Running of the Bulls
The Big Ten managed a near-elite rushing output a year ago, but the formidable array of rushing attacks that drove the Big Ten's offenses often had little help. Of course, it remains to be seen how Jeremy Gallon, Allen Robinson, and Cody Latimer are replaced - but it helps that the conference will be as strong or stronger on the ground in 2014. The Big Ten and the SEC together were head and shoulders above the rest of college football at running the ball.
Minnesota, with a stable of backs and a quarterback whose best asset is his speed, should be even better this year, and Ohio State has a bunch of Carlos Hyde-clones running in their backfield. Nebraska (Terrell Newby), Penn State (Akeel Lynch), Michigan State (Delton Williams, R.J. Shelton, Gerald Holmes, and a mid-four-star back in 2015), Wisconsin (Corey Clement), Indiana (D'Angelo Roberts) and the aforementioned Minnesota (hello, Mr. Edwards) all have up-and-coming talent behind entrenched starters. Venric Mark will be healthy after a couple leg injuries, Ty Isaac will be waiting patiently to hit the field for Michigan, and the AIRBHG is set to enter a 25-year period of hibernation, according to ESPN.
The following shows the ten leading rushers for each conference a year ago, and italics indicate a runner is no longer with the team. The Big Ten loses only two of its five top rushers (Carlos Hyde and James White), which is fewest among the five conferences, and none from the rest of the top ten. Again, this can only go so far. Big Ten teams will have to find athletes on the edge to take advantage of this in play-action; still, it's a good place to start.
Continuing to look ahead to how these conferences will fare in 2014, it's probable that the SEC will trump all once again. Todd Gurley is an amazing athlete, and LSU will lean on the ground game led by Terrence Magee and true freshman Leonard Fournette. Corey Grant, meanwhile, will step into Tre Mason's shoes, and he is undisputably the fastest player on the team - reportedly even getting a sub-4.2 40.
Elsewhere, the back-up to Devonta Freeman will get his chance to lead FSU to the title, and Duke Johnson will be back from injury. Shock Linwood has been tied to some Heisman buzz, but that's not exactly accurate or likely. In the Pac-12, Stanford and Arizona, two programs known for producing big rushing totals, are replacing their starters, Gaffney and Carey. Both programs have underrated receiver options and a number of backs to choose from, but Stanford's look more talented overall and should be led by the sophomore Barry Sanders, son of the legend.
Where am I going with this? In football, there isn't really an All-Star game to assess who the star players are in college football, and in fact, it can be tough to know how the season is unfolding across college football until it's already done. You could, of course, look at the conference standings, but they don't capture the stories that go on behind the scenes that bring those records about. And that, to me, is what makes football so rich and engaging. Preseason watch lists are a good way of pointing to the best players playing in the game at their respective positions, and that's a good place to start.
In a way, preseason lists are meant to be surpassed, and we will look back partway into the season, to see who's struggled and who has broken out. I've taken a couple risks with this list; a 10-player list would have been better to name off just the proven players, but it's a certainty that teams like Stanford, Auburn, and Arizona will produce big rushers, and it's better to keep teams like that on the radar. The top ten running backs from a year ago (White, Williams, Hill, Mason, Sankey, Carey, Gaffney, Gordon, Hyde, and Abdullah) almost doubled their production from 2012, which means that next year's stars will include a fair number of breakout candidates. This list has players that are very easy to pencil in, but I also put some time into finding the most likely breakout players. Here it is.
Hitting the Links Is Getting a Haircut
The Buckeyes have some worries going into this season, but running back won't be one of them. They all looked great in the spring game.
The Cowboys lose some serious talent at about every position, and Week 1 against the reigning champs is a stiff test.
He has been quoted as saying he wants to return to head coaching. It will be interesting to see a program that has already won three titles trying to get back there again. A parallel, of course, is the Patriots, who won three titles early and then was at the forefront of certain changes - explosive tight ends and diminutive receivers - but hasn't quite made it back to the promised land.
This was the best article by far of this past week's football match - despite calling us a small town in Northern Michigan. This is Ann Arbor, fergodsakes.
I think I might agree completely with this list. Well, yes, Northwestern's is slotted pretty high.
I respect this piece for picking a very good list.
This opinion piece from The Champaign Room takes a larger stance on a story from last week, the decommitment of the twins.
Neither Nick Marshall or CB Jonathon Mincy will be available to start Week 1 against Arkansas. This comes in addition to a starting offensive lineman being ruled out for the year because of a back injury, one that was heralded for bringing grit to a group that otherwise didn't have any. Arkansas, it should be noted, is a good enough team to make a game of it without Nick Marshall. The encore to their magical season could be over before it begins.
I know. Well, we're beating out southern teams in recruiting! That's an upside.
Six of the B1G's 25 players are defensive ends, more than there are quarterbacks.
Cedric the Entertainer will be on call.
Stanford is not #1.
A unit that was full of freshmen a year ago and put up poor numbers returns completely intact. The Illini's D-line was okay at getting push on the line, but they had absolutely no pass-rush - something that might improve this season as they, also, were leaning on sophomores and freshmen.
One Wolverine, #78 Blake Countess.
Granted, the Pirates were 10-3 a year ago in the Conference USA. Still, it's worth noting that there's all the makings of a rivalry if the Big Ten players and fans start taking stuff like this personally, and they should.
He would get 1,197 yards that season, his freshman year. Each of the next two years would be marred by injuries.
Basically, the takeaway is that after the top four linemen, it's a deep pool of question marks. Ferentz was a respected NFL OL coach before Iowa, so there's that.
Gillislee shows off his speed, and jukes the cameraman.
1st and 10, 5-yard tough run up the middle, dragging defenders. 2nd and 5, dancing around corners into the endzone. This was his freshman year.
Something started under Saban and Miles, the #18 jersey goes to the LSU player who best exemplifies winning traits. Magee is a fun player to watch; he's short, fast, and tough to bring down.
Props for the effort that was put in; one of the takeaways was that Siemian had a harder time getting it in from the red zone, which is in some ways not surprising. NU is a smaller, spread team; Colter fit that system quite well. They'll have a one-two punch with Venric Mark and Treyvon Green, but their line will also have to take a step forward.
And finally, one last highlight, in honor of last week: