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August 14, 2008

Wells leads pack in running back rankings

MORE: Rivals.com Countdown to Kickoff

Today, Rivals.com starts our preseason power rankings on a position-by-position basis. We'll continue Friday with the introduction of our receiver rankings. The whole shebang ends Aug. 22, when we unveil a 1-120 ranking of the nation's quarterbacks.

This could have been a memorable season for running backs. The NFL Draft changed that in a hurry.

Three of the top four rushers from last season UCF's Kevin Smith, Rutgers' Ray Rice and Arkansas' Darren McFadden chose to turn pro after their junior seasons. Other junior running backs to enter the draft included Oregon's Jonathan Stewart, Texas' Jamaal Charles, Arkansas' Felix Jones, Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall and West Virginia's Steve Slaton.

Their departures will have a major impact, but plenty of star power remains in backfields across the country.

Perhaps no runner stands out quite as much as Ohio State's Chris Wells, who could end the season by joining Vic Janowicz, Howard "Hopalong" Cassady, Archie Griffin and Eddie George as Heisman-winning Buckeyes running backs.

Wells rushed for 1,609 yards last season and enters his junior year as the No. 1 running back in the Rivals.com Power Rankings, which measure the nation's top players and coaches at each position. He's followed closely by two sophomore standouts.

The rating of a player and coach can fluctuate each week during the season depending on how they fared the previous week, but the power rankings measure overall career performances as well as their most recent results.

THE RUNNING BACK RANKINGS
1. Chris Wells, Ohio State, Jr.
The Buzz: Wells' huge sophomore season allows him to enter 2008 as the main person standing between Tim Tebow and a second consecutive Heisman Trophy.
2. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia, Soph.
The Buzz: The only question is whether Georgia's rebuilt offensive line will give him enough running room. Then again, Moreno sure found plenty of holes last season while running behind a line with three freshman starters.
3. LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh, Soph.
The Buzz: Which sophomore sensation is growing more tired of the comparisons: Moreno to Herschel Walker or McCoy to Tony Dorsett?
4. Javon Ringer, Michigan State, Sr.
The Buzz: This ranking may be a little high for a guy who's never carried the entire rushing load by himself, but that career average of 6.1 yards per carry is tough to overlook.
5. Marlon Lucky, Nebraska, Sr.
The Buzz: Lucky rushed for 1,057 yards last season, but his school-record 75 receptions proves he's also a threat when he leaves the backfield.
6. James Davis, Clemson, Sr.
The Buzz: Davis and teammate C.J. Spiller give Clemson the nation's top tailback tandem now that Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Felix Jones have moved on to the NFL.
7. Joe McKnight, USC, Soph.
The Buzz: We obviously are taking a leap of faith on a guy who hasn't even won a starting job yet, but we're betting his brilliant Rose Bowl performance was a sign of things to come.
8. Noel Devine, West Virginia, Soph.
The Buzz: We think you'll be watching plenty of highlights of the guy who should spend every weekend helping West Virginia fans forget Steve Slaton.
9. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma, Soph.
The Buzz: Murray rushed for 13 TDs on just 127 carries last season. Imagine how often he will reach the end zone if he ever gets to touch the ball 20 times per game.
10. Damion Fletcher, Southern Miss, Jr.
The Buzz: Fletcher's 2,974 rushing yards over the past two seasons are most of any active Division I-A player.
11. C.J. Spiller, Clemson, Jr.
The Buzz: Spiller didn't produce quite as many long touchdowns last year as he did in his freshman season. Will the big plays return this season?
12. Arian Foster, Tennessee, Sr.
The Buzz: Foster has an excellent chance of ending his career as the leading rusher in the history of Tennessee, which has produced plenty of quality backs over the years.
13. P.J. Hill, Wisconsin, Jr.
The Buzz: Wisconsin's chances of winning the Big Ten depend in part on whether Hill can stay healthy all season and recapture his 2006 form.
14. Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern, Sr.
The Buzz: Sutton leads all active running backs in the nation in career receptions per game (3.7) and receiving yards per game (30.3). He also leads all active Big Ten players with 2,996 career rushing yards.
15. Ian Johnson, Boise State, Sr.
The Buzz: Even after an injury-plagued 2007 season, Johnson leads all active players with 45 career rushing touchdowns.
16. Harvey Unga, BYU, Soph.
The Buzz: Unga set a Mountain West Conference record last season with 1,840 all-purpose yards and became the first BYU freshman ever to rush for 1,000 yards.
17. Mike Goodson, Texas A&M, Jr.
The Buzz: We're taking a chance that Goodson will recapture his 2006 form after a down year last season.
18. Josh Adams, Wake Forest, Soph.
The Buzz: Adams rushed for 12 touchdowns last year and might need to contribute even more this season now that the Deacons are without former star receiver Kenny Moore.
19. Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State, Jr.
The Buzz: Dixon isn't much of a breakaway threat, but he also isn't a threat to break down. He set a school record last season with 287 carries.
20. Graig Cooper, Miami, Soph.
The Buzz: This spot just as easily could go to Miami teammate Javarris James, but we're guessing Cooper gets the majority of the rushing yards out of this talented tandem.
21. Terry Grant, Alabama, Soph.
The Buzz: Grant was one of the hottest running backs in the nation the first few weeks of his redshirt freshman season. Now he just needs to deliver those kinds of performances on a consistent basis.
22. Brad Lester, Auburn, Sr.
The Buzz: Now that he no longer has to worry about academic problems, Lester should be primed for a breakthrough season. Of course, he still must compete for carries with talented teammate Ben Tate.
23. Richard Murphy, LSU, Soph.
The Buzz: Here's yet another example of a guy earning a spot that just as easily could have gone to a teammate. Murphy has stood out the most in the preseason, but Keiland Williams or Charles Scott could move to the front of the depth chart at some point in the regular season.
24. Eugene Jarvis, Kent, Jr.
The Buzz: The little guy (5-5/170) is the nation's leading returning rusher. Jarvis rushed for 1,669 yards last season, which broke the previous school single-season record by more than 300 yards.
25. Ryan Mathews, Fresno State, Soph.
The Buzz: Mathews rushed for 14 touchdowns last season to match Moreno and McCoy for the NCAA freshman lead. He also averaged more yards per carry than Moreno or McCoy to pick up right where he left off after a brilliant high school career. He ran for 3,396 yards and 44 TDs as a high school senior at Bakersfield (Calif.)

MORE: Rivals.com Countdown to Kickoff

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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