Alabama's T.J. Yeldon ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run last Saturday against Ole Miss, and Georgia's Todd Gurley has provided powerful runs all season.
Yet those two sophomores and every other Southeastern Conference tailback is chasing a newcomer -- Alex Collins of Arkansas.
The 5-foot-11, 206-pounder from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., leads the league with 597 yards, and he is the first freshman in SEC history to begin his career with three consecutive 100-yard games. Collins got his fourth 100-yard game last Saturday in his league debut, when he amassed 116 yards on 14 carries in a 45-33 loss to Texas A&M.
"I have surprised myself," Collins said last week in an interview on the University of Arkansas website. "I don't make or set goals of having this amount of yards. I just come to play and do whatever my coach needs me to do and just try and do it to perfection and have no missed assignments.
"Ultimately, at the end of the game, then I've surprised myself with how well I've done."
Collins rushed for 3,186 yards and 42 touchdowns during his final two seasons at South Plantation High, and he was rated by 247sports.com last winter as the nation's No. 1 tailback prospect. His commitment to Arkansas over Sunshine State schools was a surprise to many, and his recruitment took a bizarre twist on signing day when his mother initially refused to sign the letter of intent.
The most touted member of Bret Bielema's first Arkansas signing class made the quickest impact, rushing 21 times for 131 yards in the opening win over Louisiana-Lafayette, 24 carries for 172 yards in the escape of Samford and 25 carries for 115 yards in the defeat of Southern Miss. Rutgers is the only team so far to keep Collins under 100 yards, holding him to 63 on 16 carries.
Collins will face his toughest yet Saturday when the Razorbacks (3-2) play at No. 16 Florida (3-1).
"He's a good football player and a guy that we recruited, obviously," Gators coach Will Muschamp said during his Monday news conference. "He's a really good football player. He's done an outstanding job. He's averaged 120 yards rushing a game, so he's a very good football player."
Arkansas has never defeated the Gators since joining the SEC in 1992, which includes losses in the 1995 and 2006 league championship games.
Collins is the backup to Jonathan Williams, a 6-foot, 222-pound sophomore from Texas who has 73 carries for 471 yards. Williams ranks third in the SEC in rushing, with South Carolina's Mike Davis second with 508 yards.
Arkansas controls the ball for a healthy 33 minutes and six seconds a game, but that pales to Florida's ground game that has helped the Gators gobble up a nation-leading 38:58 of possession time.
"This might be the quickest game in the history of college football," Bielema said in his Monday media session.
Muschamp didn't disagree and believes both defenses could get tested in crunch time.
"Certainly you've got to find ways to get off the field on third downs," Muschamp said. "With a lot of two-back teams that run the ball very effectively, it's hard to give them negative plays. So you're going to be managing a lot of third-and-3, third-and-4 and third-and-5, which are easier conversions for an offense."
Collins is hoping to collect his share of first downs against a rushing defense that is tops nationally, having allowed 214 yards all season. Whether he produces against the Gators or not, there is certainly no looking back on his college choice.
"When I decided to come here, I wanted to put my heart into it," he said. "I didn't want to make a decision based on a school and not love that school and love everything about it. When I made my decision to come here, I was like, 'This is it. This is where I want to be.' I love being a Hog, and I don't see who wouldn't love being a Hog.
"It's the greatest school, in my opinion, and that's why I decided to come here."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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