Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Take Two: B1G's top rusher in '14
By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
Big Ten reporters Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.
The league had seven 1,000-yard rushers in 2013 and a handful of others who got pretty close, and many of them return. The race for this year's rushing title should be extremely competitive. So Tuesday's Take Two topic is this: Who will lead the Big Ten in rushing yards in 2014?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
Melvin Gordon is a big-play threat at Wisconsin.
There are so many good contenders here. It's hard to go against the heart and determination of Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. Michigan State's Jeremy Langford could be even better this year after coming on in midseason last year on his way to 1,422 yards and 18 scores. Indiana's Tevin Coleman is so explosive, and Northwestern's Venric Mark is back from injury.
But I keep coming back to Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. He finished 81 yards behind Abdullah last season, and it was Gordon's first full year as a starter. He also had 206 carries, which was 75 fewer than Abdullah and 86 fewer than Langford. Heck, Gordon didn't even get the most carries on his own team, as James White received 221. I don't expect Gordon to suddenly become a 300-carry guy, and the Badgers will continue their successful backfield tandem style with promising sophomore Corey Clement.
I do believe, though, that Gordon will have more rushing attempts this season than he did a year ago, possibly in the 250 range. And for a guy who averaged a ridiculous 7.8 yards per carry a year ago, that could translate into a huge yardage total. Assuming he becomes a little better between the tackles and avoids fumbling issues, the Wisconsin junior should challenge not only for the Big Ten rushing title, but also the FBS one.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
Ameer Abdullah will get plenty of chances to impress at Nebraska.
I'm really tempted to join you with the Gordon pick, as he's the nation's top big-play back -- a must-see every time he touches the ball. But I'm going with Abdullah for several reasons. He was the more consistent back in 2013, eclipsing 100 rushing yards in 11 of 13 games. Gordon got there eight times, but only twice in Wisconsin's final six games. White had a lot to do with that and he's not in Madison anymore, but I think the Badgers will have a tough time keeping Clement off the field.
That gets me to my second point. Although Clement and Nebraska's Imani Cross both are talented backups, I give Clement the edge. If he builds on a strong spring, I don't see Gordon logging more than 260 carries. The big-play factor could put Gordon ahead of Abdullah, but Abdullah should log more carries again. Abdullah is hardly a plodder, averaging 5.4 yards per carry in his career and six yards per carry last season. Only two Big Ten teams (Michigan and Iowa) held him to fewer than five yards per rush.
This is a really tough call, and like you, I wouldn't count out players such as Coleman, Langford and Mark. If Coleman gets enough chances behind a massively underrated line, he could be the league's yards leader. But Abdullah has been so good for so long, and he'll end his senior season atop the Big Ten's rushing chart.