Nebraska football fans waiting for the start of the season are ready to see Ameer Abdullah as NU’s starting I-back. While last year Abdullah was the de facto starter after Rex Burkhead’s injury, this season the starting job is unquestionably Abdullah’s.
So how good a season can Abdullah have? Can he be the Big Ten conference rushing leader? Here are some reasons to believe that he could take that crown home in 2013.
He Doesn’t Have That Far To Go
Take a look at last year’s rushing leaders from the B1G. Players that are not returning for 2013 are marked in strikethrough. Stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
|Le'Veon Bell||Michigan St||JR||13||382||1793||4.69||29.38||137.92|
|Braxton Miller||Ohio State||SO||12||227||1271||5.6||18.92||105.92|
|Zach Zwinak||Penn State||SO||12||203||1000||4.93||16.92||83.33|
|Carlos Hyde||Ohio State||JR||10||185||970||5.24||18.5||97|
Abdullah was sixth in the conference last year in rushing yards last season, even though he was only the fill-in starter after Burkhead’s injury. Coming into 2013, Abdullah is the undisputed starting I-back and should be getting the lion’s share of the carries (see more on that in a bit).
Nebraska’s offense is also far more run-centric than others in the conference. Even as a part-time starter, Abdullah had 226 carries last year. That’s more carries than starting tailbacks like Zack Swinak (Penn State, 203) and Donnell Kirkwood (Minnesota, 218). In a statistical freak of nature, Abdullah's number of carries last season was exactly the same as Northwestern’s Venric Mark, although Mark did outproduce Abdullah.
Last year, Nebraska led the B1G in total rushing attempts with 662, a staggering 47.29 attempts per game. Sure, a good chunk of those attempts will go to Taylor Martinez, and at least some will go to backups like Imani Cross and incoming freshmen Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor. But Abdullah should be the I-back bell cow, and that should mean more carries. And more carries in a run-heavy offense like Nebraska's means, ultimately, more yardage.
Tim Beck Likes the Hot Hand
2013 will be Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s third year calling plays for NU. In each of his first two seasons, Beck has had a deep stable of running backs to call on, and he has leaned on the guys he trusts rather than sharing the wealth.
In 2011, Nebraska had a total of 611 total rushes. Burkhead had 283 of them, for a total of 46.3 percent of NU’s rushes. Last year, Nebraska had a total of 662 carries. Abdullah—remember, the guy who was only spelling the No. 1 back in Burkhead—led the team with 34.1 percent of NU’s carries.
Yes, Nebraska will be ridiculously deep at I-back this year. Yes, it makes perfect sense to rotate those backs to keep them fresh, which would mean fewer carries for Abdullah.
But there is no evidence to date which would suggest Beck will deviate from form in how he uses his offensive weapons. So assuming Abdullah is healthy, it is reasonable to expect that his carries will increase from 2012.
It’s The Right Year for Him
Take a look at the table above. Three of the five players above Abdullah last season have left school. And each of Abdullah’s competitors this year for the B1G rushing crown have had some challenges to overcome.
Mark of Northwestern is a dynamic speed back who does not get the credit he deserves. But, Northwestern has drawn a monster conference schedule this season, with road games at Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska. After playing Ohio State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks, the Purples finish the year with back-to-back road trips against Iowa and Nebraska, followed by back-to-back home contests against Michigan and Michigan State. That’s a tough gauntlet for a running back to win a B1G rushing crown.
Carlos Hyde will be missing at least the first three games of the 2013 season, according to Ben Kerchival of NBC Sports. And yes, Hyde only started 10 games last season and was ninth in the conference rushing. But asking him to lead the conference after missing three games—at least three games, according to Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer—seems like a stretch.
Ironically enough, Hyde’s absence may also be a reason why fellow Buckeye Braxton Miller doesn’t win the conference rushing title. With Hyde out, much of the offense will flow through Miller. While knowing Miller will be the focal point of Ohio State’s offense and stopping him are two different things, the fact remains that Hyde’s absence will reduce the number of elite and proven weapons that the Buckeyes will have available.
Additionally, Miller has an injury history. While he did start twelve games last year, he has been injured and removed from a number of contests, including Nebraska in 2011 and Purdue in 2012. Should he miss more time next season, it would make his task of winning a B1G rushing title all the more difficult.
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