College Football Predictions: Ranking The Big Ten's Best RBs

Joe Favia@joe_faviaCorrespondent IIAugust 14, 2010

College Football Predictions: Ranking The Big Ten's Best RBs

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    Evan Royster of Penn State is a Senior Star in 2010
    Evan Royster of Penn State is a Senior Star in 2010Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Talented and dynamic running backs were plentiful in the Big Ten in the last decade, and in this new decade it no doubt should continue.

    The crop of running backs this season looks strong in the Big Ten as many runners that had solid years last season are returning to help carry the rock for their respective teams.

    In some cases they are coming into the year with hype and credentials; while others are going to have to fight and claw for every yard, and for people's respect.

    With strong teams going into the season atop preseason polls, they all are united by one factor; which is they have solid to exceptional defenses, and very talented running games.

    Will this lead to one of these powerhouse Big Ten teams going on to National Title glory?

    I put down at least one of the backs for each team and ranked them according to the No. 1 back on the team.

    Obviously, some of the teams are stacked at the position, and others are lacking so I tried to find a medium for this list.

    But, for the most part the list is in fact ranked by the projected starter going into play.

    Who will be the next Eddie George, Marion Barber, or Shonn Greene?

    We will have to wait and see to find out.

No. 11, Arby Fields Northwestern Wildcats

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    Arby Fields of Northwestern takes one to the outside
    Arby Fields of Northwestern takes one to the outside

    For a school that was in the top fifteen in passing it was quite the surprise in the poor performance by the running game last season which barely ranked in the top 100 in the country.

    Returning as the starter is sophomore Arby Fields who finished the season last year as the leading rusher just eking out quarterback Matt Kafka by three yards with 302.

    The California-native Fields is looking to have a bust out season as one of his only highlights of last season was a 25 yard-run; which was a team high.

    Fields did show some signs of his skills in his inaugural college campaign against weak defenses in Minnesota and Towson.

    With another year under his belt, he might be ready to show the brillance of Cats' backs of the past such as Darnell Autry, Damian Anderson, and Tyrell Sutton.

    If Arby Fields is unable to hit the ground running, so to speak, then other running backs are in waiting in Jacob Schmidt and Stephen Simmons.

    Both are possible replacements in case Fields struggles, and they should get a good amount of carries early in the season before Big Ten play commences.

    The defense has been very good over the past seasons that it could be nice to see a solid offensive rushing attack.

    Despite throwing the ball 78 times in a heartbreaking Outback Bowl defeat, Schmidt had 8 carries for 36 yards mainly on draws.

    They do not need a whole lot of production because they are a spread team who is starting to chuck it around a lot.

    Arby Fields:  My Top 200 NCAA Running Backs

    Stephen Simmons: My Top 175 NCAA Running Backs

    Jacob Schmidt: My Top 175 NCAA Running Backs

No. 10, Al-Terek Mcburse Purdue Boilermakers

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    Al-Terek Mcburse looks to 'Boil Up" Big in 2010
    Al-Terek Mcburse looks to 'Boil Up" Big in 2010

    Coach Danny Hope and the Boilermakers lost their "money running back" from last season for probably the year in Ralph Bolden. When that happened, they had to go straight to the ATM.

    I am of course referring to the new tailback starter in West Lafayette, sophomore Al-Terek McBurse.

    Bolden had a very successful season last year, and his production will be missed as McBurse lacks real game experience with only four carries in all of last season.

    Bolden suffered a torn ACL last season and Head Coach Dan Hope is praying he fully recovers in time for the opener against Notre Dame.

    Hope is willing to pull the redshirt if Bolden is ready to play not later than October, though many are skeptical if they should bring him back at all.

    Regardless, he had 9 TDs on a team that lacked consistency from the offense.

    It is hoped that McBurse can step into the role and give Purdue a speedster, which he was able to give last season on occasions with the special teams.

    Most likely ATM will have his struggles in his first season as he is going up against some nasty defenses that are not going to be so understanding with his growing pains.

    It is McBurse's job to lose, as there is distance behind him with freshman Reggie Pegram as his current back-up.

    Dan Dierking is also a talent that could see the field this season. Dierking is the most intriguing story because Hope raved about him on Big Ten media day.

    He has not done much at in his career which makes me believe this is his year to shine if Bolden is unable to perform.

    Dierking lacks the breakaway speed but is a tough in between the tackles.  He is a tough, hard-nosed north/south runner who breaks away from arm tackles.

