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Thursday Morning Brews (10/16/14)

Looking at the nation's best running backs.

Tevin Coleman, and Nate Sudfeld
Tevin Coleman, and Nate Sudfeld
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Top Ten Running Backs

Running backs rely on many things - their offensive line, an instinctive offensive coordinator, and a steady quarterback. They rely on being able to find daylight the moment they get the ball, or else even the best will fall for a loss.

This list tries to strip away those variables, and focus instead on just the running backs. With that said, it's an impossible task. And while all of them are working with different offensive lines and different offenses, the pure stats can't be thrown away, either. It's a conundrum of list-making. One thing each of these players have in common, though - they are great at what they do.

Unsurprisingly, four Big Ten performers made it, but as with any mark of success, there is also a sign, perhaps, of changes around the bend. New faces, two of them true freshmen in other conferences, dot the landscape. Soon, stars like Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah will graduate, and it will be up to another class of players to represent the Midwest as well as they have done.

1. Todd Gurley, Georgia Bulldogs

Once, I remember saying (foolishly) that I had never seen a perfectly complete back. Todd Gurley is a perfect tailback. He's straight up faster than most defenders, he's a great pass-catcher, he's tough as nails, and he has spectacular footwork. At any moment he is ready to change direction or accelerate, and he can bowl through defenders.

2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin Badgers

Gordon is probably faster than Gurley, but he lacks much of Gurley's physicalness. That hardly matters when he can run by defenders like they were standing still.

3. Tevin Coleman, Indiana Hoosiers

Coleman has put up outrageous numbers. He somehow leads the country in yardage, despite never getting 25 carries in a game. He has gotten touchdowns and at least 120 yards every time he's stepped on the field, and he is on pace for 2,296 yards, if the Hoosiers make a bowl game. Unfortunately for football fans everywhere, that just got a lot harder with Nate Sudfeld out.

4. Josh Robinson, Mississippi State Bulldogs

Robinson looks extraordinarily comfortable with defenders draped over him. "He's kind of like tackling a bowling ball," said his run coordinator John Hevesy. Robinson's low center of gravity (think Ray Rice) and quick speed help him navigate the middle of the field and yet pick up big chunks to keep the chains moving. Dak Prescott has gotten a lot of press for Mississippi State, but Robinson is an unsung performer for the Bulldogs.

5. Leonard Fournette, LSU Tigers

Fournette, like another true freshman below, is an interesting inclusion. On the one hand, Fournette's season numbers don't match up with those of his peers. In fact, in only three games has the frosh collected more than 52 yards, and that's including a non-conference slate of New Mexico State, Louisiana-Monroe and Sam Houston State. On the other hand, he's had 120-yard games twice in the last three outings, most recently against Florida when he earned 140 yards. That's not bad for a 19-year old.

The reason he's on this list, though, isn't his age or his hype or the fact he's in the SEC. It's that he runs at least as fast as Coleman or Gurley, with a big, physical build and deft footwork to boot. Last week's Florida game was the first where Les Miles handed him the ball as much as twenty times; in the very early going, Miles has let Fournette get comfortable and settle into the offense. Once Fournette does get comfortable, watch out, because he's an absolutely fantastic-looking back. Put it this way - if the national championship were decided tomorrow, and flawed young LSU was playing Oregon, Fournette would have the keys to the game and he'd be a very good bet to win it.

* Yards TD YPC Total Yards
Todd Gurley
773 9
8.2 1,023
Melvin Gordon
14 7.9 1,073
Tevin Coleman
1,060 11 8.8 1,194
Josh Robinson
689 8 7.0 837
Leonard Fournette
504 6 5.4 958
Ameer Abdullah
878 12 6.4 1,175
T.J. Yeldon
452 3 4.9 550
Samaje Perine
568 9 5.2 601
David Cobb
819 4 5.3 912
Javorius 'Buck' Allen
781 8 5.8 1,059

6. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska Cornhuskers

Ameer only managed 45 yards against Michigan State's defense, but it's a defensive front seven that could be the best in the country, all while Abdullah's game is built on speed and picking his way around defenders. With the amount of penetration Michigan State often managed, that wasn't possible for the Alabama native.

