Big Ten Football: Power Ranking the Rushing Attacks Heading Into Conference Play
The warmups are over.
The Big Ten has dealt with its cupcakes and battled its out-of-conference foes. Some teams have come out unscathed. Others, well, notsomuch.
One thing that's been consistent throughout the conference, like any other year, is the running games.
The teams that have been winning have been winning on the ground and the team(s) that's been losing lost trying to run.
So while the teams clear their minds preparing for their first conference clash, I've done some fall cleaning myself.
I skipped a week of rankings to assess the style of the article. I received many comments saying the rankings were skewed or they weren't truly following their title.
My intentions had been to rank the rushing attack and not the running back, and that caused confusion. So from here out I am ranking the rushing attack as a whole.
Obviously the top backs will be a vital part of that, as will quarterbacks, wideouts and fullbacks.
And I'll begin my new style by recapping how these teams have run the ball so far this season to give them a foundational rank for the rest of the season.
Without further complication, here's how the Big Ten rushing attacks have fared so far this year...
Team Record: 3-0
Total Rushing Statistics: 86 attempts, 339 yards, 6 touchdowns, 3.94 YPC
If there's one team that defies the norm in the Big Ten, it's Indiana. Their starting back, Darius Willis, has rushed for 219 yards on 46 attempts and just two touchdowns. The rest of the team has contributed just 120 yards.
Their quarterback, Ben Chappell, has a 179.04 QB rating thanks to his 72.4 completion percentage, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Hoosiers are 11th in country in passing yards per game.
Indiana, unlike the rest of the conference, has been winning through the air.
Next Opponent: No. 19 Michigan
Team Record: 4-0
Total Rushing Statistics: 188 attempts, 199 yards, 6 touchdowns, 3.19 YPC
Another team that's winning thanks to their quarterback. Dan Persa, however, is a dual threat.
He's rushed for 172 yards on 50 attempts, two touchdowns and a 3.44 average yards per carry. He's also led NW to the 27th most passing yards per game in the country.
Running backs Arby Fields and Jacob Schmidt have contributed as well, gaining a combined 261 yards and three touchdowns.
Next Opponent: Minnesota
9. Penn State
Team Record: 3-1
Total Rushing Statistics: 146 carries, 637 yards, 5 touchdowns, 4.36 YPC
Penn State's offense has been shaky this season and the running game is the worst of the bunch.
Statistically they might not be as dreadful as first-year quarterback Rob Bolden, but the problem is the running game was supposed to be a superior group. Superior they haven't been.
Star back Evan Royster finally had a game the Nittany fans can breathe easy about, but on the season he still has just 297 yards and one touchdown.
After the game against Temple, backup Stephfon Green saw his YPC drop to a measly 3.61. He's gained just 119 yards and one touchdown.
Statistically I couldn't place them lower than Northwestern or Indiana, but relative to their expectations, the Nittany Lions are by far and away the worst rushing attack in the conference.
Next Opponent: No. 17 Iowa
Team Record: 1-3
Total Rushing Statistics: 174 attempts, 665 yards, 6 touchdowns, 3.82 YPC
Minnesota has looked pretty bad so far in 2010. Duane Bennett has had flashes of brilliance, but for the most part he's struggled as well. Duane has 371 yards on 17 attempts and two TDs.
His backup, DeLeon Eskridge has managed 121 yards on just 37 carries and 1 score. Unless the two backs step up to an entirely new level, it could be a brutally long season for the Golden Gophers.
Next Opponent: Northwestern
Team Record: 2-2
Total Rushing Statistics: 156 carries, 752 yards, 5 touchdowns, 4.82 YPC
Purdue has struggled at times and succeeded at times and so has their ground game. Dan Dierking, their leading rusher has had both outstanding games and contests where he's vanished.
He's racked up 205 yards on 38 carries for an average of 5.39 YPC and two touchdowns.
The rest of the Boilermaker backfield hasn't added much. Rob Henry has 167 yards on 31 carries. Antavian Edison contributed 119 yards, zero touchdowns and one really awesome name.
Luckily they get a week off to get back on their feet.
Next Opponent: Bye Week (Then Northwestern)
Team Record: 2-1
Total Rushing Statistics: 133 attempts, 687 yards, 6 touchdowns, 5.17 YPC
It's a shame that the only picture we have of Mikel Leshoure is him getting crushed by Missouri. It's a disservice to the running back with the third highest yardage in the Big Ten (fourth overall, once you include Denard).
