by Will Fuqua, Guest Writer
College football teams are thankful to have one reliable running back that can carry the load and keep the defense off balance. If they have two… opposing defenses are in for a long day. The luxury of having an effective running back tandem not only benefits the offense in the 4th quarter, but also benefits the team at the end of the season with the workload being split up. These are the top five running back tandems in the SEC this upcoming season, and it is not a surprise that most of these teams on the list are predicted to make noise this year.
Duos that just missed the cut:
Rico Dowdle & A.J. Turner- South Carolina
Jordan Scarlett & Lamical Perine- Florida
Image from USA Today
5. Damarea Crockett & Ish Witter- Missouri
These two backs may have flown under the radar a bit last season due to Missouri struggling, but defenses will notice when they come to town. Damarea Crockett posted 1,062 yards in only 153 attempts (6.9 yards per carry) as a true freshman, which included a 225 yard performance against Tennessee, and ended with an impressive 10 posted touchdowns on the year. Crockett did not see above 12 carries in a game until week 6, meaning that if he gets a higher dose of carries throughout the entire year, the numbers could be scary. Crockett is expected to share the workload with senior back Ish Witter. Witter finished with 750 yards and 6 touchdowns and also had his best game of the year against Tennessee where he racked up 163 yards and 2 scores. Missouri’s offense was one of the SEC’s best last season as they gained 500 yards per game under new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s no-huddle system. With quarterback Drew Lock emerging as a reliable passer, there will be more room for Crockett and Witter to run free.
Image from Dallas Morning News
4. Travyeon Williams & Keith Ford – Texas A&M
Texas A&M will have uncertainty at the beginning of 2017 with a new quarterback, but the pressure will be lightened due to the running game. Travyeon Williams had a breakout freshman year as he tallied 1,057 rushing yards to go with 8 touchdowns. Williams burst onto the scene early as he averaged 117.3 yards per game through the first 6 games. His production dropped off in the second half of the year and could be attributed to the Aggies struggling and playing from behind more often than not. With the possibility of a heavier reliance on the running game in 2017, Williams could see more consistent carries and improve on his impressive freshman campaign. Williams will split carries with Keith Ford, a speedy back that impressed in his first year with the Aggies after transferring from Oklahoma. He notched 750 yards and 6 touchdowns last year including a 100 yard performance against LSU. Williams and Ford have the capability to lead the Aggie offense to a successful season, but the offensive line must address the loss of both starting tackles from last year’s NFL draft.
3. Damien Harris & Bo Scarborough- Alabama
Alabama has been the most successful football program in the past decade and much of their success can be attributed to their relentless running game. This year will be no different as the Crimson Tide have a load of talent at the running back position. Damien Harris leads the way as he posted 1,040 yards with only 2 touchdowns last year as a sophomore. Harris was very impressive early in the year as he rushed for 138 yards in Week 1 against USC and 144 in the Week 3 win over Ole Miss. Harris saw inconsistency in his number of carries throughout the year and it was noted that he was banged up towards the end of the year which would explain his lack of contribution in the College Football Playoffs. Nevertheless, Harris is a dynamic back that has the capability of having a huge year as the top ball carrier for the Crimson Tide. Harris is expected to share carries with Bo Scarborough, a physical ball carrier that weighs 230 lbs. Scarborough was a threat throughout the year in 2016, but caught national attention after his performance in the College Football Playoffs, posting 273 yards and 4 scores in two games. If Scarborough can avoid injury as he failed to do last season, he will be a nightmare to bring down for opposing defenses. While there is a new offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll, Nick Saban remains, meaning the running game will play a major role in the Crimson Tide offense. Harris and Scarborough are looking to lead Alabama to another national championship behind one of the best offensive lines in the country, but do not forget about their other running backs: Josh Jacobs and No. 1 overall recruit Najee Harris.
Image from UGA twitter
2. Nick Chubb & Sony Michel- Georgia
Possibly one of the biggest surprises in all of college football this offseason was the decision by both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to return for their senior years in Athens. Both had been significant contributors for the Bulldog’s the past three years and it seems to be an attitude of completing unfinished business that have Chubb and Michel coming back. Chubb has the potential to be one of, if not the best running back in college football if he can stay healthy. His lethal combination of power and speed allowed him to carry for 1547 yards in 2014, 747 yards in 2015 in just 6 games before his devastating knee injury, and 1130 yards last year with 29 career touchdowns. If he stays healthy, Chubb looks like a lock for at another 1,000 yard season and just might break 5,000 career yards, joining Herchel Walker as the only running back in SEC history to achieve the milestone. Splitting carries with Chubb will be the lighting fast Sony Michel. Michel has 2,411 career yards through his first three years including 1,161 yards in his sophomore year as he was called upon to carry the Bulldogs after Chubb went down. Depending on how evenly the workload is split between the two, Michel has the ability to break 1,000 yards as well and has also shown that he is a legitimate option as a receiver out of the backfield. Chubb and Michel will get their touches in 2017 and produce, but if Kirby Smart can answer the questions on the offensive line and Jacob Eason can play to his potential, then there will be more running room for the senior duo and the Bulldogs will be competing for the SEC title.
Image from Auburnatheltics.com
1. Kamryn Pettway & Kerryon Johnson- Auburn
Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson combined for 2,119 yards last year, claiming the highest total by any running back duo in the SEC. Pettway is a physical running back at 240 pounds that totaled 1,224 yards in his first year of action despite not recording a carry in four games. In Auburn’s four game stretch during October, Pettway rushed for over 160 yards in each game including a 236 yard performance against Ole Miss. If Pettway can stay healthy, the H-back turned running back is set to improve from last year, which is saying something considering he finished 5th in the SEC in rushing yards. Kerryon Johnson is the back sharing the workload with Pettway. Johnson started the year as the primary back and got all of the carries in the season opener against Clemson. While Johnson shared carries with Pettway the rest of the season, his production did not drop off as he gained over 100 yards in three games and averaged five yards per carry. Johnson’s speed compliments Pettway’s power and when they are both healthy they can be one of the toughest tandems to stop in the nation. Auburn now has a talented dual threat quarterback in Jarrett Stindham, which will create more space for both Pettway and Johnson and thus creating a dangerous offense for the Tigers.
Will Fuqua: A senior at Wofford College from Greenville, SC. He is a huge college football fan, and his favorite team is the South Carolina Gamecocks.