College Football: Power Ranking the Big Ten Running Backs After Week 1
Week One in the Big Ten is in the books, and the results were good. Eleven wins, with the only two losses coming in away games at Notre Dame and Missouri.
There were several big stories, including explosive freshman quarterbacks and (not surprisingly) stout defenses. But like any good Big Ten conference, it was the running games that were in the spotlight.
Some backs responded to the bright lights like the next American Idol, others...well let's say they had their pants on the ground (I'm a little behind on my pop culture, lay off me).
So from John Clay to Duane Bennett to Denard Robinson, yes quarterbacks count too, here are the Big Ten's best running games from Week One.
11. Dan Dierking, Purdue
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Team result: 23-13 loss at Notre Dame
Despite averaging 6.2 YPC on Saturday, Dan Dierking was devoid of highlights. He rushed for 56 yards on nine carries and zero TDs. His long was just 14.
The Irish defense was hardly stingy, allowing 322 yards, but the Purdue offense focused on the air attack and spreading the love with handoffs. Six different Boilermakers recorded a carry in South Bend, and only one, the quarterback, ran the ball 10 times.
That quarterback, Robert Marve, gained 10 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown. When your signal caller and five other players vulture carries, it's tough to get things rolling. Dan Dierking checks in at 11th.
10. Jacob Schmidt & Dan Persa, Northwestern
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Team Result: 23-21 win over Vanderbilt
Unless his name is Michael Vick, you don't want your quarterback nearly doubling your running back's output on the ground.
Yet that was the case with Northwestern this weekend.
Wildcat QB Dan Persa ran for a respectable 82 yards on 17 carries. His running back, Jacob Schmidt, just 44 yards on 13 carries. Neither found the end zone.
It's less alarming when you consider Northwestern beat the Vanderbilt Commodores 23-21, and Persa had a strong game on the ground and in the air. But Schmidt, or another back, will have to raise his game soon if the 'Cats expect to survive conference play.
9. Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Team Result: 23-13 loss to Missouri
So the picture is a bit misleading. It's more of a microcosm of the entire game than Leshoure's performance.
Mikel ran for 112 yards on 20 carries. Fine numbers if it weren't for two things: his team looked terribly sloppy in the loss, his one impressive 42 yard run.
You might think, "He broke 100 yards and had a 42 yard run, what's he doing at No. 9?"
Well if you take away that run he ran for 70 yards on 19 carries. And in a game that needed someone to step up and find the end zone, Leshoure was incapable.
There's plenty of promise here, but he needs to help his team win to move up in the rankings.
8. Evan Royster & Stephfon Green, Penn State
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Team Result: 44-14 win over Youngstown St.
Wait, the Penn State Featured Columnist has their backs at No. 8 following a 30 point win!?
Yeah, and I'll tell you why.
17 for 72, 1 TD.
That's the combined numbers for what's considered to be one of the best backfields in the nation.
Evan Royster is about 400 yards away from becoming Penn State's all-time leading rusher. He can't come out in Week One and rush for 40 yards and zero scores against Youngstown St.
Stephfon Green at least put a ball in the end zone (as did QB Kevin Newsome) but his numbers weren't much better. If their production doesn't increase dramatically you can write off the Alabama game now.
7. Duane Bennett, Minnesota
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Team Result: 24-17 win over Middle Tennessee State
Duane Bennett rushed for 187 yards on 30 carries. And he's seventh in the power rankings. Welcome to the 2010 Big Ten running backs, ladies and gentlemen!
The reason he finds himself this low despite his gaudy yardage is twofold: he didn't score a TD against MTSU, and frankly, the guys in front of him are more impressive.
But if Duane keeps up these numbers against better competition he could find himself movin' on up.
6. Darius Willis, Indiana
Awesomely Intimidating Photo Taken by AJ Mast
Team Result: 51-17 win over Towson
At No. 6 is Darius Willis from Indiana. As you probably guessed, that guy up there is a BA, and I don't mean Bachelor of Arts.
Against Towson he rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Yikes.
Then again, everyone on the Indiana offense looked really good. We'll see if he can keep it going against Big Ten defenses.
5. Brandon Saine, OSU
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Team Result: 45-7 win over Marshall
The picture sums it up. Lots of Marshall players not tackling No. 3. Brandon is considered one of the best backs in the Big Ten and has been since he took over for Beanie Wells.
On nine carries Saturday, Saine rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns. It seemed like he was never tackled at all. In fact it didn't really seem like Marshall had players on the field. He'll need a similar performance next week against a much tougher Miami team to stay at number five.
4. Adam Robinson, Iowa
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Team Result: 37-7 win over Eastern Illinois
Adam Robinson is practically a clone of NFLer and former Hawkeye Shonn Greene. He proved that in Week One by running for 109 yards on 24 carries.
Oh, and he barreled through defender after helpless defender while getting into the end zone thrice.
You'd think that would be enough to crack the top three, but you'd be terribly mistaken.
3. John Clay & Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Team Result: 41-21 win over UNLV
John Clay. Man, I wanted to convince myself he wasn't that good. Sorry, I can be a hater. Regardless, I was wrong. UNLV is a more respectable opponent, at least in name, than some of the other teams the Big Ten played this week and Clay ran all over them.
He went for 123 yards on 17 carries. Oh, and he found the end zone twice.
So did his pal Montee Ball. Ball added 79 yards on 16 carries. UNLV didn't have a chance of stopping these two.
2. Denard Robinson, Vincent Smith & Michael Shaw, Michigan
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Team Result: 30-10 win over Connecticut
In what might have been the most impressive Big Ten win in Week One, Michigan may have had the most impressive run game as well.
Why they're not No. 1? Their unquestionable top runner was also their quarterback.
While you can certainly build a rushing game around a lightfooted passer, I'll give the advantage to pure running backs in what might otherwise look like a tie.
Denard Robinson was frighteningly good Saturday, running for 197 yards on 29 carries, that's 11 more yards than he gained through the air. He also toasted the Huskies' defense for 32 yards to find the end zone.
To add to the Wolverines beatdown performance, running backs Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw added 57 yards and 48 yards respectively, each nabbing one TD.
They'll have to have another solid game next week to topple Brian Kelly's Notre Dame.
1. Le'veon Bell & Edwin Baker, Michigan State
Team Result: 38-14 win over Western Michigan
Rush for 110 yards and two TDs and you'll find yourself climbing the power rankings. Have two backs do it in one game? You might just be No. 1.
That up there is sophomore Edwin Baker. He ran for 117 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns. And he wasn't the best back on his team Saturday.
That'd be freshman Le'Veon Bell. He only averaged 14.1 YPC on 10 carries. That's 141 yards for those mathematically deficient. Oh and he had two touchdowns as well. No big deal.
Welcome to the future of Spartans football Big Ten. It's pretty scary. And right now? It's the best backfield in the conference.