This time last summer, Spencer Ware was the LSU running back at the center of the preseason hype.
It was certainly justified excitement. Months before his sophomore season, Ware was coming off a 102-yard performance on just 10 carries in LSU's Cotton Bowl thrashing of Texas A&M. He followed that up in April 2011 with a 103-yard, two-touchdown afternoon on just 13 carries in the Tigers' spring game.
Ware seemed certain to deliver on the promise in the early going of the 2011 campaign, when he opened the season with 100-yard efforts in three of LSU's first four games. But LSU redefined the idea of running back by committee last season, as we've since come to learn. Ware's return to the pack was no doubt aided by a one-game suspension for violating team rules when the Tigers faced Auburn.
A quick look at the statistics shows a season-long commitment to spreading the wealth, though. LSU had five ball carriers tally 60 or more attempts in 2011. Of those five, all of them averaged at least 25.8 yards per game and no more than 54.4 -- the very definition of a shared load.
There's no denying that Ware was the bulldozer of the bunch. He led all rushers with 177 attempts, and his 54.4 yards per game was the highest average. But the production dropped off after the Auburn suspension. Ware's 70 yards against Ole Miss were the closest he came to 100 in the second half of the season, and he only scored two of his eight touchdowns in that span.
In his place roared Kenny Hilliard, who announced his presence with 65 yards and two scores against Auburn, and continued to a total of 336 yards and eight touchdowns -- the vast majority of which came between mid-October and December. Fellow junior Michael Ford also took advantage, as he finished as the Tigers' leading rusher with 772 yards on 50 fewer carries than Ware.
Of course, in true LSU style, Hilliard followed up his hot finish to the season with just 16 yards against Alabama in the BCS Championship Game and a mere 40 yards on eight carries in the spring game, while senior Alfred Blue galloped for 93 yards on just seven.
LSU spring games have an illustrious history of being meaningless in determining trends for the coming season. But is it starting to become clear that any one of the Tigers' four backs is capable of shouldering the load. The only one of the foursome who hasn't had his moment in the spotlight is Blue, who, at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, perhaps possesses the best combination of size and speed.
Of course, none of that includes new arrival Jeremy Hill, an imposing figure at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds -- or Terrence Magee, who rushed for 133 yards last year before missing the spring with an injury. Even with the loss of Jordan Jefferson's running abilities, the Tigers have five or six viable options heading into the fall.
Considering LSU has run the ball an average of 521 times during the past three seasons, there will be plenty of carries to go around. With no determined favorite going into camp, the next few weeks could determine who gets the lion's -- or Tigers' -- share of the work.