Big Ten/Notre Dame Running Back Rankings

Ezekiel Elliott and Ohio State lead the way in the 2015 Big Ten running back rankings. He returns for the Buckeyes while some backs have moved on to the NFL. Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska are all looking to replace some big time players while other teams like Northwestern, Penn State and Illinois are looking to add depth and build a rotation.

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The Big Ten is home to some of the nation's finest running backs and many in this conference are looking to replace some great players at this position. Wisconsin lost Melvin Gordon to the NFL. The same things happened to Nebraska with Ameer Abdullah and Michigan State with Jeremy Langford.

Here I take a look at the positional ranking of the running back position in the Big Ten. It's not just about the starters but the overall depth and talent of each team's position of running back and how I believe this unit will do as a whole this coming season.

1) Ohio State

The Buckeyes ground attack is led by junior running back Ezekiel Elliott. He was absolutely sensational in the second half of the season, especially over the Ohio State run in the Big 10 Championship and playoff and title games. Over those last 12 quarters Elliott was red hot and unstoppable, rushing for a staggering 704 yards and eight touchdowns when the games meant the most. Elliott enters 2015 as a Heisman Trophy candidate and arguably the game’s top player at his position. He finished the 2014 season with 1,878 yards and 18 scores.

The Buckeyes found Elliott’s backup this spring in Bri’onte Dunn. This red-shirt junior got much of the spring reps and looked super. He gives Ohio State that big back presence. Another player to keep an eye on this fall is Mike Weber. He was a four-star recruit that Urban Meyer signed with his 2015 that will certainly have a chance to play. Curtis Samuel was moved to wide receiver.

2) Northwestern

Northwestern is home to one of the best young running backs in the Big Ten in Justin Jackson. He had a terrific true freshman season, rushing for 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jackson, 5-foot-11, 185-pounds, was banged up a little this spring and missed time. That allowed some other backs to get more reps. This program will need a healthy Jackson this fall, especially considering they will have a new quarterback running the show.

Junior Warren Long and red-shirt freshman Auston Anderson both had solid springs. Long has seen limited action over the last two seasons while Anderson sat in 2014. Both of these players bring speed to the Northwestern offense. Trae Williams and John Moten are two in-coming freshman for the Wildcats.

3) Wisconsin

The Badgers are like a factory when it comes to producing running backs. With Melvin Gordon gone to the NFL Corey Clement is the next one up. All this junior did last season as Gordon’s backup was rush for 949 yards and nine scores. In two seasons Clement has 1,496 yards and 16 touchdowns while averaging an impressive seven yards per carry. So it looks like Wisconsin’s running game is in great hands with Clement, as he is lined up to be the next star from Madison.

What the Badgers must do is find Clement’s backup and a running back rotation. Much of that in up in the air. Junior Dare Ogunbowale has talent but inexperience at the position. Taiwan Deal missed half of last year with a hand injury. Two in-coming freshman, Jordan Stevenson and Bradrick Shaw, enroll this summer and could certainly shake things up with how they transition to the college game.

4) Penn State

Akeel Lynch is going to be the running back show for the Nittany Lions. He returns as their only back with any kind of playing experience after rushing for 678 yards and four scores in 2014. Lynch is a bigger back at 220-pounds or so who can carry the load in Happy Valley. His success and ultimately the production of the offense will all be predicated on how well the front plays. They didn’t play well as a unit in 2014.

After Lynch, James Franklin and his staff will be looking to develop depth and create a rotation. Both Nick Scott and Johnathan Thomas red-shirted last season. Scott had a big spring game for Penn State. Senior Brandon Johnson will be back. The Nittany Lions signed a pair of four-star running backs with their last class in Saquan Barkley and Andre Robinson.

5) Illinois

Josh Ferguson has been a highly productive running back for the Illini over the past few seasons. The 195-pound senior rushed for 735 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. He also caught 50 passes for two touchdowns. He’s the leading returner in both rushing and receiving after the knee injury to wide receiver Mike Dudek.

Like with some other Big Ten schools the Illini are looking for his backups and players that can take some of the load off of Ferguson. True freshman Dre Brown was an early enrollee who had a big spring and made a great impression. Junior college transfer Henry Enyenihi will be counted on to give this unit a boost as well. Look for Ferguson to get some time in the slot this fall, meaning he could be on the field at the same time with Brown or Enyenihi. Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Reggie Corbin are two in-coming freshman for Illinois.

6) Notre Dame

Running back is not a deep position in South Bend but there is some talent here and certainly some talent arriving this summer for Brian Kelly and his Fighting Irish. Entering fall camp it looks like a pair of former Florida high school football standouts appear one-two on the Notre Dame depth chart in juniors Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. Folston led the Irish in rushing a year ago with 889 yards and six touchdowns. Senior C.J. Prosise will find his way into the Notre Dame lineup one way or another this season simply because he’s too good to watch from the sidelines. This is a versatile talent that has lined up on both sides of the ball and at multiple positions. They were light on running backs this spring so he moved there and knocked it out of the park. Prosise showed the Notre Dame coaching staff that’s he’s one of the most explosive players on the team.

Notre Dame signed two big time running back recruits in their 2015 class in Dexter Williams and Josh Adams, both four-star prospects.

7) Michigan

There’s some talent at this position in Ann Arbor. Derrick Green, now a junior, was on pace for a nice year before a season ending injury mid-way through the 2014 campaign. Another junior standout is De’Veon Smith. He led the team in rushing last year with 519 yards and six touchdowns. Then there is red-shirt sophomore Ty Isaac who transferred in from USC. He’s a monster at 240-pounds and looks ideal for this offense.Drake Johnson is rehabbing after a late season ACL injury. He had a pretty productive fall a year ago with almost 400 rushing yards and four scores.

