2011 NCAA Football Top 5 Running Backs – Ranking the Best College Football Running Backs and 2011 Heisman Trophy Contenders from the Running Back position: It is one of the premier positions in football, and as evidenced by the massive contracts just signed by Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, every-down running backs are becoming a rarity in the NFL these days. While feature backs are still commonplace in the college game, only the elite players at the position go on to have the same role at the next level. This year’s group features several strong backs that will not only challenge for the Doak Walker Award but for the Heisman as well.

  1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

Coming off a 17-touchdown campaign as a true freshman last year, Marcus Lattimore is well on his way to establishing himself as the premier back in the country. He may not be the most explosive rusher, but he is an absolute workhorse and still has more than enough speed to break away for long scores. He already has 50 carries this year, gaining nearly six yards per rush. Lattimore will likely finish as the top back in the SEC, and if he can keep the Gamecocks in contention for the conference crown as he did a year ago, he could walk away with Heisman.

  1. LaMichael James, Oregon

He isn’t the biggest back, but LaMichael James uses his speed and elusiveness to pile up huge numbers. He rushed for more than 1,600 yards last season to go along with 21 touchdowns. James is also a versatile player that makes big plays in the Oregon passing game as well. After challenging for the most rushing yards and rushing scores last year, he should be right back in contention in 2011-12. Although the ugly performance against LSU in this year’s opener will likely deny him a Heisman, James is still one of the most exciting and explosive players in the country.

  1. Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State

Playing at a school that isn’t exactly a national power keeps Ronnie Hillman under the radar. However, his numbers are anything but second rate. He rushed for nearly 1,600 yards last season, picking up almost six yards per carry and scoring 17 times. Hillman is an every-down back that can run between the tackles and wear down opposing defensive fronts. He is currently second in the nation in rushing this year, and Hillman should stay at or near the top of the list all season.

  1. Trent Richardson, Alabama

After rushing for more than 700 yards last year as a backup to former Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson will get a chance to show his stuff in a feature role for the Crimson Tide this season. His yards per carry have been less than impressive this far, but breaking in a new starting QB and going on the road to play a stout Penn State defense have a lot to do with that. Still Richardson has carried the Alabama offense, scoring five times in two games despite facing eight-man fronts on a regular basis. Once the passing game gets going, his numbers will explode. If Alabama contends for the national title as expected, Richardson should be in the Heisman conversation.

  1. Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky

The centerpiece of the Western Kentucky offense is running back Bobby Rainey, and he more than shouldered the load a year ago. He carried the ball a nation-high 340 times, finishing sixth in the country with nearly 1,600 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns. Rainey sits sixth in the nation in rushing yards after two games in 2011-12 as well, putting up solid numbers against legit programs Kentucky and Navy. His numbers should only get better once he gets into the conference portion of the schedule, and 1,500 yards seems easily within reach. If Rainey can perform well against LSU later in the year, he could thrust his name into the mix for some end of the year awards.

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