Abdullah's 125 combined yards, though, did extend a personal streak of 100+ yards dating back to Wisconsin's 70-31 win over Nebraska in 2012, when Abdullah was the back-up running back to Rex Burkhead. It's hard to keep him down, and yet if a defense doesn't, he's liable to slither, rumble and dance for a game-breaking amount of yards.

7. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama Crimson Tide

Yeldon has a very polished game, and that's certainly come in handy fending off backfield defenders lately. Runners should always try to be north-south, but it gets difficult when backfield penetration dooms the play. Yeldon hasn't suddenly turned into a mediocre back; he's still the 1200-yard threat from a year ago. But he has had to deal with a lot more bad-or-worse situations. Despite that, he's averaged 5.5 yards a carry in four of his six games this year.

8. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma Sooners

Perine is also a true freshman who has made a name for himself more recently - or, specifically, during a 34-carry, 242-yard night against West Virginia a few weeks ago. Perine is very similar to Josh Robinson, but looks less polished than the Mississippi State junior. 'The Tank,' as he's called, looks for contact too much instead of trusting his speed to blow by defenders.

9. David Cobb, Minnesota Golden Gophers

Cobb is able to break arm tackles while almost always ploughing due south, something that's complemented by his agility and patience setting up blockers. If Cobb got a certain number of yards, the odds are very good that was as many as there were available.

10. Buck Allen, USC Trojans

Allen's numbers are inflated a bit, and he lacks a physically imposing punch, but it's hard to deny what Buck Allen has done lately: 115 yards in five of his six games, 23 receptions and above-average speed in a conference of fast defenders.

Hitting the Links Is A Gray Ghost

Four-Star WR Alex Stump Flips From Kentucky Wildcats

This is almost good news, unfortunately. A B1G recruiting win over the SEC.

ESPN's Midseason All-Big Ten Team

Of course, three running backs on here and David Cobb still gets snubbed. A very good list and also great thoughts.

SI's Midseason All-America Team | ESPN's Midseason All-America Team

The two lists have different quarterbacks, and though I am higher on Mariota, ESPN's list is better. I do not know how Brandon Scherff is not a First Team All-America on SI's list. On the flip side, I don't know how Robert Nkemdiche misses ESPN's list.

Ranking Week 7's Big Ten Wins and Losses

In Minnesota's 24-17 win, by the way, players had the words "Brick by Brick" on the backs of their helmets.

Illinois to Don "Gray Ghost" Uniforms Vs Minnesota

Well, I am impressed. Sure, it's Illinois, and it's easy to say this is a little weak to point to legendary Illinois moments when they haven't won in so long. But this is creative, distinctive, it grabs recruits' attention, and it makes that locker room more motivated and proud.

SI Second Half Predictions

The second-half flop section seems strangely full of teams who struggled a week ago....

Forward Pass: ND-FSU, Mississippi State, Baylor, More

Stewart Mandel discusses the lead-up to this week's big game, the lack of defense in the Big 12, and Thomas Rawls.

Some Florida State Fans Trying to Boycott ESPN's GameDay

No comment.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive to Retire

Given the dominance of the SEC, it would have been easy for Slive to become a Goodellian villain, but he never really did. His salary was well behind other Power 5 commissioners, and he quietly worked hard to build up the conference that employed him. Now, he's retiring after news that he has prostate cancer. Best wishes to him.

Also, if you're a guy, please drink some green tea today (iced is better than hot, in my opinion). One of its myriad of health benefits is a reduced risk of prostate cancer, something one in seven men will be diagnosed with.

Hoosiers May Be Down to Third-String Quarterback

...They may have a hard time against Michigan State.

Rutgers Players Still Seething, Seeking Respect

To be honest, I wish like mad that the rest of the Big Ten did. I was one of the ones who didn't think Rutgers would do much their first year, but heart and effort go a long, long way.

Paul James Surgery Successful

Glad for the young man.

Breaking Down Tevin Coleman's Success Against Iowa

In its own way, offenses and the amazing athletes in them have forced both run and pass defenses to rededicate themselves to little things like avoiding over-pursuit, proper technique and eye discipline. It's fun to watch on both sides.


Huskies linebacker Shaq Thompson has 220 yards in interception and fumble return yardage this season.