Big Ten Football: Power Ranking Conference Running Backs Going Into Week 4

HD Handshoe - ISeptember 23, 2010

Big Ten Football: Power Ranking The Conference Running Backs Going Into Week 4

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    Michigan's Denard Robinson leads the conference in rushing, while Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor is the leading rusher for the conference's top team

    If QBs made the rankings, there is no doubt that UM's Denard Robinson and OSU's Terrelle Pryor would be in the top 10.

    But since these are the best RBs in the Big Ten, they aren't eligible.

    It is still worth mentioning that Robinson leads the conference with 559 rushing yards and Pryor is the leading rusher for the Buckeyes with 165.

    We may as well go ahead and get the shamless plugs out of the way now.


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No. 10: Dan "Boom" Herron, Ohio State

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Boom was the hot hand for the Buckeyes vs. the Miami Hurricanes in week 2, but overall, he and the rest of the Buckeye backs need to run the ball more effectively.

    Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is always going to scramble and make plays when a play breaks down or he can't find an open receiver, but he should not be leading this team in rushing.

    Herron earns the No. 10 ranking this week, but redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry has Buckeye fans clamoring to see more of him, which could mean less P.T. for Herron over the coming weeks.

    Stay tuned.

No. 9: Darius Willis, Indiana

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    The Hoosiers run a spread offense and they have an excellent QB in Ben Chappell, so they don't run the ball that much.

    Despite that fact, Willis is a solid ball carrier that makes the most of the touches he does get.

    Through week 3, he has scored two touchdowns and rushed 27 times for 132 yards.

    The next two weeks, IU plays Akron and then Michigan.

    Akron allowed almost 300 yards on the ground to Kentucky last week, and UMass gained over 200 yards rushing against Michigan.

    Coach Bill Lynch should take advantage of these weak run defenses and let Willis carry the rock a lot in both games.

    If he does, it's almost a guarantee that Willis will get near the century mark and score once or twice in both games.

No. 8: Michael Shaw, Michigan

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    If Shoelace, aka Denard Robinson, is going to survive the season, especially once Big Ten play begins, he has to be able to rely on Shaw to step up more in the running game.

    Last week Shaw finally showed up against UMass, but he has to be able to do the same against better competition for Robinson's sake and for the entire team's sake.

    Through three games, Shaw has scored four touchdowns and accumulated 186 rushing yards on 32 carries for an average of 5.8 yards per carry.

    Most of his numbers came in the UMass game. If he can't replicate that performance in-conference, Robinson and UM may be in big trouble, and soon.

No. 7: Brandon Saine, Ohio State

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Saine is definitely not your typical No. 1 back that Ohio State is used to having, i.e. a Beanie Wells / Eddie George type power back.

    But what Saine is is a hybrid tailback / h-back / slot receiver and as that, he's one of the best in the league.

    He can break a big run from time to time, be doesn't always seem to have the best vision moving down field.

    He has 33 carries for 158 yards and two touchdowns. He has also caught five passes for 49 yards and two touchdowns.

    What separates Saine from his teammate Herron is that Saine is faster and has great hands, making him a near-perfect threat in the slot or out of the backfield, while Herron seems to have better field vision when running the ball.

    If there were such a place as Buckeye football Utopia, Saine would play almost exclusively at WR and Herron would be the No. 1 back, but superstar-in-the-making Jaamal Berry would share carries with Boom.

No. 6: Duane Bennett, Minnesota

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    Running back Duane Bennett might just be the only bright spot in an otherwise dark and dismal season so far for the (1-2) Golden Gophers.

    With a new stadium that just opened last season came higher expectations for this program, but so far the results have fallen far short of those.

    Coach Tim Brewster is on a very hot seat and he might not make it through the season.

    Bennett, however, is doing what he can to help the team win and save his coach from the axe.

    He is averaging nearly 100 yards per game with 297 yards on 55 carries through the first three games. He has scored twice and is averaging 5.4 yards per rush.

    Minnesota faces Northern Illinois on Saturday, so expect another big day for Bennett.