    Ralph Bolden:  My Top 100 NCAA Running Backs

    Dan Dierking: My Top 175 NCAA Running Backs

    Al-Terek McBurse: My Top 175 NCAA Running Backs

No. 9, Duane Bennett Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 29:  Larry Grant #6 and James Laurinaitis #33 of the Ohio State Buckeyes team up to tackle Duane Bennett #22 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the third quarter at the Metrodome on September 29, 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Though his picture above is not flattering, Duane Bennett is looking to paint a different picture this fall.

    You have to expect that the ground attack for Minnesota will be much improved, and will contribute a great deal to Tim Brewster's offense this season.

    Coming off a year where production was so minuscule with a national rank of 111th, it should be a nice turn around for key backs Duane Bennett and Deleon Eskridge.

    Will they be the combo of Gophers past like Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney. I think not.

    The Golden Gophers are going to struggle greatly on defense this season so they will need to put points on the board to win games.

    Coach Tim Brewster has already said that the running back will be a focal point this season, and it is for good reason.

    Standout receiver Eric Decker has moved on, and that leaves a whole in the offense the size of one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes. This will put more pressure on veteran QB Adam Weber and his stable of running backs.

    If Duane Bennett can prove he is still not showing effects from his knee injury in 2008, then expect to hear his name on many big plays throughout the season.

    If not than Deleon Eskridge looks to be the man, and should get his chance either way with the tough schedule that faces the team.

    Duane Bennett: My Top 160 NCAA Running Backs

    Deleon Eskridge: My Top 175 NCAA Running Backs

No. 8, Vincent Smith Michigan Wolverines

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    With questions regarding Michael Shaw's eligibility (the expected starting back). Vincent Smith seems to be the guy who will line up next to Tate Forcier in the spread offense for Michigan this season.

    Shaw was the most experienced runner going into this season with the departures of Brandon Miner and Carlos Brown, but it is still a mystery as to the question about him seeing the field this year.

    It is still believed that Vincent Smith will give the Wolverines a very good runner that will adapt to the spread well, and put up numbers.

    If Smith can come back strong from the injury he suffered in the "Big Game" against the Buckeyes last season than he should get the bulk of the carries, otherwise look for young Mike Cox to answer the bell.

    But, the hope is that Shaw will come back and, it will create a good duo in Smith and Shaw for Rich Rodriguez. Both of these runners are not without flaws however as they both tend to want to run to the outside rather than pound the ball between the tackles. 

    That may have been very successful for them in high school, but in the Big Ten the linebackers will track them down like a lion on a gazelle, and even defensive ends will get them (Mr. Adrian Clayborn).

    Coach Rodriguez is forced to play these young backs as the vestiges of the Lloyd Carr era have been washed away. He unfortunately has to play his recruits now.

    Michael Shaw: My Top 50 NCAA Running Backs

    NFL Draft Prediction: 6th Round

    NFL Comparison: Mike Goodson

    Vincent Smith: My Top 120 NCAA Running Backs

    NFL Draft Prediction: Undrafted

    NFL Comparison: Antone Smith

No. 7, Darius Willis Indiana Hoosiers

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    A big play offense is what the Hoosiers are hoping and expecting to have this season.

    With a veteran quarterback, talented young receivers, and a gifted running back in Darius Willis they are sure to put points on the board in bunches.

    Darius Willis was one of the better running backs in the conference last season and it should carry over into this season.

    His 607 and 6 touchdowns was one of the bright spots for a team that yet again was unable to make a bowl game.

    He posseses a great burst of speed and has tremendous vision for a youngster. At a solid 6’1, 219 he is build solid as a rock who can bounce off tackles and take hits with ease. 

    He lacks elite speed, which is not a shocker since he plays for the Hoosiers. Indiana always lacks gamebreakers (though this year they will challenge for a bowl game in my opinion).

    Regardless, this is one of the most talented back Indiana has had to offer in the pats few years. If the OL decides to produce and perform at a higher level, then all will be well with Hoosiers offense in 2010.

    Trea Burgess also is waiting in the wings, but he will get sporadic carries as Willis is the man.

    One of the few clear cut starters at running back in the conference, Willis will get the rock early and often when the season begins, and will be a sleeper for All-Conference honors at season's end.

    Darius Willis: My Top 100 NCAA Running Backs

    NFL Draft Prediction: 6th Round

    NFL Comparison: Mike Bell

No. 6, Larry Caper Michigan State Spartans

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    CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 10: Larry Caper #22 of the Michigan State Spartans runs past Walter Aikens #15 and Clay Nurse #97 of the Illinois Fighting Illini on October 10, 2009 at Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    This is one of the better combination of backs in the conference. With Larry Caper and Edwin Baker, Michigan State has two speedy and explosive running backs that have a chance to break one at any time.

    Though they haven't shown themselves to be consistent 100+ yards a game backs like Javon Ringer was, they both will be poised to create havoc this season.

