The Southeastern Conference lost a lot of quality quarterbacks last season, so this season, a lot of attention is going to shift to the running backs in the conference. Bovada has some fun props up on which back is going to lead the conference in rushing. There are lots of good options to choose from, so we decided to rank them in terms of how we think they’ll finish.
1. Todd Gurley, Georgia Bulldogs
Odds To Lead SEC In Rushing: +200
When looking at the NCAAF odds to lead SEC in rushing, it's evident that the standout in the SEC is likely to be Gurley. He finished 53rd in the country last season with 989 rushing yards but remember that he missed three and a half games. Gurley’s 6.0 yards per carry average means that he would have been right around 1350 and 14 touchdowns had he stayed healthy last year. Overall, he’s the best pound-for-pound back and most NFL Draft experts expect him to be the first running back off the board in the 2015 Draft.
The bad news is that three starters are gone from his offensive line but the good news is so is Georgia’s excellent quarterback, Aaron Murray. With him being in the pros now, the Bulldogs are going to run the ball a lot more this season. This is why Gurley is a very strong candidate to be the leading rusher in the SEC. Not having Alabama on the schedule helps too.
2. Mike Davis, South Carolina Gamecocks
Odds To Lead SEC In Rushing: +225
Davis can turn on the jets in the open field, which might be surprising for a guy who is more powerful than Gurley. Davis is a great running back because he gets tough yards. Gurley is slightly more of a breakaway back, but Davis is probably going to be able to stay close over the course of the season. What’s also true about Davis’ situation is that it mirrors what Gurley faces at Georgia. South Carolina also lost a great quarterback from last season, Connor Shaw, so the Gamecocks are going to give Davis more touches. On top of that, throw in that ESPN rates the Gamecocks’ offensive line to be the best in the SEC this season and Davis figures to be in contention for the SEC rushing title.
Like Gurley, Davis and South Carolina don’t have Alabama on the regular season schedule.
3. Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn Tigers
Odds To Lead SEC In Rushing: +350
The best news for Auburn running backs in terms of the yardage they stand to gain is that coach Gus Malzahn has a plug-and-play quality to his offense. That’s great news for Artis-Payne, who is also going to be helped by the veteran experience of quarterback Nick Marshall and the fact that Auburn runs the ball more than any other team in the SEC (and country too). Only Navy (775) had more attempts than Auburn’s 729. The next closest team in the SEC was Missouri with 588.
At the same time, it’s also true that Marshall is going to take some rushing yards away from Artis-Payne. Looking back to last season, Marshall compiled 1068 rushing yards on 172 carries. That’s why Artis-Payne won’t be higher on the list.
4. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama Crimson Tide
Odds To Lead SEC In Rushing: +210
Yeldon is finished third in the conference in rushing last season (1235 yards) on just 207 carries. Why he’s not higher on this list is because the Tide are expected to unleash Derrick Henry this year, who averaged a whopping 10.6 yards per carry on just 36 carries. Yeldon is clearly the more polished, accomplished, experienced and well-rounded back, but being in a timeshare with Henry cuts into Yeldon’s chances of cashing for you on this prop. And don’t forget about Kenyan Drake, who is also in the mix in this crowded backfield.
5. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas Razorbacks
Odds To Lead SEC In Rushing: +350
The reality about Arkansas is that it isn’t very good and that its offensive line is still a work in progress. Even so, Williams is one of the best weapons on the team, so they’ll have to rely on him. With just a 150 carries last season, he finished 10th in the conference. Add in 100 carries and he’ll be in the 1500-yard range and among the SEC leaders.
Coach Bret Bielema has coached a team with a 1000-yard back every year since 2006. There’s a good chance Williams extends that streak in 2014. But without much help around him, he’ll be in tough competing with Gurley and Davis for the conference lead.