Breakout RB candidates for 2012
McNeal, Lacy, Barner, Bell and Brown are poised to put up big numbers next season
Signing day is just around the corner, and that means most minds are currently on players who will be the stars of their teams in 3-4 years.
As compelling as the recruiting battles are, for a change of pace I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at some of the players currently on college rosters who have a high-percentage chance of having a breakout season in 2012. This was done with quarterbacks in December, so this time around the focus will be on running backs.
We started by defining what the term "breakout player" means (we ruled out anyone who was a first- or second-team all-conference selection, or combined more than 200 carries and 1,000 yards last season). We then put together five guidelines that serve as good identifiers for potential upside: 2012 schedule strength; the number of returning starting offensive linemen on the running back's team; his season-long yards per carry (YPC) total; his good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) mark against his 5-6 toughest run defense opponents in 2011 (the GBYPA metric is a tape-based statistic that gauges how productive a running back is when given good blocking); and his team's run-blocking win rate against those same foes.
Taking into account all these factors, we created this list of the top five breakout running back candidates (ranked in order of the likelihood that they'll have strong 2012 seasons):
Schedule strength: Moderate
Returning starting offensive linemen: 4
Team run-blocking win rate: 50.9 percent
Just about every indicator says that McNeal will have a fantastic 2012 season. His GBYPA and the Trojans' run-blocking win rate were both the best of this group, and McNeal's 6.9 YPC were the 10th-best in FBS last season among running backs with 100 or more carries.
To read more on McNeal and the remaining four breakout RB candidates, sign up for ESPN Insider.
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- QB Lunt mulls Illinois after visit, sources say
- Former Arkansas QB Mitchell picks NC State
- McCartney back on WVU roster after 6 months
- Sources: C-USA to put team in Military Bowl
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
Insider CFB content
Expert Takes• Kiper: Top prospects for 2014, by position
• Haney: CFB's top 10 teams based on talent
• Kiper: Top QB prospects for 2014 | RBs | WRs
• Haney: Make-or-break QB prospect scenarios
• Joyner: Prospects set for breakout seasons
• Haney: Prospects who can elevate programs
Post-spring projections• Pac-12: Oregon, Stanford, USC on top
• ACC: Can Clemson win the league title?
• SEC: Bama, South Carolina early favorites
• Big Ten: Surprise winner in Legends
• Big 12: Two-team race for first place
RecruitingNation• Michigan No. 1 in 2014 class rankings
• Luginbill: Answering mailbag questions
• Crabtree: Urban recruits popular draft picks
• Notre Dame, Boise State trending up
• Recruiting updates for Pac-12 teams
• Recruiting updates for Big Ten teams
• Recruiting updates for SEC teams
• Recruiting updates for ACC teams
• Recruiting updates for Big East teams
• Recruiting updates for Big 12 teams
Get news and rumblings before anyone
Travis Haney's blog
Analysis and buzz from around the nation