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Top five running backs Kentucky football will face in 2016

Georgia running back Nick Chubb, considered one of the best backs in the country, is hoping to return after missing half of 2015 after tearing an ACL.
Georgia running back Nick Chubb, considered one of the best backs in the country, is hoping to return after missing half of 2015 after tearing an ACL. Macon Telegraph

For the next installment in our series, we look at the top five running backs Kentucky will face in the 2016 college football season.

There is some uncertainty about the list, including health. Georgia has the makings of a terrific 1-2 punch in its backfield if the Bulldogs are healthy. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are both coming off of injuries.

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Alabama has an uncertain situation as far as personnel. The defending national champs must replace Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry plus sidekick Kenyan Drake. Former Madison Southern star Damien Harris, the MVP of Alabama’s A-Day game, is likely to share time with Bo Scarborough in Nick Saban’s backfield.

1. Nick Chubb, Georgia: If the 5-foot-10, 220-pound junior back is recovered from the horrendous knee injury (three torn ligaments in left knee) he suffered last season at Tennessee, Chubb will be the best back Mark Stoops’ defense faces this season.

The Cedartown, Georgia native has rushed for 2,294 yards and 21 touchdowns in basically just a little over a season. In 2014, he took over after Todd Gurley was suspended. Then his 2015 season was cut short by the injury -- after Chubb had rushed for 120, 189, 159, 131 and 146 yards through the first six games of the season. He finished with 747 yards on 92 carries for an average of 8.1 yards per carry.

Phil Steele ranks Chubb as the fifth-best NFL draft eligible running back for next season. Lindy’s ranks Chubb as the fourth-best running back in college football. In 14 career starts, Chubb has failed to reach 100 yards in just one game.

Chubb missed last season’s Kentucky game, but rushed for 170 yards on just 13 carries against the Cats in 2014. He had runs of 23, 27 and 55 yards in Georgia’s 63-31 win.

Reportedly, Chubb’s rehabilitation has gone well, but it’s uncertain whether he’ll be ready for Georgia’s Sept. 3 opener against North Carolina. That’s just nine months after Chubb’s injury. UGA doesn’t travel to Lexington until Nov. 5.

2. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee: One of the taller running backs you’ll find, Hurd is also one of the better running backs you’ll find. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound native of Hendersonville, Tenn. rushed for 1,288 yards on 277 carries in 2015 after gaining 899 yards on 190 carries in 2014.

Over his first two seasons, Hurd has rushed for over 100 yards in 10 different games, including six last year. He gained 118 yards and scored a touchdown on 24 carries against UK in 2014, but gained just 61 yards on 18 attempts, with one score, last year.

“Jalen Hurd is a three-down running back; he can get the tough yards, he can be elusive, he can pass protect, he can catch the football out of the backfield,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones told the Tennessean. “He’s a weapon. He’s very determined. And then you throw in his size (6-foot-4, 240 pounds).”

Hurd gained 130 yards in Tennessee’s 45-6 drubbing of Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. That made him the only back in UT history to gain at least 100 yards in two different bowl games. He was also one of just 19 backs last year to average more than 20 carries a game. Phil Steele ranks Hurd as the sixth-best NFL draft eligible running back for the 2016 season.

3. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: The 5-foot-10, 202-pound junior from Gainesville, Fla. has been the brightest light on bad offenses the past couple of seasons in Nashville. Webb rushed for 907 yards on 212 carries with four touchdowns as a freshman in 2014. He followed that up with 1,152 yards on 277 carries in 2015, just the fifth player in Vandy history to rush for 1,000 yards.

Webb had four 100-yard rushing games last season after two his freshman year. He gained 113 yards on 33 carries in Vandy’s 21-17 win over UK last season at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Webb finished last year on a high note, gaining 149 yards on 21 carries at Tennessee. It was the first time a Commodore had reached the century mark against the Vols since 1995. It also made his 277 carries for the season a school record.

4. Larry Rose III, New Mexico State: One of the more underrated backs in the nation, the 5-foot-11, 184-pound junior rushed for 1,651 yards on 239 attempts last season, his second straight 1,000-yard season. Rose rushed for 1,102 yards as a true freshman, the Aggies’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 1995.

In three different games last season, Rose rushed for 200-or-more yards, including 260 yards on 21 carries with three touchdowns against arch-rival New Mexico. Rose also caught 30 passes out of the backfield last season and was named the Sun Belt Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

The Fairfield, Texas native has a Kentucky connection. His head coach is former UK quarterback Doug Martin, who played for Jerry Claiborne from 1981-1984 and was a graduate assistant at UK. Martin went on to be an assistant at several spots and head coach at Kent State, going 29-53 in seven seasons. He’s 7-29 after three seasons at New Mexico State.

Phil Steele ranks Rose as the 33rd-best NFL draft eligible running back for 2016. New Mexico State visits Lexington on Sept. 17.

5. Sony Michel, Georgia: That’s right, not only do we have two Georgia running backs on the list, we have two injured Georgia running backs on the list. No. 1 Nick Chubb is coming off a 2015 ACL tear. Michel is coming off a broken left forearm suffered July 4 during an ATV accident. He is expected to be back for Georgia’s opener, though Michel will probably have to wear a soft cast.

After Chubb’s injury last year, Michel took over and ended the season with 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns on 219 carries. He carried the ball just 64 yards for 410 yards as a true freshman n 2014, though he did gain 155 yards on just 10 carries against Troy that year.

Last year, Michel gained 145 yards on 22 carries against Tennessee and wound up sixth in the league in both rushing yards and yards from scrimmage. He gained a career-high 165 yards on 24 carries with one touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 27-3 win over Kentucky in Athens. Phil Steele ranks the 5-foot-11, 212-pound junior from Plantation, Florida as the 16th-best NFL draft eligible running back for 2016.

One note about this year’s Dawgs, however. The Georgia offense will be operating under its third different coordinator in three seasons -- Mike Bobo in 2014 and Brian Schottenheimer in 2015 under Mark Richt; Jim Chaney in 2016 under new coach Kirby Smart.

Top rushers against Kentucky in 2015

Opp

Rusher

Att

Yds

TD

UL-Lafayette

Torrey Pierce

10

110

2

South Carolina

Brandon Wilds

16

106

0

Florida

Will Grier (qb)

12

61

1

Missouri

Ish Witter

11

50

0

Eastern Ky

Ethan Thomas

20

84

0

Auburn

Peyton Barber

26

92

2

Miss State

Dak Prescott (qb)

13

117

3

Tennessee

Alvin Kamara

4

70

0

Georgia

Sony Michel

24

165

1

Vanderbilt

Ralph Webb

33

113

0

Charlotte

Andrew Buie

23

76

0

Louisville

Lamar Jackson (qb)

17

186

2

Kentucky 2016 football schedule

Date

Opponent

9/3/16

Southern Miss

9/10/16

@Florida

9/17/16

New Mexico St

9/24/16

South Carolina

10/1/16

@Alabama

10/8/16

Vanderbilt

10/22/16

Mississippi St

10/29/16

@Missouri

11/5/16

Georgia

11/12/16

@Tennessee

11/19/16

Austin Peay

11/26/16

@Louisville

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