    Caper appears to be the player who will see more action when the year begins. He first endeared himself to Spartan fans with his dramatic run against the Maize & Blue last year.

    The Michigan native has earned the nod as the starting running back, but it appears it is in the capacity of being No. 1 while Baker is simply No. 1A for the Spartans.

    Edwin Baker's style of play is very much like Caper's, which does not really give them a change-up in the running game.

    However, defenses will have to prepare for the talented sophomore backs because they will both be looking to improve on fine freshman campaigns in which they both got to 400 yards.

    What seemed to be a lock for Caper to start, has now become a question of whether they will split the carries right down the middle. 

    Caper is the bigger back of the two and is supposed to take the pounding of Big Ten play a tad better. However, he is clearly more inconsistent than Baker. 

    Caper had 6 TD’s through the first seven games, then had no TD’s the rest of the season.

    Baker had his only TD of the season in the bowl game which makes you think Mark Dantonio may be leaning towards him.

    Regardless who starts in the opener against Western Michigan, expect both to combine for about 20 carries a game

    Larry Caper: My Top 75 NCAA Running Backs

    NFL Draft Prediction: 4th Round

    NFL Comparison: Andre Brown

    Edwin Baker: My Top 100 NCAA Running Backs

    NFL Draft Prediction: 6th Round

    NFL Comparison: Tyrell Sutton

No. 5, Mikel LeShoure Illinois Fighting Illini

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    Talk about about a lack of media coverage for good production last year. The two Illini backs Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford combined to gain over 1300+ yards and nine touchdowns.

    How could this kind of production be unheralded and not be common knowledge?

    Oh yeah!, the team finished 3-9, and the great running of Ford and Leshoure was deterred by a pitiful passing game.

    Running the ball was not a problem at all for the Fighting Illini, as they averaged 200.4 yards a game, and were in the top 20 nationally in rushing.

    It will come as no surprise if they are able to match what they accomplished last season statistically as they will be running a lot with a young and inexperienced quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase.

    Leshoure is one of the premier talents at the position in the conference, and should be the focus of the defenses each game. Jason Ford, who runs timidly often, will need to step up as well.

    Do not expect these backs to be future pro stars like past Illini backs Pierre Thomas and Rashad Mendenhall, but they could have a very good year statistically this season, and pull off one or two shockers against big time opponents.

    Mikel LeShoure: My Top 50 NCAA Running Backs

    NFL Draft Prediction: 5th Round

    NFL Comparison: Montario Hardesty

    Jason Ford: My Top 60 NCAA Running Backs

    NFL Draft Prediction: 7th Round

    NFL Comparison: Arian Foster

No. 4 , Brandon Saine Ohio State Buckeyes

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Running back Brandon Saine #3 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs with the ball making a 46-yard catch against the Oregon Ducks at the 96th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Imag
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Can Terrelle Pryor be considered the top running back for the Buckeyes?

    Yes, the extremely talented quarterback did lead the team in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2009. But, this should not be expected for the '10 campaign.

    The Buckeyes if healthy have seven running backs on there roster that can make an impact. But it seems like the term "Boom and Zoom" could become a T-shirt phenomenon in Columbus.

    I am of course referring to the top backs for the Buckeyes in Brandon Saine and Dan "Boom" Herron. Saine is a tall yet speedy runner that is the size of a linebacker for most teams, yet is an elusive threat.

    Herron on the other hand is a smaller and more aggressive back that can pound a team into submission.

    Both similar yet different type of backs is what the Buckeyes have to offer.

    These guys have been around forever as well. Brandon Saine was and still is that same RB who caught a 44-yard pass down the sidelines against LSU in the 2008 BCS Title Game.

    Just last year, he tore up the Iowa Hawkeyes for 103 yards and 2 TDs on 11 carries. In that same game, Daniel “Boom” Herron toted the rock 32 times for 97 yards and a TD. 

    Saine is more versatile despite only catching the ball 32 times in three seasons. These two complement each other very well and some argue they have made Terrelle Pryor life much easier.  The only thing missing is a BCS National Championship.

    Brandon Saine: My 14th Ranked NCAA Running Back

    NFL Draft Prediction: 6th Round

    NFL Comparison: Matt Forte

    Dan Herron: My 15th Ranked NCAA Running Bac

    NFL Draft Prediction:  4th Round

    NFL Comparison: Glen Coffee (retired yesterday)

No. 3, Adam Robinson Iowa Hawkeyes

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    COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 14:  Defensive tackle Doug Worthington #84 of the Ohio State Buckeyes chases down running back Adam Robinson #32 of the Iowa Hawkeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The combination of two great running backs is enough for any team to win a lot of football games over the course of a season. But, three running backs is something that is truly special.

