Bret Bielema's first season as Arkansas' head coach didn't go according to plan, but it wasn't due to lack of effort by the running backs.
Alex Collins rushed for 1,026 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman in 2013, and Jonathan Williams added 900 rushing yards and four touchdowns in an offense that was painfully one-dimensional.
It's up to quarterback Brandon Allen to add that second dimension through the air, but one thing Bielema did accomplish this spring was solidify a third option at running back.
Korliss Marshall, a 6'0", 203-pound sophomore, broke out in Arkansas' spring game last month, rushing for 99 yards and two touchdowns, including a 59-yarder, according to the box score released by Arkansas. His performance on spring's biggest stage impressed Allen.
“He’s a very fast back. He’s powerful, he’s strong and he can break away like you saw today," Allen said in quotes released by Arkansas. "He just adds to that trio of running backs we have going. They all three have their own special abilities. He’s a very explosive back.”
That trio could be one of the best running back groups in the SEC.
Sure, Alabama has T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyon Drake. Georgia has Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and talented freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. Texas A&M has Trey Williams, Brandon Williams and Tra Carson.
How does Arkansas' group compare to those?
It's right up there.
Collins' performance as a true freshman last season doesn't get talked about enough. He broke the century mark for a team in a season when the passing game was nonexistent and everybody in every building the Razorbacks played in knew what was coming.
It didn't matter to Collins, and it didn't matter to Bielema.
The same can be said for Williams, who fought the same battles Collins did when he was in the game. The two established players know that competition is good, and that a rising tide lifts all boats.
“It is competition, always," Williams said in quotes released by Arkansas. "It is good. Everyone is going to be working hard. I just feel like we should be running the ball 80 times a game.”
Whoa now, 80 times per game?
Sounds a bit like an exaggeration, but judging from Bielema's track-record, managing a trio of running backs won't be an issue.
In 2010 at Wisconsin, Bielema won a share of the Big Ten with James White (1,052 yards), John Clay (1,012 yards) and Montee Ball (996 yards) all splitting carries. That trio combined for 506 carries, and the Badgers as a team ran the ball 584 times—44.9 times per game.
This group of running backs is going to be solid even if Allen, Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney don't figure out a way to stretch the field.
If the passing game picks up and keeps opposing defenses honest, this running back corps could be the SEC's best.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Few entities in sports wear the bull's-eye on their backs more proudly than the college football programs in the SEC.
What has for years been heralded as the nation’s top conference prides itself on unveiling new banners and increasing space in the trophy cases for new hardware.
The 2014 season promises to provide one of the toughest challenges for SEC dominance, though. In case you haven’t noticed, the Pac-12 is very good and loaded with returning quarterback talent, only ramping up the competition for top conference honors. Stanford, Oregon and UCLA should be among the national elite teams. The middle class is just as tough, with teams like Arizona, Arizona State, USC and Washington making life out west difficult.
The Big Ten has three legitimate Top 10 contenders as well in Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Furthermore, the departure of several key quarterbacks—Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Georgia’s Aaron Murray, to name three—leaves the SEC relying on either new quarterbacks to produce right away or new teams to step up to carry the conference banner.
Teams like Florida, Mississippi State and Ole Miss—all of which return quarterbacks—need to improve for the league to maintain its reign over public opinion.
Today we examine 10 nonconference games critical in the SEC’s quest to remain the consensus pick as the nation’s top football conference.
We determined these games by considering the likelihood of a loss, what that loss would mean in the big picture to the conference and when and where the game is played.