There’s a lot to work with here for new coach Jim Harbaugh. Whether it’s one guy that emerges or if it’s running back by committee there is a lot of talent at this position and they all have experience.

Of course Harbaugh flipped an Iowa pledge late in the recruiting cycle in Karan Higdon.

8) Nebraska

It’s finally Terrell Newby’s turn to tote the rock in Lincoln. This junior from Los Angeles had a strong spring and looks like a very capable starter with Ameer Abdullah now in the NFL. Newby played in all 13 games a year ago, rushing for 297 yards and five scores. Another veteran back that should see a ton of time and carries is Imani Cross. He’s a 240-pound senior that actually put up better numbers than Newby last season, rushing for 384 yards and five touchdowns.

Another back to watch this fall is sophomore Adam Taylor. He’s a 210-pound runner with a lot of talent and just needs to stay healthy. There’s no doubt he can be a weapon for Mike Riley’s offense. Red-shirt freshman Mikale Wilbon did some nice things this spring for the Cornhuskers. Devine Ozigbo is a big and speedy incoming freshman for Nebraska.

9) Indiana

The Hoosiers lost a bulk of their rushing attack in Tevin Coleman, who is now in the NFL. But Indiana fans should be happy to know that a key transfer could immediately step in and put up some big numbers in Jordan Howard. Howard, 6-foot-1, 225-pounds, is a big back that played at UAB. In 2014 for the Blazers, Howard rushed for almost 1,600 yards and 13 scores. In limited time this spring (injured elbow) Howard really impressed the Hoosier coaching staff.

After Howard, Indiana is very young at this position. Sophomore Devin Redding appeared in ten games last year, rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown. He’s the only returning running back who got carries last season from the 2014 roster. Tommy Mister missed last year with an injury. Devonte Williams in an in-coming freshman for Indiana.

10) Minnesota

David Cobb is now in the NFL so Minnesota has to replace one of the best runners from the Big Ten. Rodrick Williams, who has many of the same traits as Cobb, will have a chance to make his mark this fall for the Gophers. He’s a 229-pound senior with a powerful style. Last year he appeared in all 13 games, rushing for 114 yards and three touchdowns. He’s dropped some weight and ready to be the workhorse this fall. But he will have challengers, namely Jeff Jones. Jones didn’t play last season because of academic issues. He’s now back and has as much talent as just about anyone at this position in this conference. Jones is versatile and will also line up at wide receiver. Berkley Edwards and Rodney Smith are two other backs that will get carries in 2015.

This group may lack experience but it’s certainly a group of players with a lot of talent.

11) Michigan State

It’s next running back up in East Lansing with Jeremy Langford now in the NFL. At Michigan State Gerald Holmes and Madre London are battling for No. 1 running back honors. Holmes, a sophomore, and London, a red-shirt freshman, are two very talented players that should both make impacts this fall for the Spartans. They are both around 220-pounds but bring a slightly different style. Either way, they mesh real well into what Sparty loves to do in the run game. This duo just lacks experience.

Delton Williams was suspended indefinitely this spring. L.J. Scott and Andew Powell are two very good incoming running backs for Michigan State. In fact, look for Scott to push for some serious playing time.

12) Rutgers

One of the more talented positions at Rutgers is that of running back. The Scarlett Knights have a few returning that will battle for top running back honors. But in the end, it still may be a trio that all get significant touches in 2015. Josh Hicks returns as their top rusher with 440 yards and two scores last year. Then you have Robert Martin and Paul James that put up good numbers. Together, these three put up roughly 1,200 yards and a dozen scores for the Rutgers offense in 2014. Remember, James was their leading rusher in 2013 but injured his ACL last year so it’s Martin and Hicks as co-No.1s at this point. You also have to factor in two juniors, Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples as well.

13) Maryland

At this point two players are in front of the running back pack at Maryland in Wes Brown and Brandon Ross. Brown, a junior, missed the spring with a shoulder injury. Both have had their share of ups and downs while Terrapins. Ross, a senior, had a good spring. Last season these two combined for almost 800 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kenneth Goings and Joe Riddle are two older backs with experience still on the roster. After transfers from backs Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii, Maryland is terribly thin at this position. Incoming freshman Ty Johnson needs to be ready this summer when he reports for the Terrapins.

14) Iowa

Look for a few running backs to all contribute to the Iowa run game this fall. Senior Jordan Canzeri should be the top tailback for the Hawkeyes going into fall camp. He rushed for almost 500 yards in 2014 as the key backup for Kirk Ferentz. Junior LeShun Daniels and sophomores Derrick Mitchell and Akrum Wadley will also be in the rotation in some form or fashion. All got time and carries last season. Daniels could emerge as the guy this season. Eric Graham is an in-coming freshman at Iowa.

15) Purdue

Keyante Green and D.J. Knox were the two backs expected to battle for the key playing time for Purdue this fall. Green returns with the most experience, although it’s limited to 27 carries last season. Remember the name Markell Jones. This true freshman from Columbus (Ind.) East is primed to make an impact for the Boilermakers. He showed off his talent during spring practice. Jones was Mr. Football in Indiana just a few months back after rushing for over 3,500 yards and 60 touchdowns his senior season. He has a ton of talent and the opportunity is there at Purdue, he just needs to pick up the system better. Of course Keith Byars, Jr. and David Yancey will be contributors as well. This is a young and talented group made up of freshman and sophomores.

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