Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
One of MSU's many early departures was the second best rusher in 2012
The bottom of the list is hard to parse because most of these teams do not bring much back. Each of these programs needs to focus on recruiting more depth going forward, or else the stay at the bottom of the conference standings may be prolonged.
Here's a brief summary for each team looking to improve in the future:
128 yards per game in 2012 (99th nationally)
Leading Returner – junior Donovonn Young (571 yards, 3 TD)
The Illini struggled to get any running game going behind the offensive line last season, and the depth issues up front will continue next year. That means, even with the top three rushers back from a season ago (including QB Nathan Scheelhaase), there is not much to fear for opposing defenses from this aspect of the Illinois offense.
164 yards per game in 2012 (59th nationally)
Leading Returner – junior Akeem Hunt (335 yards, 2 TD)
Purdue loses the top rusher for the team in Akeem Shavers, who contributed 871 yards in 2012. Shavers and Hunt looked to be a fearsome duo coming into last season but only Shavers distinguished himself during conference play. That leaves the Boilermakers with some big question marks and not much to lean on in 2013.
149 yards per game in 2012 (77th nationally)
Leading Returner – junior Nick Hill (48 yards, 1 TD)
Yes, that 48 yards is seriously the top rusher returning thanks to the unexpected departure of Le'Veon Bell to the NFL draft. The Spartans will turn to a bunch of recruits from last season and this season to fill in where a superstar carried the offense last year. This is the most unproven backfield in the conference, and possibly the country.
152 yards per game in 2012 (69th nationally)
Leading Returner – junior Donnell Kirkwood (926 yards, 6 TD)
Kirkwood ranked in the top 10 rushers for 2012, but there is not a lot of proven help behind him. In addition, when QB MarQueis Gray went down with an injury, the running game really struggled with just Kirkwood being the primary threat. Plus Kirkwood built up well over half his numbers against non-conference foes, which indicates a tendency to disappear when it counts most.