Big Ten backfields will produce their share of stars at the running back position this season. From potential first-round draft picks such as Penn State's Saquon Barkley to record-breaking veterans such as Northwestern's Justin Jackson, there is talent spread throughout the Big Ten in 2017.
Which team, though, will have the most well-rounded, hard-to-stop rushing attack next fall? This week we’ve looked at the best groups at several spots on the offensive side of the ball. Today we wrap things up with a look at the Big Ten’s best running games.
Best of the best: Ohio State has led the league in rushing yards in each of the last two seasons. With four starters returning to the offensive line and a good mix of skill players behind them, there is a good chance they’ll be at the top of this category again in 2017.
Mike Weber ran for more than 1,000 yards in his first season and gives the Buckeyes a punishing runner to complement quarterback J.T. Barrett. He’ll be backed up by sophomore Demario McCall, who picked up 270 rushing yards in five games last season, and freshman J.K. Dobbins, who was considered one of the top running back prospects in the country last year and made a strong first impression on his coaches this spring. And speaking of impressing coaches, Urban Meyer had high praise in March for junior Parris Campbell, who should help alleviate some of the production lost at H-back when star Curtis Samuel left for the NFL.
Next in line: Wisconsin, as usual, has a pair of sturdy running backs and a beefy group to clear the way in front of them. Bradrick Shaw and Chris James appear to be the front-runners to step up as the Badgers’ one-two punch in the running game. Head coach Paul Chryst said after Wisconsin's spring game that while they have different styles, both are capable of being physical inside and breaking off a big play. The line loses an All-American in Ryan Ramczyk at left tackle, but four other starters return for a unit that averaged 212 rushing yards per game last year.
Michigan and Penn State are both candidates to challenge for a top spot in this category as well. The Wolverines have a handful of talented backs. The offensive line in Ann Arbor will be young, but might end up being more athletic and better road-graders than last year’s veteran group. The Nittany Lions clearly have the league’s best back in Barkley and a solid No. 2 in Miles Sanders. They will have to improve on the 136.2 yards they averaged on the ground against Michigan and Ohio State last season to be considered the cream of the crop.
Don’t sleep on: Maryland came up just shy of averaging 200 rushing yards per game during D.J. Durkin’s first season as coach. Junior Ty Johnson returns after setting a school record for yards per carry. No player in the nation who carried the ball at last 100 times last season averaged more than Johnson's 9.13 yards per carry. Minnesota’s duo of Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith make the Golden Gophers another team to pay attention to in the West.