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.
7.) Mark Weisman, Iowa (SR)
Mark Wesiman is only one of two fullbacks on this list, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a more than competent runner. Weisman finished with 975 yards rushing last season and eight touchdowns on 4.3 yards per carry, and had he not needed to split carries could have gone for more. Weisman started the year off incredibly hot with 100 yards or more rushing in four of his first five games. Unfortunately, he never reached that mark again as Big Ten play revved up.
While it’s concerning that Weisman was unable to really explode during the Big Ten, that was more a product of his teammates stepping up than it was him. He is still a red zone threat, and Iowa is going to be a better team next year. Look for Weisman to be one of the best backs in the league this year with similar statistics as last season.
6.) Zach Zwinak, Penn State (SR)
Swiniak narrowly edges out Weisman as the other fullback on the list because of his strong performances to date. He’s one of the best fullbacks in all of college football, and has gone for nearly 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons without much of a drop off in efficiency (4.8 yards per carry average). He’s also a touchdown machine, with 12 last season and seven the season before.
Swiniak may have a new coach, but he still forms a lethal duo with fellow runner Bill Belton, and Penn State is chock full in the backfield. His production will likely be exactly the same as last season, maybe a little lower.
5.) David Cobb, Minnesota (SR)
Cobb started off last year as a third-string back who had only carried the ball 11 total times entering the season, but it’s not how you start as much as it is how you finish. Cobb rattled off 90 or more yards in six of his final seven games last season and finished with 1,202 yards after he was given the starting gig. He was the main reason Minnesota was able to beat Nebraska and Penn State last season, and his 5.1 yards per carry and grind-it-out attitude are huge for the Gophers.
Cobb is the unquestioned started this season, and considering he didn’t even have ten carries in four games last season, he may end up challenging the best backs in the league for the total yardage leader. He finished last year as the 27th best rusher in the nation and with the 12-most yards in Gopher history, so it isn’t outlandish to want to raise his ceiling a bit. Ignore the crowded backfield issue with this kid.
4.) Jeremy Langford, Michigan State (SR)
You could say that Jeremy Langford kind of emerged last season, but it would be an understatement. After rushing for under 70 yards in four of his first five games, Langford decided to go ham for the remainder of his games. Eight straight 100 or more yard games (outside of the 84 yard Rose Bowl performance), a span which never saw him yards per carry drop below 4.7 and featured 13 touchdowns. Langford put forth better seasons than some backfields do all year, in eight games.
Langford should be happy that he is playing in a system that A) has no clear cut #2 and B) routinely produces solid backs. He will continue to thrive next year knowing he’ll get a lot of carries and could very well match that 1,422 yard, 18 touchdown season from last year.
3.) Tevin Coleman, Indiana (JR)
Coleman is ridiculously good when healthy. At 6’1, 205 lbs he’s a little on the light side for a running back, but there are few backs who possess his big play ability. Coleman finished with 958 yards last season, which was good for the tenth best total in the Big Ten, and his 12 rushing touchdowns had him tied for fifth. Still, it’s his 7.3 yards per carry that really should start scaring opponents.
Coleman was a sure big play almost every time he touched the ball and helped make Indiana one of the more lethal offensive teams in the country. He had 169 yards against Indiana State, and 215 against Illinois; he had a touchdown in every single appearance; he only played in nine games. Give this kid a full season and look out record books.
2.) Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (SR)
A case could easily be made for Abdullah being the best back in the Big Ten considering what he did behind a makeshift line last season. 1,690 yards on the ground (tops in the B1G), six yards per carry, and 11 overall touchdowns. Abdullah was given more carries and with them impressed even more. He stands a chance of being the first back in Nebraska history to collect three 1,000-yard seasons this year, so you can imagine he’s focused.
His diminutive stature shouldn’t be held against the All-American, as he’s been healthy his entire career. Abdullah is a strong back who makes everyone miss, and while he may not break Nebraska’s All-Time rushing record held by Mike Rozier (4,780 yards), he could get close if Pelini lets him.
1.) Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (JR)
Gordon has it all; size (6’1), speed (4.3 40-yard dash) and big play ability. Last year, he finished with 1,609 yards on a meager 201 carries thanks to his 7.8 yards per attempt. There’s absolutely no reason why he can’t continue Wisconsin’s stretch of solid back play, and now that he will finally be the starting back with James White gone, he should.
Gordon has all the opportunity in the world this year and will get a whole lot more carries. Opposing teams need to lock their doors and windows, STAT.