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May 29, 2012

Ranking the Big Ten: Running back

As Nebraska moves into its second season in the Big Ten Conference, HuskerOnline.com will get you ready with ranking analysis pieces breaking down each position in the league. Today, we look at the running back position in the Big Ten heading into 2012.

1. Montee Ball, Wisconsin, 5-11, 212, Sr.
Heading into the 2012 season Wisconsin's Montee Ball will be a preseason All-American and on the shortlist as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. As a junior, Ball tied a Division I-A record with 39 touchdowns, rushing for 33 and catching another six. Ball led the country with 1,923 yards rushing to go along with 306 yards receiving. The only question now is can he duplicate those numbers without Russell Wilson at quarterback and some of the key veterans the Badgers lost on their offensive line?
2. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska, 5-11, 210, Sr.
It didn't take long for senior Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead to earn the respect of the Big Ten coaches. Burkhead was a physical grinder, having some of his best games against the league's top rushing defenses - Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State. The Plano, Texas native will look to top his 1,357 yards from 2011, as he will be the centerpiece of Nebraska's offense, along with quarterback Taylor Martinez. One thing the Huskers will probably try to do is not to overwork Burkhead this year, as he had multiple games with over 30 carries, which will make it hard for him to hold up over the course of an entire season.
3. Silas Redd, Penn State, 5-10, 200, Jr.
First-year Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien doesn't have much offensive firepower to work with in 2012, but you can bet a lot of what he'll do will center around junior running back Silas Redd. As a sophomore Redd rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns, and he should have a chance to do a lot more in O'Brien's pro-style system this fall. It's still hard though to predict how any player will do in a completely new offensive system.
4. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan, 5-10, 200, So.
One of the bigger surprise players for Michigan last year was the emergence of freshman running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. The shifty Toussaint led the Wolverines with 1,041 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, help setting the tone for their offense and playing a big part in getting them to the Sugar Bowl by giving them a consistent rushing threat on the ground. Toussaint's emergence also took a lot of pressure off quarterback Denard Robinson.
5. James White, Wisconsin, 5-10, 200, Jr.
Junior Wisconsin running back James White is probably good enough to start for just about any team in the country, but the only problem is he plays behind the top running back in college football. In back-up role behind Montee Ball, White still rushed for 713 yards and six touchdowns, to go along with 150 yards receiving, to give him 863 yards of total offense. It will be interesting to see how White is worked in this year with Ball.

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