In the first part of this series we took a look at what should be a much improved and deeper secondary unit, but one which might have a difficult time replicating the production from 2012. Today, we look at the running back position where a pair of seniors depart after very strong careers.
*Rankings are from 1 (poor) to 10 (great).
2012 Running Backs:
High numbers across the board for a running back unit that was good to great on the season. In fact, with the exception of the Purdue and Alabama games the running backs largely carried the offense and produced big time results in many critical moments. Moreover, with a little bit more experience at the quarterback position and the passing game's ability to open up the field the ground game could have been even better.
This unit had a versatile and tough starter (Riddick), a faster and more explosive backup (Wood), a raw but true home run threat (Atkinson), and a scrappy 4th option (McDaniel). Except wanting some more dynamic play from your starter this is pretty close to a perfect collection of differing talent at this position.
Riddick and Wood combined for 1,659 yards (67.3% of total rushing) and that is a large chunk of change to be losing this fall. Combining Atkinson and McDaniel's yardage adds another 486 yards but we all know last year was primarily a Theo & Cierre show.
2013 Running Backs:
Obviously the experience rating takes a plunge this fall. With Riddick and Wood gone the Irish are losing 694 career rushing attempts and bringing back just 105 career carries between 6 players---which includes a pair of incoming freshman of course.
The other rankings are due for a slight decline across the board but nothing too drastic. There's enough talent for the Irish running game to be quite good in 2013, but there just isn't the experienced veteran(s) in place where I have enough confidence that the ground game is going to improve.
I will say that there is plenty of potential with this 2013 unit. Atkinson may not be refined but he offers big-play potential that few runners have. Carlisle is still a mystery but could be the most dynamic back in quite some time. Lastly, Greg Bryant could turn in a sensational freshman campaign or Tarean Folston could do something very similar.
There's a good mix of power and speed, as well as versatility in pass catching with McDaniel, Carlisle, and Folston too. Still, there isn't enough experience to think someone will step up the way Riddick did with his versatility and clutch play. The same could be said for the other categories where a ton of bodies could see action (depth) and the talent is certainly there (including the highest rated running back in a long time) to do a lot of damage.
To sum up, I think the running backs will be a little worse this fall but the team might rush for about the same amount of yards as last year primarily because quarterback Everett Golson could double his yardage on the ground.