One thing is for sure offensively in the Big Ten this coming season. There will be plenty of experience in the backfield.
Four of the top five leading rushers from the Big Ten in 2011 will be returning to their respective backfields in 2012. If Marcus Coker of Iowa hadn’t up and left for FCS Stony Brook, all of the top five would be back. Another Hawkeye running back bites the dust.
The two workhorses that stand out are Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Rex Burkhead of Nebraska. Each player not only are poised for another monster season, but will be the focal point of their offense. Both teams will have large shoes to fill at wide receiver, leaving Ball and Burkhead as safety nets for transfer Danny O’Brien and Taylor Martinez.
At this time, I give the edge to Montee Ball and Wisconsin. Ball will bring back all his experience from last season and his even more sculpted muscular frame. He’s familiar with the blocking schemes and has developed in to a solid pass blocker. All tools you need to have success at the next level.
With the backfield fully loaded for 2012, only one top school brings back a wideout in the top five for receiving yards. Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis caught 55 balls last season for 933 yards, fifth behind Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert. Although Abbrederis is a fine possessive receiver, he lacks the big play ability that consistently puts points on the scoreboard.
Two players who will need to step up in 2012 will be Tennessee transfer to Michigan State DeAnthony Arnett and USC transfer Kyler Prater of Northwestern. Arnett won his appeal with the NCAA and will be eligible immediately for the Spartans while Prater sits and waits on his appeal to be eligible for the fall. Both big bodied receivers, they can make plays after the catch and have the ability to separate from defenders in a hurry.
It might be the year of the running back this season in the Big Ten, leaving the door wide open for someone to step up at wide receiver.
Will Wilson is a writer for Rant Sports covering College Football and the Big Ten Conference.