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Running back spot to get makeover in Big Ten

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten's best position on the field this season will have a very different look in 2009.

After boasting three of the nation's top six rushers and six players ranked in the top 40, the Big Ten has seen major turnover at the running back position. In addition to graduating seniors, the league will lose three underclassmen -- Iowa's Shonn Greene, Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells and Wisconsin's P.J. Hill -- to the NFL draft.

Seven of the 11 conference members have lost their leading rusher from this season. And of the remaining four teams -- Penn State, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota -- only Penn State finished in the Top 25 nationally in rushing offense (205.9 yards per game) this fall.

Though the league figures to make much-needed upgrades at quarterbacks, there will be a void in several backfields.

Here's a look at what the Big Ten lost at running back:

  • Iowa's Shonn Greene won the Doak Walker Award as nation's top back, ranked second nationally in rushing average (142.3 ypg) and set a single-season school record with 1,850 rushing yards.

  • Michigan State's Javon Ringer ranked fourth nationally in rushing average (125.9 ypg) and led the nation in scoring (10.2 points per game) with 22 rushing touchdowns. Few non-quarterbacks accounted for more of their team's offensive production than Ringer.

  • Ohio State's Beanie Wells finished sixth nationally in rushing and racked up 1,197 rushing yards despite missing three games with a foot/toe injury. Wells finished his career ranked fourth on Ohio State's career rushing list.

  • Purdue's Kory Sheets ranked 31st nationally in rushing and tied for 19th in scoring this season. Sheets also caught 37 passes out of the backfield and ranked sixth in the league in all-purpose yards.

  • Wisconsin's P.J. Hill became just the second player in team history to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in his first three season as a Badger. Despite splitting carries with John Clay, Hill racked up 1,161 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.

  • Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton led the team in rushing (890) and ranked fourth in receptions (35) despite missing the final four regular-season contests with a wrist injury. Sutton was a four-year starter and the team's most consistent offensive player.

  • Indiana's Marcus Thigpen ranked fourth in the league in all-purpose yards (143.2 ypg), tied for eighth in scoring and ninth in kickoff return average. Thigpen quietly averaged 6.7 yards per carry for an Indiana team that didn't have many reliable options on offense.

  • Michigan's Sam McGuffie transferred to Rice after a season in which he finished second on the team in rushing yards (486) and third in receptions (19).

Several of these teams developed backups for 2009. Iowa's Jewel Hampton, Wisconsin's Clay and Ohio State's Dan Herron look capable of stepping into featured roles. Purdue's Jaycen Taylor returns from injury and likely will be the starter.

Other squads relied heavily on players who won't be back in 2009.

But outside of State College and maybe Ann Arbor, the running back competitions will be one of the offseason's top story lines as we inch closer toward Sept. 5.