ALL-TIME ALL-SEC: Rating the RBs

When it comes to running backs, the Southeastern Conference takes a backseat to no one. It all starts at the top with Herschel Walker who should have won the Heisman all three years he played, but settled for the 1982 award as college football's best player. The tradition of great running backs in the league is long and impressive. Here is my top ten running backs in SEC history.

TOMORROW: Receivers.

RUNNING BACKS:

1. HERSCHEL WALKER, GEORGIA: As a true freshman in 1980 he led Georgia to an unbeaten season and the national championship. He should have won the Heisman all three years he played because he was simply the best player in all of college football. He was 6-2, 230 and he had world class sprinter's speed. He never lifted weights and lived on Snickers bars, yet he was the ultimate freak of nature. He gained 5,259 yards in just three seasons before bolting to the USFL in what would have been his senior year. He averaged 159 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry for his career, scoring 52 rushing touchdowns. Georgia won three SEC championships and went 33-3 during his three years as the most dominating player in all of college football. He still holds 11 NCAA records and 16 SEC records. Member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

2. EMMITT SMITH, FLORIDA: In a lot of ways, you can compare Emmitt Smith with Archie Manning --- a thoroughbred amidst a herd of donkeys who carried an entire team on his shoulders for three years. The numbers are 3,928 yards but that includes the "Amdedeeville Horror" --- the 1988 season when the genius offensive coordinator Lynn Amedee did what all of college football couldn't do: held Emmitt under 1,000 yards. Amedee thought Emmitt could serve the team best as a "decoy." In 1989, with every defense in the SEC geared to stop him and Florida without anything closely resembling a passing game, Emmitt still gained 1,599 yards. Some of his greatest runs were just getting back to the line of scrimmage. He averaged 126.7 yards per game for his career. He was All-America in 1989. Went on to become the greatest rusher in the history of the National Football League. Not bad for a running back that recruiting "genius" Max Emfinger said was a wasted scholarship for Florida when he signed in the spring of 1987. Emfinger called Emmitt a "plugger." Counting high school, college and the NFL, the "plugger" gained more than 25,000 yards.

3. BILLY CANNON, LSU: Watch the highlight film of his punt return against Ole Miss on Halloween night in 1959 and you will understand why he's ranked third. On that 89-yard return that allowed LSU to beat Ole Miss, Cannon was hit nine times. At 6-1, 210, he had outstanding power to go with 9.5 speed that won the SEC sprint championship in track. He was also one of the best linebackers in the country in this era of one-platoon football. In his three-year career, he gained 1867 yards rushing, 522 yards receiving and 965 yards returning kicks. He led LSU to the National Championship in 1958 and in 1959 he won the Heisman Trophy. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

4. BO JACKSON, AUBURN: Like Herschel Walker, Bo was a total freak of nature. He was 6-1, 222 pounds with world class speed. He was also a star on the baseball team who went on to become one of the few athletes in history to make both the Pro Bowl in the NFL and the All-Star team in Major League Baseball. At Auburn, he rushed for 4,303 yards and scored 43 rushing touchdowns. In 1985 he won the Heisman Trophy with 1,786 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He made All-America in 1983 and 1985. Member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

5. FRANKIE SINKWICH, GEORGIA: They called him "Flatfoot Frankie" and he could do it all. You could make a case for him as one of the SEC's all-time best quarterbacks or running backs since he rushed for 30 touchdowns but he also passed for 30 playing in Wally Butts' double wing offense. For his career he rushed for 2,271 yards (30 TDs) and he threw for 2,331 yards (30 TDs). In 1942 he won the Heisman Trophy by rushing for 795 yards and 17 touchdowns and throwing for 1,392 yards and 10 touchdowns. What makes that feat all the more amazing is that he never missed a game despite a broken jaw suffered in the third game of the season. Led Georgia to a Rose Bowl win over UCLA and a National Championship in 1942. Member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

