1. Georgia running back Nick Chubb: It felt like Florida managed to slow Chubb in Jacksonville last year, but he still compiled 156 yards on the ground and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. When Todd Gurley was out of the lineup in 2014, there wasn’t much of a drop off in the backfield for the Bulldogs. Chubb is built like a bowling ball and runs like it, bouncing off opponents to pick up extra yardage. If defenders don’t get low to tackle him, they usually can’t bring Chubb to the ground.
The challenge for Georgia will be getting enough out of the passing game to keep defenses from loading the box to take away the run. However, that’s what most defenses did last year and Chubb still ran for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns.
2. LSU running back Leonard Fournette: A dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate coming into the fall, Fournette showed plenty of potential during his freshman year. The former five-star recruit ran for 1,034 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry to go with 10 touchdowns. What could keep his numbers down this fall is the way the LSU staff manages the running back position. They rotate through multiple backs, which could keep Fournette’s stats out of the Heisman Trophy range.
He will need to carry the load for an LSU offense still searching for answers at quarterback. With breakaway speed and power to run through tackles, it likely won’t draw laughs across the country if Fournette does the Heisman Trophy pose after a touchdown run this season.
3. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook: We’ll leave Cook on this list while the legal process plays out, but it does look like that the sophomore will at least miss some time this season. Whether it’s a few games or the entire season is yet to be determined, but if he’s on the field, Cook will create problems for every team the Seminoles play. After running for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman, Cook got better as the season went on before battling fumbling issues in the national semifinal loss to Oregon.
Still, the momentum from his freshman year had Cook picked as a popular breakout player for the 2015 season. His top-end speed makes him a threat to score from any place on the field, and he’s more powerful than most traditional speed backs. The big question here remains status with the team, but if he’s on the field, he’s an elite running back.
4. Missouri running back Russell Hansbrough: The Tigers have had the Gators’ number over the last two seasons, and they’ve done it without Hansbrough going for more than 50 yards in either game. However, he has plenty of talent and is a big boost for the Missouri offense as a senior. Quarterback Maty Mauk’s inconsistent play over the last two years plus zero returning receivers with over 50 yards means the Tigers could lean heavily on Hansbrough in the running game this fall.
5. Tennessee running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara: The Volunteers have two running backs that bring different things to the table. Hurd is a powerful sophomore with a 6-3, 230-pound build that can run through tackles. Kamara brings the speed out of the backfield and can score from anywhere on the field. Both were formerly five-star prospects and will form a difficult pairing for opposing defenses.
In previous matchups with Florida, the Volunteers haven’t been able to run the ball. It has been the big difference in the rivalry that has produced a 10-game winning streak for the Gators, but Tennessee is built to change that on the ground this fall.