As we continue our positional rankings for the Big Ten, we’ll get to the category that the football purists will love: running back. The Big Ten is absolutely stacked at the running back position as a whole, and the claim that the conference is won in the trenches is sort of backed up statistically here. The Big Ten boasted ten players who ran for 900 yards or more last season; compare that to the ACC, which had a six total. The ACC also only had four 1,000 or more yard backs last year; the Big Ten had seven, and two guy at 1,600 yards a pop.
Guys like Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, who led the league in rushing yards with 1,690, return for another season to dominate, while a couple runners like Carlos Hyde (Ohio State) and James White (Wisconsin) move on. Still, even with the departure of two of the top five rushers in the Big Ten, there are so many players primed to step up that the drop off will be negligible at best. That’s saying nothing about newcomers Brandon Ross of Maryland and Paul James of Rutgers, two backs capable of dominating in their own right.
Onto the rankings…
14.) Treyon Green, Northwestern (JR)
Treyvon Green certainly has the potential to be higher on this list after finishing 14th in the Big Ten in rushing yards with 736 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 5.4 yards per carry. Despite the fact that he picked up about half those yards from non-conference opponents, Green is considered the starting back for the Wildcats this season and won’t have to compete with Kain Colter for carries. The elephant in the room is that Venric Mark was granted a fifth-year because the injury bug hit him dearly last season. Now that Northwestern is switching to a passing attack (as they probably should have awhile ago), there won’t be as many carries to hand out, and Mack is the proven senior here. If healthy, he could diminish Green’s impact, and that’s saying nothing about Long, who is also lurking in the background. Northwestern should have a good running game, but the statistical dominance won’t be there
13.) Venric Mark, Northwestern (SR)
As mentioned before, Mark may end up shooting up this list if he can return to his dominant 2012 form. Mark is fourth all-time in all purpose yards at Northwestern with 4,172; he needs 1,000 to break that record. Mark is versatile, but how he returns from that ankle injury that kept him out of almost all of last season remains to be seen. Great punt return threat, but who knows where he’ll be in late August.
12.) Jordan Canzeri, Iowa (JR)
The unfortunate part about being in the Hawkeyes backfield is that there really are a plethora of options. Canzeri is probably second in line for carries, but he’s still got to compete with bell cow Mark Weisman for carries and Damon Bullock bringing up the rear. Plus, there are literally about six other backs who want his spot on the Hawkeyes roster, so you get the point. Canzeri is absolutely the most explosive back on the roster, finishing with 481 yards on 74 carries last season (6.5 yards per attempt), and Iowa wants to give him the ball more. Still, his production will be limited as long as Weisman is on the roster.
11.) Brandon Ross, Maryland (JR)
Brandon Ross, the Terps starting tailback from last season, “suffers” from the same fate as every other rusher outside the top nine or ten: muddled backfield. It isn’t that Ross, who had over 800 yards last season, isn’t a talented back; rather, it’s the other guys breathing down his back that will limit his production. Ross has proven to be a major home run threat during his time in College Park, and given that the Big Ten has a propensity to give up those kinds of plays, his numbers should actually go up. Still, sharing carries with Albert Reid, Jacquille Veii, and back from suspension Wes Brown is going to hamper his overall numbers.
10.) Paul James, Rutgers (JR)
When Paul James is healthy, he is a terrifyingly effective runner whose production doesn’t diminish regardless of the competition. Again, that’s when he has health on his side. The walk-on player turned star has had injury problems dating back to his high school days at Glassboro, and missed four games lat year with a broken fibula. But James is on pace to be fully healthy in 2014 despite being a bystander during spring practice, and in his first Big Ten season he could become one of the league’s leading rushers. James will benefit from new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, who has been known to get effective play out of backs, and having another talented back in Des Peoples help shoulder the load.
9.) Ezekiel Elliot, Ohio State (SO)
Elliot was a true freshman last year when he rushed thirty times for 262 yards and 8.2 yards per carry, and those numbers in themselves aren’t that great. But when you factor in that Carlos Hyde and his 208 carries are up for grabs and Elliot happens to be the favorite on the roster to start, you get the sense that he is just waiting to explode. Urban Meyer falls in love with the run every year and has a Heisman candidate at his disposal in Braxton Miller who also rushes for around 1,000 a season, so Elliot will get all the help he needs. If he doesn’t feel free to insert just about any OSU runner in this spot.
8.). Cory Clement, Wisconsin (SO)
Clement and the man prior to him on this list are both true sophomores who will benefit from the departure of a very valuable commodity in the backfield of their team. In this case, Wisconsin’s James White (and his 221 carries and 1,444 yards rushing) moves on and leaves a massive void where he once ran. Clement is fast, explosive, and can likely shoulder that load. Lat season, he finished 16th in Big Ten rushing yards despite only getting 67 carries. His 8.2 yards per attempt were tops among players with 50 carries or more, and I fully expect people to start talking about this kid more often as the season progresses.
Coming up: 1 through 7