Three yards and a cloud of dust, big offensive lineman—fact is, when most people think of the Big Ten, they think of the running game. It's hard not to when the conference continuously turns out top running backs.
In 2013, the Big Ten had six backs rush for over 1,000 yards and a quarterback (Braxton Miller) do it as well. This season four of those six backs return, making this list very difficult to put together.
Since we are looking forward, past results mean something, but not everything. With so many guys so close in production and promise, how do we separate them? Check out the slides to find out where the Big Ten backs stack up heading in to the spring.
One thing you won't find on this list are guys sitting this spring. We just don't know how that will turn out come fall.
*All stats are courtesy of CFBstats.com.
Every year there are backs that come out of nowhere to surprise the rest of the Big Ten, and in 2013 there were a few. Minnesota's David Cobb was one of those players, emerging from the shadow of Donnell Kirkwood and his near 1,000-yard season in 2012.
Cobb's starting job wasn't guaranteed to start the year, but he quickly took advantage of his opportunities and never looked back.
After rushing for 42 yards in his first two Big Ten games, Cobb found his footing in conference play. He rushed for over 100 yards in five of his final six B1G games, racking up 669 of his 1,202-yard total in those five games.
The 225-pound back proved to be very durable in 2013 as well, and his numbers could only increase this season with a bit more continuity around the pass game and some big time help arriving behind him in the running game.
Jeff Jones, a 4-star running back from the Minneapolis area, could provide the lighting to Cobb's thunder. If the two can coexist, the Gophers main back could actually become more productive.
Don't be surprised to see him top the 1,200-yard mark or even better this year.
Yes, Jeremy Langford put up over 1,400 yards and had a league-best 18 touchdowns on the conference and Rose Bowl championship team.
There's no doubting that Langford has a lot of talent. However, there's another side to the coin to Langford's 2013 production.
He ranked last out of all the 1,000-yard backs in the B1G in average per carry, at 4.9 yards per carry, while also racking up more carries (292) than any other running back in the entire conference.
Langford's longest run from scrimmage, 44 yards, was also the least of all the 1,00-yard backs (Braxton Miller included).
Now, it was Langford's first season as a true starter and some of the difference in his yardage total was due to a team trying to figure out its identity to open the season. However, in those first five games, Langford only failed to get double-digit carries in one of those games.
In those first five games, Langford failed to top the 100-yard mark before finally breaking out in the second Big Ten game of the year for the Spartans.
On the plus side, he did crank out eight straight 100-plus yard performances to close out Big Ten play as well.
This is just how difficult it is to separate the running backs in the Big Ten heading in to the 2014 season. Langford has done nothing to suggest he isn't one of the best in the league, but this league is chalk full of ultra-productive and impressive running backs.
There were two backs that surprised a lot of people in the Big Ten during 2013. We've talked about one already and here is the other—Indiana's Tevin Coleman.
When you think of the Hoosiers in the current era, it’s doubtful that the run game is the first thing that comes to mind. In 2013, Coleman worked hard to change that perception and became one of the most important players the Hoosiers had offensively.
Coleman may not have put up the raw rushing numbers, just 958 yards, but the reality is he was perhaps the second-most-dangerous back in the open field in the Big Ten.
Had Coleman not gotten hurt in the Illinois game, where he managed to rack up 215 yards on just 11 carries, Coleman was likely to have rushed for over 1,200 yards on the year.
Only Melvin Gordon could lay claim to better production in the open field, as Coleman's 7.3 yards-per-carry average illustrates. That average was tied with Carlos Hyde for second behind Gordon in the top 10 of the conference.
He also managed to have a 40-plus yard run in six of the nine games he played in. Against the best competition, Coleman also showed he was more than capable of hitting the home run, busting loose for a 64-yard touchdown run against Michigan State.
Coleman is perhaps the most explosive back in the Big Ten. Now it's on him to prove he can do it with a target on his back.
If you could separate Wisconsin's Gordon from Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, you're a better judge of talent and pure production than most. That's why we've gone with 1a and 1b, because separating them as unequal players is just silly.
Gordon, in his first year as more of the featured back, showed that the nine-carry, 200-plus yard performance against Nebraska the year before wasn't a fluke. He ended 2013 second behind Abdullah with 1,609 yards and a Big Ten-leading 7.8 yards-per-carry average.
Yes, you read that right, Gordon nearly averaged eight yards a carry. He also added 12 touchdowns to the mix, while sharing the carries with senior James White, who added 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns of his own.
There's little doubt that Gordon is a dynamic running back, and in 2013 he proved he could be more than just an edge-rusher. He showed great patience and vision between the tackles, but once he was in the open field beyond the first hole, Gordon was deadly.
So deadly that he managed to lead the nation (or tied for the lead) in rushes of 60-plus (four) or 70-plus (three) yards last season.
Gordon comes into 2014 as the Badgers featured back and is expected to get more carries than he has ever seen before. He also enters 2014 as the FBS' active leader in rushing average per attempt at 8.1.
While the Big Ten features some great backs, Gordon is on another level entering the 2014 season. NFL scouts sure love the kid, with some saying he would've been the first running back off the board in the 2014 NFL draft.
So, as good as Melvin Gordon was last season and how good NFL scouts see his future, there's one back that's proven to be just as good and done it longer—Ameer Abdullah.
The Nebraska running back waited in the wings a bit under Rex Burkhead but made the most out of his opportunity when Burkhead went down to injury in 2012. He finished that season with 1,137 yards and announced his arrival as a big-time back for the future.
In 2013, Abdullah led the Big Ten in rushing yards with 1,690 and was second in average per game with 130 yards per contest—proving he was more than a flash in the pan behind Burkhead.
While it took him far more carries than Gordon, who we put as 1b (281 to 206), the difference remains Abdullah's longer track record of production.
He also has shown an ability to be more valuable in the pass game, something Gordon can't say. Abdullah had 26 receptions for 232 yards and two touchdowns, while Gordon has a whole three receptions in his entire career.
The versatility that Abdullah shows gives him the slight edge heading into the spring, and unless Gordon proves he can do more in the pass game this spring or leading up the season, it's hard seeing this ranking changing much.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for Big Ten football. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.