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Talkin’ Big 10: Current Top 5 Running Backs

Capitol One Orange Bowl - Florida State v Michigan Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

To the nation, the Big 10 running back picture is similar to Dave Chappelle’s character Dylan’s best rapper list: Saquon, Saquon, Saquon, Saquon, and Saquon. Saquon Barkley of Penn State is without a doubt one of the best backs in the country, but the Big 10 has much more than just him; including one of the most productive backs in college football history.

Here are my current top 5 Big 10 running backs with a brief prediction for each:

5. Akrum Wadley, Senior, Iowa

Purdue v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

2016 Stats

Rushing Attempts: 168, Rushing Yards: 1,081, Yards Per Carry: 6.4, Rushing Touchdowns: 10, Receiving Yards: 315, Receiving Touchdowns: 3

Now that LeShun Daniels is gone, Akrum Wadley will look to explode in 2017. The Hawkeyes return 7 starters on offense (including 5 offensive linemen who have at least 7 starts) and the experience will still prove vital moving forward in opening up space for Wadley. With only 168 carries in 2016, expect that number to nearly double in 2017 as he will be the focal point of this offense.

2017 Prediction: The Hawkeyes will struggle as a team, but Wadley will progress. Though not as much as anticipated, he will finish with 1,200 yards and 15 total touchdowns.

4. Rodney Smith, Junior, Minnesota

National Funding Holiday Bowl - Minnesota v Washington State Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

2016 Stats

Rushing Attempts: 240, Rushing Yards: 1,158, Yards Per Carry: 4.8, Rushing Touchdowns: 16, Receiving Yards: 188, Receiving Touchdowns: 0

Perhaps the most underrated back in the Big 10, Rodney Smith flew under the radar because of disappointing finish to the season. In Minnesota’s last four games (including the bowl game), Smith never rushed for more than 74 yards. Although he struggled against elite competition, the addition of P.J. Fleck as head coach is sure to create much more creative running lanes for him. This north-south runner leads a stable of good running backs (watch out for Shannon Brooks) and has a strong returning offensive line.

2017 Prediction: This offense will be explosive! Fleck will serve as the shot in the arm this team needs to turn the corner and expect Smith to see 1,400 yards behind this line.

3. Mike Weber, Sophomore, Ohio State

Ohio State v Michigan State Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

2016 Stats

Rushing Attempts: 182, Rushing Yards: 1,095, Yards Per Carry: 6.0, Rushing Touchdowns: 9, Receiving Yards: 91, Receiving Touchdowns: 0

With Curtis Samuel off to the Carolina Panthers, look for Mike Weber to carry the ball much more as a sophomore. He will need to address ball security issues if he wishes to remain on the field, but I am sure that was a focal point of this off-season. With Barrett throwing the ball at such an inconsistent rate, look for the offensive production to be placed on his young shoulders.

2017 Prediction: Weber will have to carry the majority of the load this season and should reap the benefits of the added carries. Expect 1,500 yards, but also expect the ball to come out a time or two from fatigue.

2. Justin Jackson, Senior, Northwestern

Northwestern v Illinois Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

2016 Stats

Rushing Attempts: 298, Rushing Yards: 1,524, Yards Per Carry: 5.1, Rushing Touchdowns: 15, Receiving Yards: 219, Receiving Touchdowns: 0

Justin Jackson is quietly only 1,258 rushing yards away from the FBS top 10 all-time leading rushers (I factored in bowl yardage for every rusher). From his freshman to junior year, he accrued 1,187, 1,418, and 1,524 yards respectively. Jackson had his best season at Northwestern despite only reaching the 100 yard mark in 6 of their 13 games. If he can escape this feast or famine trend and develop more consistency, he could become a dark horse Heisman contender.

2017 Prediction: Finishes 6th all time in rushing and he, along with Clayton Thorson, lead Northwestern to a 9-3 record.

1. Saquon Barkley, Junior, Penn State

Minnesota v Penn State Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

2016 Stats

Rushing Attempts: 272, Rushing Yards: 1,496, Yards Per Carry: 5.5, Rushing Touchdowns: 18, Receiving Yards: 402, Receiving Touchdowns: 4

Jackson could develop into a dark horse Heisman contender, but he will have to unseat one of the favorites if he wants to win. Saquon Barkley’s durability and versatility separate him from any back in the country and it is no surprise that he is on every pre-season Heisman ballot. Barkley returns with a Penn State team looking to contend for a national championship and with this kid running/ catching the football, these are not unrealistic aspirations.

2017 Prediction: Penn State regresses this season, but Barkley plays his way into New York and finishes as a runner-up in the Heisman voting (Sam Darnold is too damn good).

Honorable Mention: L.J. Scott (Michigan State), Chris Evans (Michigan)

Poll

Who is the best running back in the Big 10?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Saquon Barkley
    (332 votes)
  • 0%
    Rodney Smith
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Akrum Wadley
    (13 votes)
  • 1%
    Justin Jackson
    (11 votes)
  • 2%
    Mike Weber
    (16 votes)
  • 46%
    Captain America Chris Evans
    (345 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (29 votes)
749 votes total Vote Now