire

1. Kenjon Barner, Oregon

Without question Barner is the best running back. He is not the biggest back on this list or the guy that best exemplifies the height-weight-speed ratio of what a running back should be, but he is picking up in a backfield where LaMicheal James left off, gashing defenses with blazing speed. However, unlike James and his current counterpart DeAnthony Thomas, Barner has a little bit more size on him, which allows him to take a little more of a pounding, while still possessing every bit of speed as the other two.

Up until last week his season had been solid, nothing spectacular, but it is amazing how one game can change everything. But week 10 was not a performance-it was a statement against the Southern California Trojans as he ran the ball 38 times for 321 yards and five touchdowns. At just 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, some questioned if he could take the beating of that many carries. Instead of answering that question, Barner showed the nation.