    He's on pace for close to 1,200 yards but it's unclear who might be the coach when and if he reaches that milestone late in the season.

No. 5: Adam Robinson, Iowa

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    Last season, Adam Robinson became the Hawkeyes starter when Jewell Hampton was injured during the fall. It's deja vu all over again, kind of.

    Robinson was already entrenched as the starter this season even though Hampton returned to the team healthy. News recently broke that Hampton now has a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of this season.

    Hampton was averaging close to 10 carries per game so it makes sense that Robinson's workload will increase going forward.

    As of now, Robinson has 48 carries for 270 yards for an average of 5.6 yards per carry and he has scored four touchdowns.

    This week Iowa hosts Ball State. Robinson is a safe bet to gain 100-plus yards and he should also find the end zone at least once or twice.

No. 4: Mikel Leshoure, Illinois

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    Leshoure has been quite the surprise for the Illini so far this season.

    Through his first three games, Leshoure has carried the ball 58 times for 398 yards for a 6.9 yards per carry average. He has gained more than 100 yards in every game so far and has scored three touchdowns.

    If not for the fact that QB Nathan Scheelhaase has rushed 40 times for over 200 yards, Leshoure could possibly be leading the conference in rushing.

    If coach Ron Zook is smart and hopes to have any chance at saving his job, he better hitch his wagon to Leshoure and ride him every week until the cows come home.

No. 3: Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State

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    In the wake of recent events, it goes without mentioning that every college football fan should be hoping for a full and speedy recovery for MSU coach Mark Dantonio who suffered a heart attack after the Spartans pulled off that overtime thriller against Notre Dame. Get well soon, Coach D!

    One of the main reasons the Spartans are 3-0 is the play of freshman RB Le'Veon Bell.

    Last week he gained over 100 yards with a touchdown against the Irish and on the year, he has 37 carries, 304 rushing yards, a hefty average of 8.2 yards per carry, and four touchdowns.

    This week, MSU welcomes in Northern Colorado. Another 100-plus yards and a couple of scores can safely be expected.

No. 2: John Clay, Wisconsin

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    Deciding on the top two places and whom to rank one and two was a tough decision. It was very close because the two players selected really are practically interchangeable.

    In the end, John Clay, the reigning Big Ten POY, was ever-so-slightly edged out by the back that earned that top slot. It really was a coin flip, but the numbers never lie and that is why Clay lands at No. 2.

    He's done as expected on the young season rushing for 383 yards on 62 carries for an average of 6.2 per, and has scored five touchdowns.

    Despite his play, the Badgers have surprisingly struggled to their 3-0 record with unimpressive wins against UNLV and San Jose State, and a 1-point escape due a missed extra point try by Arizona State that would have forced overtime.

    This week Austin Peay comes calling so expect a big game from Clay and everyone else from Wisconsin.

    Of course, James Madison did beat a sluggish Virginia Tech two weeks ago, so we'll have to see which Badger team shows up.

No. 1: Edwin Baker, Michigan State

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    Who, you may be asking...

    Well, if you haven't been paying attention to the stats, you might be surprised to see Baker at No. 1.

    He's not a household name, but he should be, and probably will be soon if he continues to produce as he has been.

    So far, Baker has carried the ball 46 times for 390 yards for a whopping 8.5 yards per carry, and he has scored four touchdowns.

    When you look at the talent on this Michigan State team, it seems clear that the Spartans are underrated.

    Kirk Cousins is one of the top QBs in the conference.

    Keyshawn Martin, B.J Cunninghamm, and Mark Dell are probably the best trio of receivers on one team in the conference.

    And then besides Baker, his backfield running mate, Le'Veon Bell made this list at No, 3, and in case you missed it, they are both averaging over eight yards per carry!

    In the past, the higher the expectations, the more the Spartans seem to underachieve.

    This could be the year they finally break through. They have the talent and a very good coach once he returns.

    After hosting Northern Colorado this week, the following two weeks will validate or potentially expose MSU as they host No. 11 Wisconsin, then travel to Ann Arbor to play their in-state arch-rivals, No. 21 Michigan.

    Go Sparty, go!