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B1G RBs deserve place in Heisman chase

Ameer Abdullah is one of many Big Ten running backs who could contend for the Heisman. Eric Francis/Getty Images

If your Heisman Trophy research routine consists of dissecting ESPN's QBR table or relentlessly refreshing TMZ Sports, you are not alone.

You have been conditioned to expect a player with a strong QB rating and a stronger Q rating, to hoist the stiff arm trophy in New York City every December. Three of the past four Heisman winners -- Auburn's Cam Newton in 2010, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Florida State's Jameis Winston last year -- fit the profile.

Only one non-quarterback, Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009, has won the Heisman since Texas' Ricky Williams and Wisconsin's Ron Dayne went back-to-back in 1998 and 1999. When Bovada released its final preseason Heisman odds, five of the top six candidates were quarterbacks.

"The Heisman's really become a quarterback award," Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah told ESPN.com. "It's just the second or third quarterback award."

But four weeks into the season, Abdullah and several other superb running backs have essentially told the quarterbacks, "You're in our spotlight. Move or we will move you."

Georgia's Todd Gurley has been the nation's most recognizable running back candidate for the Heisman, delivering highlights both as a ballcarrier and a returner. But no league has a bigger contingent of elite rushers than the Big Ten, which boasts the nation's leading rusher (Indiana's Tevin Coleman) and three others in the top nine. Coleman also leads the nation in all-purpose yards, while Abdullah ranks third.

Four Big Ten backs average more than 130 rush yards a game: Coleman (189.7 ypg), Nebraska's Abdullah (156.2 ypg), Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (143.7 ypg) and Minnesota's David Cobb (134.8 ypg).

"A lot of backs in the SEC get accolades because they've been the best conference," Abdullah said. "But the Big Ten, we hold our own."

Abdullah, Gordon and Cobb all eclipsed 200 rush yards in Week 4 victories. Gordon set career highs for both yards (253) and touchdowns (5) as Wisconsin set a Big Ten modern-era record with 644 rush yards against Bowling Green. Both Abdullah and Cobb recorded their second 200-yard rushing performances of the young season. Coleman, a well-kept secret because of Indiana's low profile, finally showcased his skills on a national platform as Indiana stunned No. 18 Missouri on the road.

"I was watching ESPN the first week and I saw [Coleman], who is ridiculously fast," Abdullah said. "He had like 200 yards. Then I saw him again and I saw him again. I said, 'This dude's cutting it up.'

"I want to get in contact with him and let him know he's doing a great job."

Abdullah stays in regular contact with Gordon, as the two have been close friends since meeting as high schoolers at an all-star game. Nebraska played Saturday night, so Abdullah had a chance to watch Gordon gash Bowling Green earlier in the day.

Gordon averaged more than 20 yards a carry for much of the game before finishing at 19.5 yards per rush. His career average of 8.26 yards per carry is tied with Glenn Davis -- yes, that Glenn Davis -- for the NCAA record.

"He's a special talent and a home-run threat, which makes him such a high NFL guy in my opinion," Abdullah said. "A lot of people don't like taking running backs in first round, but I think he’s a first-round guy."

Abdullah sent Gordon a text message Monday morning: #InMelvinWeTrust.

Gordon replied by praising Abdullah's performance against Miami.

Abdullah calls Gurley "definitely a Heisman contender" and puts Gordon in the same category. But of his own ambition, he simply states, "My goal isn't really to win the Heisman. It's just to be better than I was the day before."

The Big Ten running back contingent has it all: big-play potential (Gordon and Coleman, who averages 8.6 yards per carry), yards after contact and team leadership (Abdullah) and endurance (Cobb). Minnesota attempted just seven passes (completing one) Saturday against San Jose State, and Cobb logged 34 carries, his seventh game of 25 or more carries in the past year. On one first-quarter drive, Minnesota called Cobb's number on seven consecutive plays.

Abdullah and Gordon entered the season on the national radar, and while Gordon has had a few hiccups, both backs deserve to be in the Heisman discussion. But will they?

Abdullah notes that quarterbacks dominate the college spotlight because they face so many zone defenses and play in pass-heavy schemes. It's why he's so impressed with Coleman, who has maximized his opportunities in an offense that likes to sling it around.

"A lot of times they're just picking apart zones," Abdullah said. "I'm not saying the quarterbacks aren't good. I can't do it. But it also has to do with the landscape."

Maybe the national landscape changes this season. It already has in the Big Ten, where the running backs are kings.

The league race should be entertaining, but the race for the rushing title might be even more fun to watch.

"There's a lot more backs," Abdullah said, "coming to the forefront."