Unfortunately, Leshoure's 407 yards, 3 touchdowns and 6.9 yards per carry aren't aided by much else in the Illini backfield.
Quarterback Nate Scheelhaase gained 195 yards with a touchdown, and beyond that, no one is worth mentioning.
But if Leshoure keeps it up, the Fightin' Illini could see themselves climbing the ladder both in the power rankings and the Big Ten standings, okay well maybe after Ohio State.
Next Opponent: No. 2 Ohio State
5. Ohio State
Team Record: 4-0
Total Rushing Statistic: 172 carries, 961 yards, 11 TD, 5.59 YPC
THE Ohio State could arguably be higher up on this list. They have more yardage than two teams and more touchdowns than one who are higher up than them. However, two things are holding them back.
First, like Northwestern, their top rusher is a quarterback. Granted, Terrelle Pryor is a legitimate Heisman contender, but c'mon.
Second their starting back, Brandon Saine, has been considerably ineffective. He has just 169 yards and two touchdowns.
His "backup," Dan Herron, has has slightly more yardage at 192 and twice as many touchdowns.
Like I said earlier, Pryor leads them all with 269 yards, and 3 TD.
Some more production from the R-backs and continued winning and they'll climb the power rankings quickly.
Next Opponent: Illinois
Team Record: 3-1
Total Rushing Statistics: 159 attempts, 739 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4.65 YPC
Iowa's Adam Robinson came into this season like a bat out of hell. He was unstoppable through the first two weeks of the season. In Week 3, he inexplicably cooled off...just as Jewel Hampton came back to pick him up.
Robinson, on 70 attempts, has 385 yards and six touchdowns. Hampton, on just 27 attempts, has 114 yards and one touchdown.
It's hard to find another team with production like that from their backs. Amazingly, the Big Ten has three.
Next Opponent: No. 22 Penn State
3. Michigan State
Team Record: 4-0
Total Rushing Statistics: 147 attempts, 926 yards,12 touchdowns, 6.30 YPC
Deciding to put Michigan State at No. 2 was difficult. They're far exceeding expectations. Le'Veon Bell is a freshman explosion. And sturdy old Edwin Baker is chugging along. They just couldn't crack the top two.
The aforementioned Baker has 449 yards on 57 carries and five touchdowns. His yards per carry is an outstanding 7.88.
The destructive force that is freshman Le'Veon Bell has 396 yards on just 48 attempts and seven touchdowns with a ludicrous 8.25 YPC.
These two have carried the Spartans to a 4-0 record and relevance in college football again. Sadly they lost out to the team they'll compete against this weekend, and of course, their bitter in-state rival.
Next Opponent: No. 11 Wisconsin
Team Record: 4-0
Total Rushing Statistics: 182 attempts, 1030 yards, 14 touchdowns, 5.56 YPC
Wisconsin is home to the running back considered at the beginning of the year as a frontrunner for Big Ten offensive player of the year. So far, he hasn't disappointed.
John Clay has 501 yards on 77 carries with six touchdowns and a 6.51 YPC. For a big dude like Clay, that's an outstanding number.
What people outside of Wisconsin didn't expect was the production of his backups James White and Montee Ball.
White has 269 yards on 34 carries and three touchdowns (that's 7.91 YPC) and Ball 185 yards on 41 carries with three scores.
All things considered, Wisconsin was very close to having the No. 1 attack in the conference. Unfortunately, they fell just short.
Next Opponent: No. 24 Michigan State
Team Record: 4-0
Total Rushing Statistics: 200 attempts, 1325 yards, 17 touchdowns, 6.63 YPC
Admittedly, I'm breaking my own rule a little. Typically I'll penalize a team for being led in rushing by a QB. But man, this is no ordinary QB.
Denard Robinson is a freak. He's arguably the best athlete to grace the NCAA since Mike Vick.
He runs circles around everyone on the field, video-game-Bo-Jackson style. In 79 attempts, he's amassed 688 yards and six touchdowns. That's 8.71 YPC. Yeah.
His running backs aren't too shabby either. Michael Shaw, on 44 carries, has 245 yards and five touchdowns and Vincent Smith has 172 on 44 and three scores.
Together these three have formed a nearly unstoppable trifecta of ground punishment, and barring injury they will compete for a Big Ten title, perhaps a national title, and maybe, for Robinson, a Heisman.
Next Opponent: Indiana