6. CHARLEY TRIPPI, GEORGIA: In the 1942 National Championship season, Trippi rushed for 672 yards and eight touchdowns and threw for 567 yards. He was the MVP of the Rose Bowl win over UCLA, a game in which he rushed for 130 yards. After the Rose Bowl win, he went off to war for a couple of years then came back for two outstanding seasons. In 1945, he ran for ten touchdowns and passed for 10 then in 1946, he ran for 744 yards and 14 touchdowns and threw for 622 yards and five touchdowns. He was First Team All-America in 1946 and won the Maxwell Award, which at the time was considered as prestigious as the Heisman Trophy. He was also All-America in baseball in 1946. He played both professional baseball and pro football. He's a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

7. JOHNNY MUSSO, ALABAMA: Musso wasn't all that big (5-10, 191) and he wasn't all that fast but nobody could stop him. He gained 2,741 yards in a three-year career with 34 touchdowns. In his senior year, he gained 1,088 yards for 5.7 yards per carry with 16 touchdowns as he earned SEC Player of the Year in a season that Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy. He was a First Team All-America selection in 1970 and 1971 in addition to making Academic All-America twice. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting (Sullivan won it) in 1971. Member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

8. CHARLES ALEXANDER, LSU: "Alexander the Great" ran for 4,035 yards and 40 touchdowns in a 44-game college football career that included a season best 1,686 yards in 1977. He was a tremendous runner inside the tackles who could accelerate and go all the way once he got into the secondary. He made First Team All-America in both 1977 and 1978. He had 13 100-yard plus rushing games in those two seasons even though defenses were stacked against him. Another big back (215 pounds) with sprinter's speed.

9. DALTON HILLIARD, LSU: Hilliard is one of those backs who had to be seen to be appreciated. Not a big guy (5-9, 190), he was a darter who could go inside or outside. He never had a 200-yard rushing game but he had 20 in which he went over the 100-yard barrier. He ran for 4,050 yards and 44 touchdowns but he also caught passes for more 1,133 yards and six touchdowns. He was a three-time All-SEC selection (1982, 1984-85).

(TIE) 10. NEAL ANDERSON, FLORIDA: Like Hilliard, Anderson put up his numbers quietly. In many cases, you didn't know how much he had impacted the game until you saw the stats afterward. He just did his job and did it well. For his career, he had 3,234 yards and 30 touchdowns with a career best of 1,034 in 1985. Anderson was second team All-SEC in 1983, then first team in 1984 and 1985. He was also Academic All-SEC.

(TIE) 10. CADILLAC WILLIAMS, AUBURN: All-America in 2004, Williams was first team All-SEC and SEC Special Teams Player of the Year. Gained 1,165 yards and scored 12 touchdowns to help Auburn to a 13-0 season in 2005. For his career, he gained 3,831 yards rushing and had 5,084 all-purpose yards. He is Auburn's all-time leader in touchdowns with 45. All-SEC in 2003 and 2004 and Academic All-SEC in 2004.

SPECIAL MENTION:

GEORGE ROGERS, SOUTH CAROLINA: He won the Heisman Trophy in 1980, long before South Carolina was a member of the SEC. Gained 1,894 yards in 1980 and had a career total of 5,204 yards with 27 100-yard plus games. Scored 33 rushing touchdowns in his career.

HONORABLE MENTION: Johnny Mack Brown, Alabama; Bobby Humphrey, Alabama; Tony Nathan, Alabama; Shaun Alexander, Alabama; Joe Cribbs, Auburn; Tucker Frederickson, Auburn; James Brooks, Auburn; Brent Fullwood, Auburn; John L Williams, Florida; Larry Smith, Florida; Errict Rhett, Florida; Fred Taylor, Florida; Willie McClendon, Georgia; Garrison Hearst, Georgia; Sonny Collins, Kentucky; Kevin Faulk, LSU; Jim Taylor, LSU; Jackie Parker, Mississippi State; Charlie Flowers, Ole Miss; Deuce McAlister, Ole Miss; Beattie Feathers, Tennessee; George Cafego, Tennessee; Hank Lauricella, Tennessee; Jamal Lewis, Tennessee; Travis Henry, Tennessee; Charlie Garner, Tennessee; John J. Tigert, Vanderbilt.

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