This season, however, there will be a plethora of good running backs in the Big Ten, as one player will look to become a Heisman Trophy winner at the end of the season. As the beginning of a new season is upon us, I break down the top five running backs in the conference heading into this season.
Some may agree or disagree with this list, but no one can deny the impact each player will have on their respective teams this season.
1. Montee Ball-Senior/ Wisconsin
Ball had a stellar season for the Badgers as he led Wisconsin to another Rose Bowl appearance and had a total of 33 touchdowns in 2011 to go along with six receiving touchdowns for a Big Ten and NCAA record 39 scores. He also rushed for a career-high 224 yards against Illinois and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Ball will undoubtedly be the front-runner for the award this season and will be an integral part of the Badgers offense. Last season Ball became the first person to score two or more touchdowns in 13 consecutive games. Ball was easily one of the best running backs in the country in 2011 and could prove to be that again in 2012.
2. Rex Burkhead-Senior/Nebraska
If it wasn’t for former Iowa running back Marcus Coker transferring to Stony Brook this past January, he would’ve been in this spot. Instead, Burkhead is the No.2 best running back in the Big Ten, and with good reason. Burkhead isn’t your typical running back with all of the flashy and explosive moves but he was productive for the Cornhuskers in 2011. Burkhead ranked third in the conference in rushing yards as he compiled 1,387 yards on the ground and 15 touchdowns. Burkhead should be able to improve on those numbers this season as Nebraska will look to become competitive in the conference.
3. Silas Redd-Junior/Penn State
While Penn State was embroiled in controversy last season, Redd quietly had a fantastic season on the ground for the Nittany Lions as a sophomore. Redd rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns for Penn State while remaining an integral part of the Nittany Lions offense in 2011. As he enters his junior season with the program, Redd could very well become one the better running backs in the conference alongside Ball from Wisconsin.
4. Fitzgerald Toussaint-Junior/Michigan
Even though quarterback Denard Robinson rushed for more yards than Toussaint, there’s no denying the fact that his contributions on the field helped Michigan rise back to national prominence last season. Toussaint ran for 1,041 yards as a sophomore for the Wolverines with nine touchdowns. With the same nucleus on offense returning for Michigan, this could very well be one of the premier offenses in the country and Toussaint can definitely benefit from that.
5. Le’Veon Bell-Junior/Michigan State
Bell may become one of the best running backs in the conference before he hangs up his cleats at Michigan State. Bell had a breakout season with the Spartans last season as he rushed for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns. If Bell can remain consistent this season, I expect big things out of the Reynoldsborg, Ohio native. Bell not only has the ideal size of a quality running back at 6-feet-2-inches and 238 pounds but he was one of the reasons why Michigan State remained strong in the Big Ten in 2011 and nearly earned a trip to the Rose Bowl. Many people may sleep on Bell but it wouldn’t be wise choice this season.
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