The career of the college football player is tragically short, with most seeing regular playing time for half of their eligibility, if they are lucky. This, of course, means there is a massive turnover of starters almost yearly. For the best teams, this usually doesn’t mean a whole lot, with the next batch of four and five-star recruits ready to jump in and carry on the school legacy. For the rest, it can be a matter of hoping seasoned backups or hotshot freshmen can jump in and fulfill their potential from day 1, or even an unrated recruit showing the recruiters that sometimes, one gets away.
The Big Ten will see some change at the quarterback position in 2013, but for most teams, the running back situation is a lot more stable. Instead of just picking the starting back for each team, we will go as far as three deep, a must in an era when platooning is becoming more and more prevalent at every level of the sport. Also included will be potential future stars who may or may not even play this year. As always, leave your opinions, objections and abuse in the comments section, or find me on Twitter.
The situation with Donovonn Young (571 yds, 3 TDs), Josh Ferguson (312 yds) and Dami Ayoola (117 yds, 2 TDs) should remain the same this season, although there is a need for someone with power, especially in goal-line situations..
Keep an eye on: Ayoola – picks his spots well and gets there in a hurry. The lack of great production from the others could see him get a longer look in camp.
The coaching staff never seems too enthused about Stephen Houston (749 yds, 12 TDs), despite his obvious talent, so Tevin Coleman (225 yds, 1 TD) is the starter coming out of camp. D’Angelo Roberts (300 yards, 3 TDs) should contribute again too.
Keep an eye on: Freshman Daryl Chestnut – he isn’t big or particularly fast, but watch him dance through a defense.
The three top runners, Mark Weisman (815 yds, 8 TDs), Damon Bullock (513 yds, 3 TDs) and Greg Garmon (122 yds) are all back, and the Hawkeyes suddenly look deep at the position again..
Keep an eye on: Jordan Canzeri – he missed all season with injury, but he may be the most talented back on the roster.
The top two running backs return in Fitzgerald Toussaint (514 yds, 5 TDs) and Thomas Rawls (242 yds, 4 TDs), but neither impressed last season, particularly the disappointing Toussaint. Top recruit Derrick Green is expected to compete for the top job in camp, and has the skills to do so. He a strong, aggressive runner who is reminiscent of previous Wolverine stars such as Anthony Thomas.
Keep an eye on: Sophomore Justice Hayes – he hasn’t played much, but he has a similar style to Hoke protegé Ronnie Hillman and has the speed to make some big plays.
The top two rushers from last season, Le’Veon Bell and Larry Capers are gone, and Nick Hill was third with just 48 yards and a TD, meaning there will be plenty of change on the depth chart. Hill is small, but he’s a good runner, and should see increased carries. LB Riley Bullough has switched from offense and looks like he could be the primary ball-carrier. Jeremy Langford is back at RB after a tour of different positions.
Keep an eye on: Freshman Gerald Holmes – he’s a reasonably big, one-cut runner who has some power, but he could stand to get stronger. If he doesn’t get moved to defense, he could be a factor next season.
Donnell Kirkwood (926 yds, 6 TDS) is the main man, but Rodrick Williams Jr (261 yds, 2 TDs) will also contribute. Third option James Gillum struggled with injury all season, but should push for carries in 2013.
Keep an eye on: Freshman Berkley Edwards – he’s a speedy runner who can leave defenders grasping at air with lightning cuts, and also a fine receiver. May need to add some pounds, but could start down the road.
While this will be the first year in some time the Huskers won’t have Rex Burkhead carrying the load, there will still be an air of familiarity with Ameer Abdullah in the backfield. He took over for the injured Burkhead last season and picked up 1137 yards and 8 TDs. Also back will powerful Imani Cross (324 yds, 7 TDs), who will earn the hard yards. Abdullah hasn’t got ideal size, and may not hold up to the pounding over the course of the season, even if he spelled regularly by Cross.
Keep an eye on: Terrell Newby II and Adam Taylor – with a little time in the weight room, either of these guys could be ready to go as starter in 2014.
Venric Mark surprised everyone when the well-established return specialist became a well-established feature back, bringing his return skills to the offense and slicing through defenses to the tune of 1366 yards and 12 TDs. While Mark has a slight build, he’s tough for defenses to get a handle on, and once he has space, he’s gone. Backing him up again will be Mike Trumpy, who runs hard and is a good short-yardage option who could fill in for a couple of games if required, but he isn’t a long-term answer.
Keep an eye on: Treyvon Green – he’s a junior now, but he has feature back size and “go the distance” speed. All he needs now is the ball.
For those just back from extreme isolation, leading rusher Carlos Hyde is currently on suspension, but he’ll be the starter should he return. He’s a strong runner who’s difficult to take down once he gets rolling. While he’s out, an excellent stable of backs will get their chance to strut their stuff. Jordan Hall was second on the team with 218 yards and a TD last season, all of which came in a three game stint due to injury. He’ll play in the slot, but will get plenty of carries. Rod Smith only gained 215 yards and 2 scores, but he’s a linebacker-sized runner with sprinter speed, and should benefit the most from increased carries. Throw in powerful Bri’onte Dunn and the offense shouldn’t skip a beat without Hyde.
Keep an eye on: Smith – all he might need is the opportunity.
Despite starting just four games last season, Zach Zwinak (1000, 6 TDs) finally stayed healthy and showed why Penn State recruited him in the first place. He will carry the load from day 1 this season. Opening day starter Bill Belton (258 yds, 3 TDS) will also see action, but redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch is tough between the tackles and may even steal the starting job away from Zwinak at some stage.
Keep an eye on: Richy Anderson – name sound familiar, Penn Staters? The son of the former Nittany Lion star, he’s more a jack of all trades than feature back, but he can contribute in as a runner/receiver and on special teams.
The Boilermakers are taking a hit with Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden graduating (combined 1196 yds, 6 TDs), but Akeem Hunt (335, 2 TDs) runs with speed and as much power as 184 pounds will allow. Brandon Cottom (209 yds, 2 TDs) deserves more carries and should get them this year. Robert Gregory’s switch from quarterback to running back is close to completion, and he should be a factor this season.
Keep an eye on: Keyante Green – one of Purdue’s top recruits, is almost a clone of Hunt and should see action this season, before pushing for the 2014 starting gig.
Montee Ball is going to be a big loss, but Wisconsin should still be effective on the ground with James White (806 yds, 12 TDs) and Melvin Gordon (621 yds, 3 TDs). White has started in the past, and while he’s not in Ball’s league (or style), he knows how to move the ball on the ground. Gordon had a breakout game in the B1G Championship game and brings both speed and power to the table. Little-used Jeffrey Lewis should pick up some of the slack from Ball’s departure.
Keep an eye on: Freshman Corey Clement – a determined runner with great balance and quick feet (sound familiar), he will be the next great Badger back sooner rather than later.
Tags: Illinois Fighting Illini Indiana Hoosiers Iowa Hawkeyes Mark Weisman Michigan State Spartans Michigan Wolverines Mike Trumpy Minnesota Golden Gophers Nebraska Cornhuskers Northwestern Wildcats Ohio State Buckeyes Penn State Nittany Lions Purdue Boilermakers Wisconsin Badgers