SEC media days storylines -- No. 7

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 7, 2014 

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Georgia tailback Todd Gurley is considered one of the SEC's best bets at a Heisman Trophy conquest this year according to the latest odds provided by Bovada Sportsbook.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH — gblankenship@macon.com

Editor's note: SEC media days begin July 14. Every year, a theme seems to emerge, whether it's a tiff between coaches or a cause taken up by commissioner Mike Slive. But with a week until it arrives, what are the top storylines entering the annual media event? Ryan Black gives his take, counting down from 10-1.

No. 7: Running backs back in vogue

With Tre Mason and Jeremy Hill gone to the NFL, the Southeastern Conference is without its top two rushers from last year.

Mason, a Heisman Trophy finalist from Auburn, ran for 1,816 yards last year, averaging 129.7 per game. Hill was next at 1,401 yards and a 116.8 average per contest for LSU.

But there's no need to fear that their loss dealt a death blow to the league. In fact, the position should be every bit as good, if not better, this season.

In Georgia's Todd Gurley, the Bulldogs have arguably the top running back in the country — and possibly the best player regardless of position. In the latest Heisman odds provided by Bovada Sportsbook, Gurley is listed as the SEC's second-best bet — behind Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall (9/1) — at 12/1. Go down the line, and the next three SEC players on the list all share one thing in common: They play running back. Behind Gurley are the Alabama duo of TJ Yeldon (16/1) and Derrick Henry (25/1) along with South Carolina's Mike Davis (28/1).

And if one takes a look at the SEC's rushing leaders from 2013 in terms of yards per game, they'll notice a majority of the ballcarriers will be back for more this fall. In sum, eight of the top 15 from last year return (number in parentheses denotes ranking among SEC players): Yeldon (3), Gurley (4), Davis (5), Arkansas' Alex Collins (7) and Jonathan Williams (11), Alabama's Kenyan Drake (12), Vanderbilt's Jerron Seymour (13) and Florida's Kelvin Taylor (15).

(Quick aside: Two other members of last year's top 15 who will take the field in 2014 are Marshall and Dak Prescott. Since they play quarterback, of course, they are inessential for the purposes of this article.)

That's a pretty impressive list of names, huh? And those players are just the known commodities. Auburn should be fine with the trio of Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and Peyton Barber, plus the addition of highly-touted freshman Racean Thomas this fall. Georgia will get back Keith Marshall, who missed the last eight games of 2013 after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament versus Tennessee. The Bulldogs also bring in a pair of well-regarded freshmen in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.

And LSU, which never seems to miss a beat with its running game, has the top player in the Class of 2014 set to take over in the backfield in Leonard Fournette.

So forget about signal-callers dominating the headlines. The "year of the quarterback" in the SEC was so last year.

In 2014, running backs are back.

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