Nation's best running games

Behind Curtis McNeal, USC (quietly) has college football's top ground attack

Updated: August 2, 2012, 12:02 PM ET
By KC Joyner | ESPN Insider
Curtis McNealAdam Davis/Icon SMICurtis McNeal's strength, speed and ability to read tacklers on the fly make him a dynamic back.

The college football world as a whole may be in the midst of a passing revolution, but when three of the past four BCS national champions have averaged fewer than 25 pass attempts per game -- and two of those teams averaged 42 or more rush attempts per contest.

It shows that, at least at the upper levels of the sport, the ground game is still king.

So which teams have the best chance of being the dominant team in the rushing realm in 2012?

An in-depth tape and metrics review shows that these are the top 10 running games in college football:

1. USC Trojans

Returning starting OL: 4
Lead rusher: Curtis McNeal

All the talk surrounding the USC running game is whether they'll be adding Silas Redd of Penn State before the start of the season. But the reason the Trojans are here isn't all about the depth, or lack thereof, at running back. You need to start up front. The Trojans will miss All-American left tackle Matt Kalil, but they do have four returning offensive linemen (including an Outland Award watch candidate in center Khaled Holmes). This for a unit that, very quietly, was very good in 2011. The Trojans trailed only Oregon and Stanford in terms of ground efficiency in the Pac-12 last year, and return more.

They also have Robert Woods, who is known as the best workhorse wideout in college football but is also quite adept at walling off defenders. Check out this 61-yard touchdown run that McNeal tallied against Stanford last year. Woods starts off by blocking the cornerback, but McNeal makes a cut to the outside that leads the safety in Woods' direction.

At that point, most wideouts would just try to get in the way of one of the defenders, but Woods went one step further by disengaging the cornerback and placing a snotbubble block on the safety.

What makes this play stand out even more is how McNeal set up the block. He was able to quickly and accurately assess that Woods' block was creating an outside line that he could cut back behind that would wall the safety off. Very few rushers can execute that type of decision-making on the fly and even fewer have the physical skills to execute them as fast as McNeal can. DJ Morgan should also play a key role, and will be more explosive in 2012. USC might have the best passing game in the country, which will only force defenses to pick their poison, potentially making the run game that much more effective.


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