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Spring-ing to the Top: The Very Early Best of the Best Running Backs in the B1G

Wait, TWO football articles in three days? We are probably going to make this a thing

David Banks

In case you missed it, I have asked the writing team at OTE to give me their thoughts on who should comprise the Top Five at each position/positional group (we start condensing as we go). Our second post focuses on what might be a slightly more controversial discussion - Running Back. This is still a conference that likes to run the ball, and these are the guys we think are looking poised to be the best going into next year:

1. Venric Mark

Wait, what? Mark gets the top spot? This must be a mistake. Let me go check on a few things...



Well, what do you know? A few of us think Mark might just be the best back this year. The thought process? Well, here are what some of our writers think about Mark:

Chad: "Is Venric Mark a homer pick? Maybe. But he also put up monster yards despite not getting a ton of carries, he also returns punts/kicks (and was an All-American at that), he catches the ball, and his numbers should/could improve in NU's second year featuring the option in their spread attack (he may also benefit from having other RBs in the backfield like Malin Jones, Stephen Buckley, and/or a healthy Mike Trumpy to keep him fresh)."

MNWildcat:"Venric Mark is ridiculously shifty and benefits immensely from Kain Colter's mastery of the read-option."

Ted: (he has Mark ranked a little lower, but still on his list) "Venric Mark is going to continue to put up ridiculous numbers in Northwestern's offense, and he's probably the most complete back in the conference."

Personally, I think Mark comes into this season as best, and with extremely high expectations. He is part of an option-heavy attack, is fast, will break multiple 50+ yard runs, is fast, can catch the ball out of the backfield, is fast, and will benefit from the zone-read. Did I mention he is fast? Add that to a base of 1300 yards, 6 yards every time he touched the ball, 100+ YPG, and well, he already was one of the best. Now he gets to grow from there.

2. Carlos Hyde

Of all players returning from 2012, Hyde had the most rushing touchdowns with 16. Even so, he was second last year to Montee Ball's 22, which is probably an indication that Hyde is pretty good. He was a shade under 100 YPG last season, but that was behind a new attack, and honestly, Ohio State has an attack building in Columbus that should put everyone on alert. But that's my thoughts, and we have a lot of others who weighed in:

Ted: This is going to be a breakout year for Ohio State's offense, and Hyde is going to be at the forefront. Ohio State's offense was extremely inconsistent last year, yet at times Hyde was the most dependable player on the offense. This year? It's Ohio State's conference and everyone else is just playing in it. Hyde is the most powerful runner between the tackles in the conference, and is the perfect run complement to Braxton Miller.

MNWildcat: Hyde gets overshadowed by Miller at QB, but he's a bowling ball of a tailback and will put up good numbers.

Like I said, I think we might all be surprised by Hyde, but it is hard to say if he explodes onto the scene this season as the feature back at a Braxton Miller led offense.

3. James White

Honestly, I am not nearly as high on White as the rest of the staff, with two people picking him as the best in the conference. While my attitude stems mainly from a change in scheme and the knowledge that he was less effective in the beginning of 2012 before the new OL coach got things rolling in the right direction. Now, here's the thing. Utah State knew how to run the ball under Coach Andersen finishing 26th, 11th, 41st, and 20th (going from 2012-2009 respectively). Can he do that and more with the beasts on the line at Wisconsin? Well, the more I think this is a crazy pick, the more I think he might be underrated. Should be interesting. On to the other voices.

MNWildcat: How can I not pick a Wisconsin running back? James White still gets the luxury of running behind five hogs.

Chad: James White has the privilege of running behind Wisconsin's generally excellent O-line.

Ted: James White is the next in the long line of Wisconsin meat grinders, but he's a little bit faster and shiftier than your prototypical Wisconsin back. He's still a little unproven, but there's nothing standing in the way of White becoming the Next Great Wisconsin Running Back.

Graham thought White is the best RB in the conference as well, and I can only imagine it had to do with a great relationship analogy, and if I was good at these things, I would have made a parody Graham line. I am not good at relationship analogies. Apparently I haven't lived.

4. Ameer Abdullah

I think this is probably a little low for Abdullah, but he suffers from being a name that people only kind of know. Of returning RBs, Abdullah actually had the second highest yardage total to Venric Mark. His TD total is pretty low because the Huskers use Imani Cross as their short yardage and goalline back. Even so, Abdullah was only a Sophomore last year and with the Husker's departures and youth at this position, Abdullah is primed to be a key cog in the Nebraska rushing attack that ranked 8th nationally last year. If he stays healthy, I fully expect him to be in contention for first team All-B1G next year.

MNWildcat: Abdullah is going to be a better and better curveball if Martinez can sustain and improve upon his 2012 performance.

Chad: Abdullah is an absolute beast, and maybe the scariest RB in the B1G in terms of pure size/talent.

5. Donnell Kirkwood

This one is actually a pretty close pick. I personally would have gone a different direction, but I was barely outmanned on this decision. To be honest, I think it is probably a really fair decision too. Kirkwood rushed for 925 yards last season and found paydirt 6 times. While his yard per carry was a little lower than the other four, 4.24, there was flashes of greatness and with the Gopher offense coming into form in year 3 of the Kill Regime, I think we can only expect better and better.

Ted: Donnell Kirkwood, Jr., is probably my favorite back outside of anyone on OSU. The guy is a bowling ball, and delivers a hit when he's about to go down. I love his running style, and he's going to be a star in this conference.

Chad: I guess if I had to select someone 5th I'd pick Kirkwood, just because Ted picked him and Ted knows more about football than I do, and because Jerry Kill will eventually get the Gophers playing Kill-style football, which features great running backs.

MNWildcat: I'm torn between Kirkwood, Weisman, and Houston for the #5 slot. It goes to Kirkwood for (1) playing a more vital role in the offense than Houston, and (2) not being guaranteed to break something, tear something, be arrested, or transfer as an Iowa RB.

The Rest of the Nominees:

Zach Zwinak

He is a remarkable back who is potentially the most important cog to the BOB machine. While no one really knows what to think about year two at Penn State, we can all definitely agree that this is not an offense to be trifle with. Ted put it best: "Zach Zwinack is probably going to end the year with 1,000 yards and no highlights on TV because to me, he's that overlooked. And with some uncertainty at quarterback, Zwinak might be the only reliable threat early on."

Stephen Houston

The thing about Houston is that he scores touchdowns. He does not average an awful lot of carries per game, and he doesn't average an extremely high average per carry, but he ran in for 12 scores. As the Indiana offense evolves, it would surprise no one if Houston turns a few heads this season. We all know Wilson likes Running Backs, as he proved in Oklahoma, and I expect things to be a little more natural for the entire offense this season.

Mark Weisman

If he stays healthy, he will be a Top 5 back and pushing for first team All-B1G. He has the motor, he is impossible to bring down one-on-one, and he is kind of insane. He is not a pretty back, but he really does bowl people over and Iowa will look to utilize that instinct to open up the screen game. You know, because HORIZONTAL OFFENSE Y'ALL. But seriously, Weisman seems like a guy who would bet you he could run through a wall, then before you say, "dude you're crazy," he will have crashed through the wall.

So there you go. Anybody we missed? I'm sure there is. Next week, we'll look to get WR and TE done. Maybe even OL, but no guarantees. Discuss amongst yourselves.