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July 13, 2014
Big Ten's Top Running Backs
A Michigan running back routinely ranked among the Big Ten's best for five decades, but the current crop of ball carriers has a long way to go to be considered among the top tier of runners in the conference.
1. Melvin Gordon - Wisconsin: On past accomplishments, Gordon is deserving, but he gets the nod over Abdullah because he's in line for a monster year behind another solid offensive line, with a proven QB, while a few more questions persist down the road in Lincoln.
Gordon is the second-highest returning rusher in the Big Ten with 1,609 in 2013, including a mind-bending 7.8 yards per carry. Despite only starting four games, he rushed for 100 yards or more in eight of 13 contests, including a 146-yard effort in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina.
The 6-1, 207-pound Gordon fits in that "prototype" NFL grouping, boasting terrific size and power, and, arguably, the best high-end speed in the conference.
2. Ameer Abdullah - Nebraska: Of course, even if the QB situation is murkier at Nebraska that didn't stop Abdullah from rushing for 1,690 yards (6.0 per carry) and nine touchdowns in 2013; starting quarterback Taylor Martinez appeared in only four games last year.
The 5-9, 195-pound Abdullah is stronger than he looks, has terrific vision and explosion to hit a hole and is plenty shifty. Astonishingly, he had 100 yards or more in 11 of 13 games and produced the top single-season effort by a NU ball carrier since Ahman Green in 1997.
3. Jeremy Langford - Michigan State: After a sluggish start in which he was trying to separate from a pack of unproven backs at Michigan State, Langford took off, rushing for 100 yards or more in seven of eight Big Ten contests (adding another 128 in the conference title game) in compiling 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The 6-0, 205-pound Langford will be the centerpiece of the MSU offensive attack this season and could end up leapfrogging both Gordon and Abdullah if he spearheads another Spartan run to Indianapolis (for the Big Ten Championship).
4. Venric Mark - Northwestern: How does a guy that played in only three games, with 36 offensive touches, get the nod here? When that tailback is the all-around phenom that is Mark.
The 5-8, 175-pounder is back for a fifth year after receiving a medical hardship waiver. In 2012, Mark posted the highest single-season all-purpose yards record in Northwestern history (2,166) after rushing for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He was also the most feared returnman in the Big Ten, returning two punts for scores while averaging 18.7 yards per return.
5. David Cobb - Minnesota: Once a bastion of running back success, Minnesota hadn't seen a 1,000-yard producer since 2006 until Cobb came around. The 5-11, 229-pounder went off for 1,202 yards. And his performance was closely linked to the Gophers, with the Maroon and Gold going 5-1 in games in which Cobb rushed for 100 yards or more.
Best of the Rest
6. Mark Weisman - Iowa
7. Tevin Coleman - Indiana
8. Zach Zwinak - Penn State
9. Paul James - Rutgers
10. Corey Clement - Wisconsin