The Michigan State Spartans had the luxury of having one of the best running backs in the country last season. Le’Veon Bell was the team’s top rusher over the past two seasons. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Bell is now playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That means someone new is going to have to step up and carry the load in the Michigan State backfield.
Bell leaves some giant shoes to fill as he carried the ball 564 times since the 2011 season. Last year, he led the Big Ten Conference with 1.793 rushing yards. That total was good enough to rank fifth in the nation. Bell finished his Michigan State career with 33 touchdowns and 3,346 rushing yards.
Entering the 2013 season, the Spartans have limited experience to use in the backfield. Since Bell was the clear-cut starter the past two seasons, there was little room for anyone else to get many carries. The Spartans will now rely on a mix of both new and returning players to provide the rushing attack.
Junior Nick Hill is the most experienced of the running backs on the roster. In his previous two seasons with the Spartans, he’s ran the ball just 51 times for a total of 163 yards. However, he’s been able to show his skill as a kick returner. He ranks third in school history with 1,669 kick return yards. In 2012, Hill was second on the team with 789 all-purpose yards. He did serve as Bell’s backup, but saw just 21 carries from the backfield, rushing for 48 yards with one touchdown.
Behind Hill is junior running back Jeremy Langford. He has been all over the depth chart since coming to East Lansing, being listed at one time as a cornerback and then a wide receiver. He has played the past two seasons on special teams, but saw brief action as a running back in 2012, carrying the ball nine times for 23 yards.
The most interesting news out of Michigan State this past spring came when linebacker Riley Bullough, younger brother of star linebacker Max Bullough, was switched to running back by head coach Mark Dantonio due to a lack of depth at the position. He looked solid during the spring game, rushing for 48 yards on 11 carries. Bullough is now expected to be the starting running back when the Spartans take the field this fall.
When practice opens later the summer, the Spartans will also welcome some true freshmen who could compete for time in the backfield.
Clearly, the running back situation at Michigan State is unsettled heading into 2013. The absence of Bell creates a void that will need to be filled by others. While there doesn’t seem to be anyone to match Bell’s caliber yet, there are several options that Dantonio will have to work with throughout the season.