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Big Ten position rankings: Running backs

8/20/2010

The position rankings march on with one of the Big Ten's strongest units: running backs and fullbacks. I looked not only at featured backs like John Clay and Evan Royster, but also tried to identify teams with more than one solid option in the backfield.

1. Wisconsin: Everyone knows about Clay, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate entering the fall. But the Badgers also boast good depth here with promising sophomore Montee Ball and veteran Zach Brown. Ball had 98 rushing attempts as a freshman, and he and Brown combined for seven touchdown runs.

2. Penn State: I'm tempted to put Penn State at the top, since the Lions' overall depth at running back could surpass Wisconsin's by the end of the season. Royster enters his third year as the starter and will become Penn State's all-time leading rusher barring injury. Junior Stephfon Green is waiting in the wings after rushing for 319 yards in 2009. Brandon Beachum also returns, and Penn State is excited about freshmen backs Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes. Joe Suhey is an experienced fullback.

3. Ohio State: There might not be a true featured back in Columbus yet, but Ohio State boasts more depth at running back than any Big Ten team. Senior Brandon Saine and junior Dan Herron once again top the depth chart, and Saine has a chance to emerge as the team's go-to runner. Behind them is Jordan Hall, who showed some flashes last fall, and heralded recruit Jaamal Berry looks ready after dealing with leg problems in 2009. Freshman Carlos Hyde has looked good in practice, and the Buckeyes have two good fullbacks in Zach Boren and Adam Homan.

4. Illinois: The Illini boast one of the league's best 1-2 punches at running back in juniors Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford. The coaches maintain that the two likely will share carries, but Leshoure certainly looked like a featured back toward the end of last season. Both Leshoure and Ford averaged more than 6 yards a carry in 2009, and they complement each other well in the offense. Don't forget about Justin Green and Troy Pollard, two solid reserves.

5. Iowa: The Brandon Wegher situation and a clavicle injury to freshman Marcus Coker have raised concerns about the group, but Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton still provide two solid options. Hampton had an excellent freshman season in 2008 and will be very effective if healthy this fall. Robinson grew up fast in 2009 and showed tremendous toughness in his quick recovery from a high ankle sprain. If Wegher returns to the team, Iowa has three capable ball carriers.

Up next: Wide receiver/tight end

More rankings ...