The Big Ten is full of new names at running back this season for many teams. For as many new faces there are at running back, there are also returning rushers, some that even have a shot at the Heisman Trophy.
Wisconsin‘s Montee Ball was one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy last season and looks to be there again this season with his mammoth lineman creating holes for him. Le’Veon Bell of Michigan State is another name that could be on the short list of candidates at the end of the season with his strong play in week one against Boise State.
Here are my Big Ten running back power rankings after a week of play.
1. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State
Bell catapulted his way to the top of the week one power rankings with his monster play against Boise State under the lights on Friday. He showcased his talent against a Bronco team that is known as a giant-killer, running the ball 44 times for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He emerged last season as Michigan State’s No. 1 option as Edwin Baker faded and his carries lessened. Bell is a punishing back that can spin, hurdle and run opponents over. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for with his moves and exceptional field vision. Look for him to carry the load for the Spartans because of their struggling offense and if he keeps his numbers consistent, he will be a Heisman candidate.
2. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Wisconsin is the best team in the conference’s Leaders Division. They have made it to two straight Rose Bowls and last season Montee Ball carried them to Pasadena, literally. Ball is considered by many to be the conference’s best running back and for good reason, the 5’11″ senior ran for almost 2,000 yards and compiled 39 total touchdowns last season in a Heisman-caliber year. Although he didn’t win the coveted award, he is one of the favorites to win the trophy this season. Ball finished week one with 32 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown, pedestrian numbers for him, solid numbers for most running backs. He also showed his balance, catching the ball three times for 31 yards. His offensive line should help him put up big numbers as the season progresses.
3. Damon Bullock, Iowa
Damon Bullock might be the biggest surprise in this week’s power rankings for the Hawkeyes. He got the call as the team’s new starting running back after former starters went down with injury. Bullock surprised everyone with a solid performance against Northern Illinois, helping the Hawkeyes squeak by a lesser opponent. The sophomore rushed 30 times for 150 yards and a touchdown that proved to be the game winner. He was a pleasant surprise for a rushing attack that was under a scope going into the game.
4. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Junior tailback Carlos Hyde is the first-year starting running back for the Buckeyes and proved to be a solid choice. He cracks the first week’s power rankings and could see himself shooting to a top three spot before it’s all said and done. Hyde led a newly coached Ohio State rushing game into battle against Miami(OH) and racked up 82 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns. Although Braxton Miller was the star of the game, Hyde was the second-best player for the Buckeyes.
5. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
Burkhead came into the Big Ten season as the second best back in the conference behind Montee Ball. He would have been higher on this list if he didn’t leave the game with an MCL issue. He still put up crazy impressive numbers for just having three carries. He put up 68 yards on those carries and ran for a touchdown. Although this injury scared many Nebraska fans everywhere, he appears to be okay and will be questionable for this week’s game. Nebraska looked solid all around in their opening win and if Burkhead gets healthy, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten.
6. Akeem Shavers, Purdue
Shavers is one of the many returning players for the Boilermakers. Purdue returns 19 starters this season and there are high hopes in West Lafayette for a team with so much coming back from a team that went to a bowl game. Shavers is a solid running back and could be a huge impact on all the games that Purdue plays this season. He ran the ball 11 times for 74 yards in the first game victory against Eastern Kentucky and scored a touchdown in the blowout as well. Look for Shavers and Purdue to surprise a lot of people this season.
7. Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota
Beginning the second half of the power rankings is Donnell Kirkwood. The Minnesota sophomore running back is trying to bring this team out of the Big Ten’s cellar and he took a positive step on Saturday. He had 13 rushes for an impressive 81 yards against UNLV. Although he didn’t score any touchdowns, he was a big help for a team looking to turn things around after a less than impressive 2011 season.
8. Venric Mark, Northwestern
Mark could have easily cracked the top half of the power rankings, but his numbers were overshadowed by his teammates. The two quarterbacks for Northwestern proved to be the key to victory against the Syracuse Orange. Mark will play a larger role in their next game because of his solid play in week one. He ran the ball 14 times for 82 yards and no rushing touchdowns. He showed his versatility by catching the ball out of the backfield twice for 16 yards a touchdown. The junior will have an impressive season for the Wildcats and help Kain Colter ease into the starting quarterback job.
9. Bill Belton, Penn State
Belton didn’t have a very solid game running the ball as Penn State’s new running back, but he did score one of the team’s two touchdowns. He is replacing Silas Redd who transferred to USC amid the scandal that rocked the university. The Penn State faithful packed Beaver Stadium and showed their support for the team that didn’t have Joe Paterno on the sideline for the first time in decades. Belton ran the ball 13 times for 53 yards which didn’t impress many but he did catch the ball three times for 16 yards and a touchdown. Penn State ended up losing the game against a MAC team, something rare to the Big Ten.
10. D’Angelo Roberts, Indiana
Indiana has been at the bottom of the conference’s win/loss column for years now and they are looking for anything to be a bright spot for their future. Sophomore D’Angelo Roberts is the guy that could help turn things around in Bloomington for the Hoosiers. Roberts helped lead the Hoosiers to an opening victory against Indiana State and gave the fans something to cheer about. He carried the ball 22 times, about a third of the carries he had all of 2011, and gained 67 yards. Although his yards per carry is down this season, he will look to regain the consistency he had last season and possibly lead Indiana to a four or five win season.
11. Josh Ferguson, Illinois
Ferguson is a redshirt freshman and is getting used to the new coaching style in Illinois after Ron Zook was fired after last season. He was less than impressive on the ground, running the ball 11 times for just 38 yards and not scoring a single touchdown. His 11 attempts almost matched his 14 career rushing attempts from the prior season before being redshirted. He has never scored a touchdown and will change that soon per the hopes of his team. They need him to produce because of the inconsistent play of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
12. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan
It’s simple, he didn’t play so he finds himself at the bottom of the power rankings. He will obviously move up considerably when he finishes his suspension, but for now he has no carries for no yards. The worst performance of the week.