B1G postseason position rankings: RB

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
1:00
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We kicked off our 2013 postseason position rankings on Monday with a look at the quarterbacks. Let's keep it rolling by staying in the backfield and ranking the running back position for each Big Ten team.

We're basing this solely on last year's performance. While star power will carry you a long way, depth also matters. You can see how we ranked the running backs in the preseason here.

Now let's take the ball and run.

1. Wisconsin (Preseason rank: 1): The Badgers' running game got off to a slow start, which was mostly a function of an out-of-sync offensive line. But by midseason, Wisconsin was back to doing what it does best. Montee Ball finished with 1,830 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, leading the Big Ten in both numbers. What puts the Badgers over the top is their depth, as James White added 806 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, while Melvin Gordon had 621 on 10 yards per carry, including his monster Big Ten title game performance.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsNebraska running back Ameer Abdullah soared in a starting role with Rex Burkhead injured for much of 2012.
2. Nebraska (Preseason: 2): Had Rex Burkhead remained healthy, Big Red may have claimed the top spot here. As it was, Ameer Abdullah broke out with 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns, while Superman managed 675 yards and five scores despite dealing with a bum knee most of the year. Braylon Heard, who is rumored to be on his way out, chipped in 348 yards and 6.7 yards per carry, while Imani Cross was a battering ram at the goal line with seven touchdowns. Nebraska led the league in rushing, though quarterback Taylor Martinez (1,019 yards) was a big reason why. Still, the depth in the backfield was mighty impressive.

3. Michigan State (Preseason: 4): The Spartans' running game was basically a one-man show, but when you've got a workhorse like Le'Veon Bell, who needs depth? Bell carried the ball a ridiculous 382 times -- more than any other FBS player and only 17 fewer rushing attempts than Indiana's entire offense -- and gained 1,793 yards to lead the Big Ten in rushing yards per game. He added 12 touchdowns and had four games of at least 188 yards.

4. Ohio State (Preseason: 6): The Buckeyes didn't get as much as they'd planned out of Jordan Hall (40 carries for 218 yards) because of injuries. But Carlos Hyde stepped up in a big way, rumbling for 970 yards and scoring 14 of his 16 touchdowns in conference play. Rod Smith also emerged as a solid contributor, giving Ohio State more depth than expected.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 10): Venric Mark was a revelation, running for 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging better than six yards per carry. Mike Trumpy contributed 349 yards on the ground, but it was hard to take Mark out of the game. And quarterback Kain Colter was a glorified tailback at times.

6. Penn State (Preseason: 5): After Silas Redd transferred and Bill Belton got hurt early, it looked like the Nittany Lions might struggle in the running game. Instead, they simply adapted. Zach Zwinak surprised everybody by running for exactly 1,000 yards and becoming a force down the stretch. Michael Zordich added some more power to the ground game, which was able to keep defenses honest for Penn State's passing attack.

7. Purdue (Preseason: 7): The Boilermakers had depth but no true stars. Akeem Shavers led the way with 871 yards and six touchdowns, while Akeem Hunt (335 yards, eight yards per carry) and Ralph Bolden (325 yards in seven games) also aided the cause.

8. Minnesota (Preseason: 12): Donnell Kirkwood (926 yards, six touchdowns) quietly put together a pretty solid season, while Rodrick Williams showed some flashes of potential as a power back, including a 60-yard game versus Texas Tech in the bowl game. Offensive line injuries kept the Gophers' running game from truly taking off.

9. Iowa (Preseason: 11): AIRBHG did everything it could to hurt the Hawkeyes' rushing efforts, but there were still some bright spots. Mark Weisman was on his way to a special season before -- surprise! -- he was slowed by an injury. Still, he finished with 815 yards and eight scores in only 10 games and was one of the Big Ten's best stories. Damon Bullock had 513 rushing yards and some nice efforts when healthy. Unfortunately, the running game came to a halt when the offensive line got hit by the injury bug, and Iowa finished last in the league in rushing yards per game.

10. Indiana (Preseason: 8): Stephen Houston was a scoring machine early on and finished with 12 rushing touchdowns, to go along with a team-best 749 yards. But this was a pass-first offense, and Indiana averaged only 3.9 yards per carry.

11. Michigan (Preseason: 3): If you count Denard Robinson in this group after his late-season switch to something resembling a tailback, then this ranking should be a lot higher. But that feels like cheating. Michigan's actual tailbacks were vastly disappointing. Fitz Toussaint followed up his 1,000-yard season in 2011 with just 514 yards in 10 games before getting hurt. Thomas Rawls, Vincent Smith and Justice Hayes couldn't do much to fill the void. Take away Robinson's stats, and the Wolverines averaged under 3.5 yards per carry.

12. Illinois (Preseason: 9): The Illini finished next-to-last in rushing yards per game and had the lowest yards-per-carry number in the Big Ten. Donovonn Young had 571 yards and Josh Ferguson added 312, but opponents were rarely, if ever, scared by the Illinois run game.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12