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Big Ten Running Back Power Rankings Week 7

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Big Ten: Running Back Power Rankings Week 7

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The leaves are beginning to change color and that means one thing: the season is now in October and conference play is now in full swing. The Big Ten has been the most criticized of all BCS conferences and they are hoping that this season has some type of turnaround for the better of the conference.

No. 12 Ohio State is the class of the conference right now and is the only team ranked in the top 20 and only one of two ranked in the top 25, the other being No. 25 Michigan.

The Big Ten has the least number of teams in the weekly top 25 rankings than any other major conference, an alarming statistic for teams in the conference as well as people who are fans of the conference. This was supposed to be the year that the conference proves all the doubters wrong, starting the season with five teams in the top 25. The ranked teams started dropping like flies and it has been an uphill battle for those teams ever since.

The Big Ten has featured some pretty solid running backs, however, and some of those backs have tried to single-handedly bring their teams out of the darkness. With all of the great running back performances this season, there have been just as many poor performances by backs that were expected to have breakout seasons.

Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Fitzgerald Toussaint of Michigan have both been having less than impressive seasons and have yet to live up to the hype bestowed upon them by experts prior to the season.

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12. Illinois RBs

Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Illinois features a two running back attack that has yet to produce for the Fighting Illini. Sophomore Donovonn Young and freshman Josh Ferguson have failed to keep the Illini offense in games. The pressure has now been put on quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase because of the lack of a running game. Illinois ranks 96th in the country in rush yards per game(126.5) and they have yet to find their number one back. Last week against Wisconsin, the two running backs ran for a combined 16 yards on 11 carries while Scheelhaase had 84 yards rushing. The freshman Josh Ferguson has yet to score his first career touchdown and Young has just two.

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11. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan


Fitzgerald Toussaint might as well be the backup running back on a depth chart with no true number one running back. The Wolverines, outside of Denard Robinson, have not had the rushing attack that they had hoped would be present this season. Toussaint was a 1000 yard rusher from a year ago and was expected to improve on that number this season, but has yet to show up to play. The junior running back had 17 rushes for 19 yards and two one yard scores that were enough to give Michigan the lead for good. The went on to demolish Purdue, 44-13

Season: 53 rushes, 169 yards, 3 TD

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10. Stephen Houston, Indiana

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Stephen Houston has been up and down for the Hoosiers all season long. One week he rushes for 100 yards and the next he has 22 yards. Michigan State held the Indiana running back to just 22 yards on 10 carries and a big reason for that was the success of Cameron Coffman passing the ball in the first half. They fed the hot hand and passed the ball a majority of the time in the half. The Hoosiers had the lead and kept it rolling. When the lead slip away, Houston was no longer an option in the offense. The junior has the potential to do positive things in this offense, but as for now, it's Coffman's offense.

Season: 52 rushes, 277 yards, 4 TD

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9. Akeem Shavers, Purdue


Akeem Shavers started the season on fire, but has since sizzled away. The senior running back from Purdue is on the verge of losing his starting job to sophomore Akeem Hunt. Hunt has been phenomenal in the opportunities he has been presented this season. He has 172 yards on 19 rushes this season, averaging 9.1 yards per carry in 2012 and his career yards per carry is close to nine. With that being said, the senior Shavers needs to realize he has been given multiple second chances, and after a 10-rush, 34-yard week, he may be running out of time to prove himself.

Season: 68 rushes, 274 yards, 3 TD

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8. Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Minnesota is struggling in the running game without their starting quarterback and dual-threat MarQueis Gray. Donnell Kirkwood and the Gophers had a bye week in week six and this should be enough time for the sophomore to regroup after his team suffered their first loss of the season against Iowa, 31-13. The Gophers' running back has seen his yards per carry go down in every game but one this season. The first game of the season he posted 6.2 yards per carry and it fell to a mediocre 2.8 against the Hawkeyes in week five.

Season: 93 rushes, 394 yards, 3 TD

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7. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State


Junior Carlos Hyde has seen it all this season. He has been injured, he has come back to struggle a bit and then he broke out last week for 140 yards and four touchdowns in the Buckeyes rout of Nebraska. Although Braxton Miller has been the team's leading rusher with 763 yards and a handful of touchdowns to go with it, Hyde proved in last week's game that he can be the go-to back that they haven't seen since Beanie Wells years ago. His four touchdowns are a career high and his 140 yards is a season high. The Buckeyes are on fire and expect Hyde to follow suit.