    That is what the Iowa Hawkeyes look to have this year coming off the Orange Bowl win last year.

    All three backs in Adam Robinson, Jewel Hampton, and Brandon Wegher are sophomores, and they look to build on a magical year for the Hawks.

    They also will need to improve on the yards per game which barely ranked in the top 100 last year.

    Forget being solid in the Big Ten, it is about time that the nation understands how much talent this Iowa program has been developing the past few years.

    Hampton has the most talent, but has been prone to making mistakes off the field.

    Robinson was the primary back in many games last season after Hampton went down before the season began.

    A-Rob gained over 800+ yards over the course of the season, while Wegher also showed big play ability including a long scamper in the Orange Bowl.

    Rumors of leaving the team hopefully will not come to be true for Wegher as he gives the Hawkeyes a dangerous weapon. Hampton, who had great success his freshman year, is looking to come back strong, and take back the position that seemed to be his last year before the injury.

    Though none of these running backs are likely to match the greatness achieved by Shonn Greene during the 2008 season, they look to give the Hawkeyes a chance at there first conference title in six years.

    And, with another top-level offensive line to run behind they just might do it.

    The bottom line is that this backfield in Iowa City is the best it has ever been in the BCS era for the program in the preseason.

    Jewel Hampton: My 31st Ranked NCAA Running Back

    NFL Draft Prediction: 3rd Round

    NFL Comparison: Kenneth Darby

    Adam Robinson: My Top 40 NCAA Running Backs

    NFL Draft Prediction: 4th Round

    NFL Comparison: Tashard Choice

    Brandon Wegher: My Top 50 NCAA Running Backs

    NFL Draft Prediction: 6th Round

    NFL Comparison: Julius Jones

No. 2, Evan Royster Penn State Nittany Lions

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    STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 19: Running back Evan Royster #22 of the Penn State Nittany Lions carries the ball during a game against the Temple Owls on September 19, 2009 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Im
    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    The only unchallenged senior running back to line up in the Big Ten, Evan Royster will need to have a big year for Joe Paterno's team to have success.

    He had a bit of a disappointing season in ’09 with only six TD’s. He went bonkers in ’08 as he reached paydirt a dozen times. 2,918 yards and 23 TD’s in his career is not too shabby, despite never playing in a BCS Bowl. 

    The tests will be plentiful for Royster as he will face as close to NFL defenses as you will find in college football.

    On Sept. 11, he will be taking on the national champions Alabama and later in the season he faces the punishing Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium.

    Royster is looking to become the all-time top runner in Penn State's illustrious history. He also could break the rushing touchdowns record if he can get more than 15 this season.

    It can be expected from the fifth-year senior who has twice been named to the all-conference team.

    With Daryll Clark's departure and a sense of uncertainty with the passing game with Kevin Newsome or Matt McGloin behind center, it would be no surprise if Royster becomes the heart and soul of the Nittany Lions offensive philosophy.

    Big numbers could in the cards for Evan as he has one of the most dominant lines in the conference.

    Evan Royster: My 10th Ranked NCAA Running Back

    NFL Draft Prediction: 3rd Round

    NFL Comparison: Ryan Grant

No. 1, John Clay Wisconsin Badgers

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    MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 26: John Clay #32 of the Wisconsin Badgers carries the ball against the Michigan State Spartans on September 26, 2009 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The man who is going to come up on top of a lot of running back lists is Wisconsin's hard-nosed runner John Clay.

    Clay, who is entering his junior season with the Badgers, comes back after the team with mostly his contributions lead the conference in rushing last season.

    Clay says he is the healthiest that he has been since coming to Madison, and the line for Bret Bielima's squad is one of the tops in the entire country.

    Put these different combinations together, and it could spell trouble for the opposition this year.

    Of course, Clay is going to have to prove he can get it done against conference favorites this season.

    Last year, he was ineffective and could not break 100 yards against either Ohio State or Iowa.

    This year he will get his chance again in back-to-back weeks against these teams, and his Heisman hopes could lie in the balance

    He is one of only a few in America that posseses the perfect power, speed, quickness, and vision that a back needs.  At 6’2, 247 he is a flat-out bully carrying the ball.

    He will run right over defenders, and his stiff arms are a devastating blow to take as a tackler.  I rank him the best in the Big Ten and one of the finest in the country for those reasons.

    John Clay: My 5th Ranked NCAA Running Back

    NFL Draft Prediction: 2nd/3rd Round

    NFL Comparison: Michael Bush

Feel Free To Discuss!

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    TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 01:  Shonn Green #23 of the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrates a touchdown run against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the Outback Bowl on January 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

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