Five Backs Who Are Better Than You Think
The Big Ten's running backs have started getting some media attention, for good reason. But for every 1,000-yard rusher, there's also a tailback that plays better than his hype. As we'll detail, the odds are against any of these guys breaking out next year, even though they're dangerous runners.
Ferguson is basically everything you want. He's fast, he controls his body, catches a ton of passes (100 over the last two years), and ran for 735 yards ... on only 11.2 carries a game. If he was a 20-carry-per-game back, he'd have 1,300 yards in 2014, and 1,325 the year before that.
Instead, he's a bit of an afterthought. That's not likely to change, as Bill Cubit loves throwing the ball, and with Wes Lunt and a growing garage of receivers, Illinois will continue to be a passing team.
Brandon Ross (5'10", 205) isn't all that much bigger than Ferguson (5'10", 195), but he's much more of a power back with great burst down the middle. Ross had a very quiet 417 yards on the year, but his 4.8 yards per carry were tops among any Terp with 20 carries on the season. In fact, the other running backs put up less than 4.1 ypc, and the other main tailback averaged 3.5. Ross simply does more with less - though, unfortunately for the Terps, he'll be running behind a reloaded, and much younger, offensive line next year.
Drake Johnson will be fighting with two five-star recruits in Ty Isaac and Derrick Green, as well as a very tough runner in De'Veon Smith. But Johnson has the skills to compete with those guys, even if he doesn't ultimately win the starting job. His 6.0 yards per carry led the team, and he did it behind one of the more inefficient lines in the Big Ten. A former track star, he's actually surprisingly one of the bigger running backs in the conference (and the biggest on this list) at 207 pounds.
Last year, it was Mark Weisman getting 213 carries, getting 3.8 yards a pop while Jordan Canzeri posted 4.8. A year earlier, it was Weisman again: 227 carries, 4.3 yards a carry, while Canzeri averaged 6.5 in a third of the touches. Now, Weisman is no longer an option, seemingly saving Kirk Ferentz from himself.
But Ferentz threw Akrum Wadley out late last season to get some touches, which were a few too many considering that Wadley looked downright not ready to be on the field at times. (Once, he tackled himself.) After two good outings (24 carries, 174 yards), Wadley ran 9 times for 12 yards in the last four games. The youngster has some speed, but also a Dennis Norfleet-like tendency to get demolished by linebackers when he's tackled. Canzeri is and should be the front-runner heading into spring ball, but Ferentz has a track record of playing the wrong offensive talent. Canzeri may get fewer carries than he should.
R.J. Shelton will be in the running for lead tailback, but the competition there is stiff. Even without Delton Williams - who averaged more yards per carry than either Jeremy Langford or Nick Hill, but may get kicked off the team by Mark Dantonio - there's a stable of backs Dantonio can turn to. Dave Warner has used Shelton on a lot of jet sweeps, like the play below, and also kept Shelton outside to catch passes. Basically, the Spartans might prefer to use Shelton as an x-factor to challenge defenses, rather than as a lead guy in a power-I formation. His numbers might suffer for it.
Hitting the Links Is A Wildcats Fan
If Ohio State's offense surpasses last year's unit - and there's a very realistic chance that happens - then wunderkind offensive line coach, and newly minted offensive coordinator Ed Warinner might just be the Broyles Award winner by season's end.
This is splendid. Three simple rules to overhaul the transfer system.
Now, it's very rare to be making top money in the first four years, no matter how good a player is. This is a far cry from a few years ago, when NFL rookies got expensive contracts fresh out of college that they didn't always play to. As a result of the last CBA, veterans are now getting more record-setting deals than ever - even though they, too, are unreliable, as Don Banks writes.
The secondary was always the missing piece on this defense. With Jackson and Zordich, and a healthy Jabrill Peppers, this defense will challenge a lot of great offenses. It just has to mature a little, which is what the season is for.
Not knowing the extent of his injury is really inexcusable. The game can't live with that mentality anymore.
In last year's Iowa-Tennessee bowl game, which was 42-7 in the third quarter, Kirk Ferentz twice used time-outs on 3rd or 4th and short situations. Those days are becoming extinct, as teams neutralize defensive linemen with both power and tempo. (Iowa failed on both tries, by the way.)
The ACC is no slouch, either, with James Conner and a new Pitt staff that wants to run, Georgia Tech's triple option, and a rising star in Florida State's Dalvin Cook. Clemson's got a deep backfield, too, led by Wayne Gallman. Oh, and Louisville's Brandon Radcliff can do this, which is pretty incredible. And BC's Jon Hilliman, who torched Penn State for 148 yards, has the potential to be one of the best in the country but needs to get more consistent yardage.
This SI piece looks at what has become an assembly line for Wisconsin, and briefly poses the question as to who will back up Clement this year. Running backs coach John Settle said a couple of days ago that Dare Ogunbowale had already won the job as the #2 back, something Dare showed the potential for last year. In the infamous Wiscosin-Nebraska game, Dare came in in the fourth quarter and ran 7 straight times, accounting for every play and every yard in a 51-yard scoring drive. The Huskers couldn't stop Gordon or Dare.
On the year, Ogunbowale ran for 5.7 yards a carry and showed a lot of the same skills as Clement - patience, more physicalness than you'd expect in a player his size, 0-to-60 speed and the ability to dance and weave in traffic. He's not a finished specimen at 188 pounds, but he will be a star.
These were good questions. As for Nebraska's offense, it's likely that Tommy Armstrong wins the job, despite the fact that backup Johnny Stanton fits the mold of recent Oregon State quarterbacks. Mike Riley admitted at the end of his time in Corvallis that he was intrigued by some of the game's recent changes in offense, and he's spoken highly of Armstrong. Also, in practice they've been working on a lot of deep throws, which fits Armstrong's game well.
Aranda has done some of the same things D.J. Durkin will do, like using a 3-man front and emphasizing versatility in his players' assignments.
It wasn't just Jim Harbaugh pulling in NFL coaches - Danny Langsdorf had a very nice thing going in New York, and Mike Phair had recent success with Tampa Bay. John Settle, UW's new running backs coach, also spent three years coaching the NFL from 2011-13. And, the conference was able to retain Dave Aranda, Bob Shoop, and Greg Mattison.
USC is getting more and more athletic, especially on the defensive side. Nine of the eleven five-stars they got from 2013-15 are on that side.
On a general level, this is interesting because it's the fifth year of UTSA's existence, and that means a scary and amazing amount of turnover and the chance for a whole lot of freshmen taking the field next year. On another level, this is interesting for Michigan fans because this is where Russell Bellomy transferred to.