Season: 63 rushes, 298 yards, 6 TD

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6. Zach Zwinak, Penn State

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Zach Zwinak was waiting in the background for his opportunity to shine as a Penn State running back. He finally got his number called in week four and the sophomore delivered big time. Zwinak has the red-hot Nittany Lions at the top of the Leaders Division with a huge target on their backs. Although they are in the midst of a postseason ban, Penn State has not quit on the season or the supportive fans. Zwinak carried the ball 28 times last week for a season-high 121 yards and a score. His yards per game have gradually gone up in each game he has started and he now has back-to-back 100 yard games-- the first two of his young career.

Season: 68 rushes, 317 yards, 3 TD

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5. Venric Mark, Northwestern


Venric Mark has been one of the pleasant surprises for Northwestern. The Wildcats have featured one of the most unique offenses in the country, as they have a starting quarterback who can pass, run and receiver the ball. Sophomore Trevor Siemian acts as the passing quarterback while Kain Colter takes over the running and receiving duties and could be the most dynamic player in the conference. Mark had 13 rushes last week against Penn State for 72 yards and a touchdown. He has never seen this kind of playing time before, accumulating just 23 attempts in his first two seasons, but having five times as many this year, and making them all count.

Season: 114 rushes, 610 yards, 6 TD

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4. Mark Weisman, Iowa


Can you believe this guy was a fullback just three short weeks ago. Then, the unthinkable happened-- Damon Bullock got injured in week three and was just added to the list of injured running backs the Hawkeyes have suffered. Mark Weisman got the opportunity he thought he'd never get-- an opportunity to start at running back. The sophomore jumped at the chance to start and hasn't looked back. He has three starts at running back, all of them this year, and has rushed for over 100 yards in all three. He has been incredible so far in Bullock's place, but the running back may be back this week against Michigan State. The two may be battling for a starting spot, but they will have to do so against the best defense in the Big Ten.

Season: 74 rushes, 515 yards, 7 TD

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3. Montee Ball, Wisconsin

Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Montee Ball is having nowhere near the season that he thought he's have considering his elevated numbers last year. Ball was a Heisman finalist last season and you would never think that if you looked at his numbers from this season thus far. Last week against Illinois, Ball was stifled early in the game yet managed to put up some solid numbers in a much-needed victory. Ball carried the ball 19 times for 116 yards and a very Ball-like two touchdowns. He is well off his pace of touchdowns from last year and his yards per carry are down, but Montee Ball is still a premier Big Ten back and not many have the skill and compact size that he has.

Season: 143 rushes, 569 yards, 8 TD

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2. Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Le'Veon Bell is an easy choice for number two and could find himself at the number one spot with a solid week this week against the Hawkeyes at home. Bell is one of the best backs in the country and if his offensive line wasn't banged up, he would find himself in the middle of a Heisman race. Michigan State has been on a roller coaster ride all season long and the same goes for the junior Bell. He has had two 200-yard games and also three games with under 80 yards. This up-and-down showing has been the least of the Spartans' worries as the offense continues to struggle.

Season: 171 rushes, 776 yards, 7 TD

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1. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska


Rex Burkhead has finally emerged as Nebraska's number one running back after returning with a vengeance after injuring his MCL in week one. The senior running back saw his backup, Ameer Abdullah, put up crazy numbers in his absence and was wondering if his production would ever be the same. The answer to that-- his production will not suffer one bit. Although he re-aggravated his knee in last week's loss at Ohio State, he is likely to play next week coming off a much-needed bye week. The Cornhuskers are fortunate to have two running backs that have the potential to start for almost any other team in the conference and Burkhead is the best running back in the conference right now, despite his limited play. Before his injury last week, the senior had 14 carries for 119 yards, but failed to score. This is a scary rushing attack that the Cornhuskers feature, especially with the agile Taylor Martinez at quarterback.

Season: 43 rushes, 392 yards, 3 TD