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B1G RBs: Looking back at top matchups

11/14/2014

Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon are among the best running backs in the nation -- and it’s a B1G rarity that such a matchup as Saturday’s Nebraska-Wisconsin game presents itself.

Gordon leads the nation in rushing (166.8 yards per game), while Abdullah follows closely behind (138.9 yards per game) in the No. 6 spot. Saturday will mark only the fifth time in 10 years that two Big Ten running backs, both ranked within the top 6 nationally in rushing yards per contest, will square off against one another.

How much does the opponent's rushing defense matter? And does the rushing leader always come out on top? Here’s a look back at those four other memorable matchups and how the RBs fared:

Oct. 27, 2012 Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell vs. Wisconsin’s Montee Ball

Final score: Michigan State 16, Wisconsin 13 (OT)

What made the RBs special: Bell finished third nationally with 137.92 yards per game that season; Ball was sixth with 130.71 yards. Bell recorded 922 of his 1,793 rushing yards -- 51 percent -- after contact that year and became the first Spartan since 1990 to lead the B1G in rushing. Ball won the Doak Walker Award and set the career FBS touchdown record.

RBs’ game: Both rush defenses were ranked within the top 25, and neither running back ended with an explosive day. Bell carried the ball 21 times for 77 yards and finished with a long of 9 yards, while Ball had 22 carries for 46 yards. The big play actually came through the air for Michigan State, as Bell had a 5-yard receiving TD with 1:08 left in regulation to tie the game. MSU won on a 12-yard touchdown pass in overtime.

RBs’ future: Both were selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, with Bell going to the Pittsburgh Steelers (48th overall) and Ball headed to the Denver Broncos (58th overall).


Oct. 4, 2008 – Iowa’s Shonn Greene vs. Michigan State’s Javon Ringer

Final score: Michigan State 16, Iowa 13

What made the RBs special: Greene finished second nationally with 142.31 yards per game that season; Ringer was fourth with 125.92 yards. Greene finished sixth in the Heisman voting and won both the Doak Walker and B1G Offensive Player of the Year awards. Ringer finished 10th in the Heisman voting and became the first Spartan running back to be named to the Walter Camp All-American Team since Lorenzo White in 1987. Ringer led the nation in rushing attempts (390) and rushing touchdowns (22).

RBs’ game: Iowa’s rush defense was ranked No. 9 in the nation, while Michigan State was No. 67 -- and that was reflected in the backs’ performances. Greene paced Iowa with 30 carries for 157 yards, while Ringer had 25 carries for just 91 yards. The problem for the Hawkeyes was that there was no passing game; Ricky Stanzi finished with a QBR of 7.2. MSU rode a 13-0 second-quarter lead to victory, as Iowa just didn’t have the passing game required for a comeback.

RBs’ future: Green was selected in the third round by the New York Jets in the 2009 draft. He now plays for the Tennessee Titans and, on his sixth season, has 3,917 career rush yards. Ringer was selected in the fifth round by the Titans in the 2009 draft. He spent four seasons in the NFL and worked out for the Chicago Bears in April.


Oct. 18, 2008 – Ohio State’s Chris Wells vs. Michigan State’s Javon Ringer

Final score: No. 12 Ohio State 45, No. 20 Michigan State 7

What made the RBs special: Wells finished sixth nationally with 119.7 rushing yards per game that season; Ringer was fourth with 125.92 yards. Despite a foot injury that sidelined Wells for three games early in the season, he bounced back enough to be named the 2008 team MVP. He also averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Ringer finished the season with 1,637 rushing yards.

RBs’ game: Wells had a game to remember against the Spartans, as he finished with 31 carries for 140 yards and a pair of TDs. Ringer finished with his fewest carries (16) of the season against the Buckeyes' No. 18 rush defense, for just 67 yards, since MSU was forced to throw early and often after trailing 21-0 in the first quarter. Five Spartan turnovers didn’t help matters. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor threw just 11 times.

RBs’ future: Wells was picked in the first round (No. 31 overall) by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2009 NFL draft. He played four seasons -- and went over 1,000 yards in 2011 -- but just recently accused doctors from the Columbus, Ohio, area for malpractice after an Achilles injury. Ringer, a fifth-rounder, never started but played 37 career games for the Titans.


Oct. 15, 2005 – Wisconsin’s Brian Calhoun vs. Minnesota’s Laurence Maroney

Final score: No. 23 Wisconsin 38, No. 22 Minnesota 34

What made the RBs special: Calhoun finished sixth nationally with 125.85 rushing yards per game that season; Maroney was fifth with 133.09 yards. Calhoun, a Colorado transfer, led the NCAA in rush attempts (348) and touchdowns (24) -- and even finished eighth in the B1G with 53 catches for 571 yards. Maroney was the first Minnesota player to rush for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons and was a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award.

RBs’ game: Maroney may have split time with Gary Russell in 2005, but this game was all Maroney. He touched the ball on more than half of the Gophers' snaps and wound up with 43 carries for a career-high 258 yards and a TD. He accounted for slightly more than half of the total offense. Calhoun didn’t fare too badly, either, with 23 carries for 110 yards and three TDs. Both rush defenses were ranked worse than No. 60. Wisconsin won on a crazy, last-second punt block for a touchdown.

RBs’ future: Calhoun was picked in the third round (No. 74 overall) by the Detroit Lions in the 2006 NFL draft. He played just two seasons but finished his degree and is now an assistant strength coach for Pitt. Maroney was picked in the first round (No. 21 overall) by the New England Patriots in the same draft. He played for six seasons in the NFL.