College Football Preview: Best Running Backs in the Big Ten
We all know how much Big Ten teams rely on their power running games to carry them through tough out-of-conference games, as well as punish defenses with ongoing and continuous up-the-middle pound for pound ground attacks. Coming into the 2010 season, the Big Ten Conference is arguably the best rushing conference in the country.
To put all of this into perspective, I've ranked the top 11 rushers from each of the respective teams within the Big Ten.
11.) Vincent Smith - Michigan
[2009: 276 yds, 48 att, 1 TD]. To be completely fair to Smith, one has to realize that two seniors were in front of him in Michigan's depth chart - a sizeable number considering even 2nd-string QB Denard Robinson had more over rushing yards than Smith.
Expect major improvement from Smith in his sophomore year at Michigan, including a majority of the carries. Michigan's offensive line should hold up significantly this year, as they also look for improvement.
PROJECTION: 710 yds, 6 TD, 120 att
Arby Fields - Northwestern
[2009: 302 yds, 5 TD, 82 att]
As Northwestern comes back from one of their most successful seasons ever, they will look to continue with the immense success of last season. Which means the Fields will be the primary back for the Wildcats in 2010.
Northwester threw the ball a lot last season, but now that former QB Mike Kafka is gone, they will look to run the ball a majority of the time this upcoming season. Expect a decent year from Fields.
PROJECTION: 745 yds, 5 TD, 130 att
9.) Duane Bennett - Minnesota
[2009: 367 yds, 98 att, 6 TD]
Of all the running back that have come out of Minnesota, Field has a great opportunity to be one of the best. With a solid offensive line, and not much of a passing game, the Golden Gophers will be looking to run the ball, and run it hard. Bennett has great speed, as well as complementary power - a duo that can't be beat.
PROJECTION: 800 yds, 201 att, 10 TD
8.) Larry Caper - Michigan State
[2009: 468 yds, 120 att, 6 TD]
Not an amazingly impressive offensive line for Michigan State means a bit of a disappointment for MSU fans.
Although Caper is excessively quick, I don't see a real threat to the rest of the Big Ten as far as rushing defenses go. Caper didn't see too many carries last year, so an increase is imminent. If MSU decided to really buckle-down to the run game, I'd say that Caper could possibly be a 1,000+ yard rusher. However, that doesnt seem to be the case.
PROJECTION: 775 yds, 190 att, 11 TD
7.) Darius Willis - Indiana
[2009: 607 yds, 6 TD, 123 att]
"If only, if only."
That's exactly what Hoosiers fans are saying going into the 2010 season. Indiana football has had a recent "winning drought" of sorts.
The last recent winning seasons for the Hoosiers: 1993, 1994, 2007. Im guessing that's not good enough.
But one thing could be looming down in Hoosier-land: Darius Willis. He's got speed better than the average back in the Big Ten, and things can only go up for the Indiana football program.
PROJECTION: 814 yds, 11 TD, 188 att
6.) Terrelle Pryor - Ohio State
[2009: 779 yds, 7 TD, 162 att]
Yes, I said it.
Not only is Pryor a threat to throw, he is deadly on the ground. Of course, nothing is new as far as that fact goes, because we've been watching this young-gun since he first signed with Ohio State.
Next to Wisconsin, Ohio State has the biggest offensive line in the Big Ten - possibly in the country. With all sorts of time, Pryor should be able to escape the pocket if need is there, and deliver for his team.
This should be a big year for Pryor.
PROJECTION: 911 yds, 10 TD, 160 att
5.) Mikel LeShoure
[2009: 734 yds, 5 TD, 108 att]
Illinois took on a power-packed Big Ten last year and, well, didn't do so hot.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. At least that's what they are saying in Champaign. The Orange of Illinois try to revitalize the running game that was so very present during the 2008 season when they reached the Rose Bowl against USC.
LeShoure is a gifted running back, to say the least, and it will be interesting to see how he does this year without QB Juice Williams at the helm of the offense.
Look for a revitalized running game from the Orange this year.
PROJECTION: 980 yds, 9 TD, 168 att
4.) Ralph Bolden - Purdue
[2009: 935 yds, 200 att, 9 TD]
Alright folks, now we are getting into the "big-boy" region of the Big Ten. The rest of these running backs are powerful, explosive, and elusive.
Bolden had a solid season at Purdue in 2009, carrying the Boilermakers to a 4-4 record within the Big Ten.
Purdue doesn't seem to prioritizing the passing game much, so I believe that Bolden will have a breakout season for his team.
PROJECTION: 1012 yds, 11 TD, 200 att
3.) Adam Robinson - Iowa
[2009: 834 yds, 181 att, 5 TD]
Iowa improved so much last year - and shocked so many people - that I can't possible leave out one of their primary offensive weapons from the top 3 in the Big Ten.
Iowa was arguably one more win away from the National Championship game according to many, and Robinson's skill set and hard work can only better the Hawkeyes' chances of going far again this year.
Expect a bigger and faster Robinson in 2010. Oh, and don't forget that massive offensive line that complements the raw ability of Robinson. The Hawkeyes are back this year.
PROJECTION: 1130 yds, 201 att, 9 TD
2.) Evan Royster - Penn State
[2009: 1,169 yds, 205 att, 6 TD]
Can you say, "Heisman contender"?
Well you'd better get used to that, and tons of NFL Draft talk - come midway through the season.
Royster is undoubtedly included in the best of the best when it comes to collegiate running backs. Penn State and good ol' Jo-Pa are back this year with all the pieces to make a run at a national title.
One thing is for certain: expect a more capable and ready Royster come start of the season, and I can guarantee this guy win get his fair share of game-changing plays.
Speed, complementing over powering muscle is a decent combo.
PROJECTION: 1450 yds, 15 TD, 240 att
1.) John Clay - Wisconsin
[2009: 1517 yds, 18 TD, 287 att]
If I was you, I'd get out of this man's way.
"Big" John Clay set records last year as a JUNIOR. Think about what he has in store for 2010.
This 247 pound behemoth has the entire package: quickness, elusiveness, and wants to hit someone.
With the country's best offensive line, there's no telling what Clay is capable of this season. Clay also has to share the ball a bit with back-up Monte Ball who is also a pure runner. If Ball were to get hurt, just think of the numbers that Clay could put up. It's ridiculous.
PREDICTIONS: 1650 yds, 20 TD, 295 att