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Big Ten's 1,000-yard rushers in 2013

5/29/2013

We admit that some numbers we use as yardsticks of success in college football can be somewhat arbitrary.

For example, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde had a terrific 2012 season, rushing for 16 touchdowns. But because he missed two games with injuries and the Buckeyes were ineligible for the postseason, Hyde didn't reach the "magical" 1,000-yard rushing mark. Instead, he finished with an oh-so-close 970.

Does that make Hyde's season any less outstanding. Not really. Still, there's a certain amount of prestige and pride that goes along with breaking four digits as a running back, and in a league known for running the ball like the Big Ten, it can take on added importance.

That's why we're taking a look at the players most likely to break that 1,000-yard barrier in 2013. Let's start by looking at the five returning players who pulled off the feat in 2012 and examine their prospects of doing the same for the fall:

Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern (1,371 rushing yards in 2012): Mark had eight games of at least 100 rushing yards last season, becoming the first Wildcat since 2006 to eclipse the 1k plateau. While teams will game plan heavily for him, Mark also benefits by having quarterback Kain Colter in the same backfield as another running threat. There is every reason to believe he'll be among the Big Ten's top rushers again this season.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (1,271): Miller did most of his damage on the ground in the first half of last season, and Ohio State would like to see him throw the ball more. But he also didn't gain much yardage on true scrambles last season, which could improve in '13. And since the Buckeyes are likely to play at least one more game this season, Miller is another safe bet for 1,000.

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (1,137): Abdullah won't have to worry about splitting carries with Rex Burkhead, though Imani Cross looks to become a bigger part of the offense. With Nebraska's commitment to running the ball, the only concern about Abdullah is a knee injury that kept him out this spring. He is expected to fully recover, however.

Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska (1,019): Martinez broke 1,000 for the first time in his career last season, aided no doubt by Nebraska playing 14 games, including the Big Ten title game. He's a threat to rip off huge plays every time he takes off and runs, but he has needed to do that less as he's improved as a passer.

Zach Zwinak, RB, Penn State (1,000): The most unlikely member of the 1,000-yard club in 2012, Zwinak surprised everybody by emerging as Penn State's best running option. People still doubt whether he can duplicate that performance, but the Lions might rely on the running game more with a new starting quarterback under center. The lack of a 13th game does hurt his chances, however.

And now let's take a look at some players who could challenge that 1,000-yard mark in 2013, in order of likelihood:

1. Hyde (970): The senior could have to split carries with Miller, Rod Smith and others. But he really got going in the second half of last season and should get a lot more than 185 rushing attempts if he stays healthy all season.

T-2. James White (840) and Melvin Gordon (643), Wisconsin: Montee Ball is gone, but the Badgers' running back tradition should continue. White already has a 1,000-yard season under his belt, and got close last season as the No. 2 tailback. He should see his carries go up, while Gordon is wildly talented and can post huge stats without many touches. Don't be surprised if both top 1,000 yards this season.

4. Mark Weisman, Iowa (815): Weisman put up some monster numbers once the Hawkeyes set him loose out of near desperation last season, and he ran for more than 800 yards despite playing in only 10 games and being banged up for many of those. Iowa is much deeper in the backfield heading into this season, but he could still lead the team in carries.

5. Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota (926): Kirkwood somewhat quietly had one of the highest rushing totals in the league last season. With Minnesota's dedication to the power running game and what looks like a deeper, healthier offensive line, Kirkwood should see his total go up this year if he can maintain his grip on the No. 1 job.

6. Colter, QB, Northwestern (894): It's possible Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State could all have QB/RB combos who go for 1,000 yards each this season. Colter was fairly close last season, and that was despite Mark's brilliance and splitting time with Trevor Siemian. Colter averaged better than five yards per carry, so it's simply a matter of how many times the Wildcats want him to run in 2013.

7. Fitz Toussaint (555) or Derrick Green, Michigan: Despite his disappointing season in 2012, Toussaint was a 1,000-yard back two years ago and could rediscover that form. If not, true freshman Green would be happy to give it a shot. The Wolverines are likely to use a more traditional running game now that Denard Robinson is gone.

8. Akeem Hunt, Purdue (335): Hunt averaged a jaw-dropping eight yards per carry last season, and looks to be the featured back for new head coach Darrell Hazell, who turned Kent State into a ground-and-pound machine. Of course, Hunt will have to prove he can take the beating of a full season as the top tailback after carrying the ball just 42 times a year ago.

9. Stephen Houston, Indiana (749): In Houston's favor: he ran for more than 800 yards two years ago, and the Hoosiers have pledged to run the ball more in 2013. Against him: He might have to share more carries this season, especially if the mobile Tre Roberson plays quarterback. And the IU coaches have never been effusive in their praise of Houston.

10. Unknown Michigan State tailback: We know that Mark Dantonio likes to feed the ball to his running backs, as evidenced by Le'Veon Bell's 382 carries last season. Riley Bullough or one of three true freshman could emerge as the bell cow this season. We'd just feel better about it we actually knew who that starting tailback would be.

11. Donovonn Young, RB, Illinois (571): He led the team in rushing a year ago, and his straight-ahead running style could prove a nice asset in the new Illinois spread offense. Yes, the Illini have a long way to go to produce a 1,000-yard rusher, and they're highly unlikely to play more than 12 games. But if Donovonn Young won't change your mind ... baby, baby, baby. (Sorry -- gratuitous Vampire Weekend reference).

Which players do you see running for 1,000 yards in 2013?