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Re-ranking the Big Ten running backs

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After exploring the Big Ten's crop of elite running backs early today, it seems appropriate to take a look back at the preseason running back rankings and how the league looks through the first nine games.

There are obviously some major differences between the lists, most notably the omission of one Shonn Greene in the preseason rundown. I obviously didn't think much of -- or know much about -- Greene and the other Iowa running backs, and ranked the Hawkeyes dead last in team rushing.

Before getting to the current top 10, here's an attempt to curb the inevitable Buckeye backlash. These rankings are based on production this season. If I did rankings based on which back will have the best NFL career, Chris "Beanie" Wells would top the list.

OK, let's begin.

1. Shonn Greene, Iowa -- He has come out of nowhere to rank third nationally in rushing average (144.3 ypg) this season. Greene has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all eight games and boasts the nation's second-highest yards-per-carry average (6.52) among backs with at least 150 carries. The 235-pound junior has great size and a bruising running style that makes Big Ten defenders hate to tackle him.

2. Javon Ringer, Michigan State -- College football's iron man has received 65 more carries than any FBS back and continues to produce at peak levels. Ringer tallied 816 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in the month of September, putting him on the Heisman Trophy radar. The Spartans senior has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in six games and 190 rushing yards in four games. No Big Ten player is more valuable to his team than Ringer this season.

3. Evan Royster, Penn State -- Despite averaging only 15 carries per game, Royster ranks 19th nationally in rushing average (107.8 ypg) with a blistering 7.2 yards-per-carry average. He's not a power back but enjoys running between the tackles and can gash defenses with his speed. Royster has five 100-yard rushing performances despite sharing carries with Stephfon Green and quarterback Daryll Clark.

4. Chris "Beanie" Wells, Ohio State -- The preseason Heisman candidate was sidetracked by a right foot/toe injury in the season opener and missed three games. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry in his first two games back from injury and overpowered defenders in road wins against Wisconsin and Michigan State. But like Ohio State's other skill players, Wells has been hamstrung by an underachieving offensive line and struggled last Saturday against Penn State.

5. Kory Sheets, Purdue -- Being the best player on a bad team hasn't been easy for Sheets, who aired his frustrations two weeks ago before coach Joe Tiller silenced him. Sheets has done his part for Purdue, ranking 26th nationally in rushing (100.8 ypg) and 20th in all-purpose yards (155.5 ypg). Despite playing behind a banged-up offensive line, the versatile Sheets has accounted for 45 rushing or receiving first downs.

6. Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern -- Like Sheets, Sutton has used his versatility to produce at a high rate behind the Big Ten's youngest and least experienced offensive line. Sutton ranks fourth on the team in receptions (30) and has eclipsed 100 all-purpose yards in six of eight games this season. The senior likely will miss the rest of the regular season after sustaining a wrist injury last Saturday at Indiana.

7. P.J. Hill, Wisconsin -- The three-year starter got off to a hot start, exploding for 210 rushing yards in the opener against Akron and racking up 112 in a win at Fresno State. He has slowed down considerably since then and likely will platoon with redshirt freshman John Clay for most of the remaining games.

8. Marcus Thigpen, Indiana -- Quarterback Kellen Lewis remains the Hoosiers' top rushing threat (67.3 ypg), but Thigpen has been a solid contributor as a runner, a receiver and a return man. He averages 5.7 yards per carry, 22.8 yards per reception and 22.9 yards per kickoff return. The 193-pound senior ranks 14th nationally in all-purpose yards (1601.1 ypg).

9. Daniel Dufrene, Illinois -- The Illini are more pass oriented this season behind quarterback Juice Williams, but Dufrene has done a nice job following the departure of Rashard Mendenhall. The junior averages 5.6 yards a carry and ties for third on the team with 17 receptions. He has lost some carries to freshman Jason Ford, who can be more effective in the red zone.

10. DeLeon Eskridge, Minnesota -- Thrust into a starting role as a true freshman, Eskridge has stepped up nicely, averaging 65 rush yards per game and scoring seven touchdowns for the upstart Gophers. He needs three rushing touchdowns to tie Laurence Maroney's school record for a freshman.

Solid reserve running backs include Wisconsin's John Clay, Iowa's Jewel Hampton, Penn State's Stephfon Green, Illinois' Jason Ford and Michigan's Brandon Minor.