Nov 30, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) rushes for a first down as Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Brandon Bell (26) and Mike Hull (43) make the stop at Camp Randall Stadium. Penn State defeated Wisconsin 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
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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.