Welcome to our ongoing rankings of position groups in the Big Ten. We took a look at the quarterbacks, which the transfer portal has already obliterated. Next up are the running backs.
14. Indiana Hoosiers
The Pair: Josh Henderson and Jaylin Lucas
The Spares: Christian Turner, Trent Howland, David Holloman, Sampson James
Hey, Northwestern isn’t in the basement! The Hoosiers were next to last in the conference in rushing last season, but leading rusher Shaun Shivers signed with the Seahawks. That leaves a grab bag of whodat to try and improve the run game. Henderson and Lucas get the main billing. Both got some carries to spell Shivers, Lucas popped a few big plays and Henderson was fair. They both had very good games against Purdue, including Lucas hitting a 71 yard touchdown. They also lost by two touchdowns.
Such is life in judging Indiana football. They did bring in Old Friend Christian Turner for some competition. He played two seasons for Michigan before wising up and moving to Wake Forest. There, he got a decent number of carries for a decent number of yards, but was getting edged out by younger guys so decided to try his luck with another B1G program. Not sure he picked the right one. After him are some bodies - Howland and Holloman combined for two carries last season. Sampson James is coming back as a walk on after transferring from Indiana to Purdue in 2020, getting no carries there, and then sitting out football completely last season. He’s fresh at least!
13. Northwestern Wildcats
The Pair: Cam Porter and Anthony Tyus
The Spares: Joseph Himon
When ranking from last to first, Northwestern is always a great place to start. So it is with the backs. Northwestern finished 98th in rushing last season, though that was good for ninth in the conference. Unfortunately, Evan Hull, who led the team in rushing and was second in receiving, is a newly minted member of the Indianapolis Colts.
What’s left behind isn’t particularly appealing. Cam Porter is the natural choice to start - he actually led the team in rushing in 2020 when Northwestern played like thirty running backs. He missed 2021 with injury and returned last season as Hull’s backup, though was pretty ineffective and averaged a rough 3.3. yards a carry. The other options are also unproven - Tyus and Himon combined for 23 carries last season. I don’t see that they added anyone as a freshman or from the portal. Maybe we should just talk about bourbon when we preview Northwestern this year.
But maybe bourbon will help. Here is Resident Boss MNW on what he thinks of the runners:
MNW: Northwestern is going to have a competent backfield again, it’s just that the rest of the lineup is...less so. Cam Porter and Anthony Tyus III are a helluva 1-2 at back, both bruisers who can break one long if there’s a hole in front of them. Porter has gotten some time in the Wildcat formation (though aren’t they all?) and is still loved in the fanbase for his role in the 2020 season.
Grading the NU backs is tough because both are competent runners (hell, look what Isaiah Bowser did at UCF...and Porter’s better), but they’re stuck in an offense running caveman shit with subpar quarterbacking and average-at-best blocking. But I’d say the Northwestern stable, in a vacuum, should be middle of the pack on a good day.
12. Michigan State
The Pair: Jalen Berger and Nathan Carter
The Spares: Jaren Mangham, Jordon Simmons, Davion Primm, JB Barbarin
On the plus side, Sparty returns leading rusher Elijah Berger. The former Badger and 4 star recruit was the lead dog for the group and hit a respectable 4.6 yards a carry. On the downside, Sparty was just terrible running the ball, and finished ahead of only Iowa and Indiana. Second leading rusher Elijah Collins has gone to be a man at Oklahoma State, so the rest of the depth chart is a real mystery.
I put UConn transfer Nathan Carter on the top line. He was a two star recruit and the 3096th rated recruit in the 2020 class (like, when do they just stop ranking?). But he got substantial carries for UConn and showed a bit last year - rushing for almost 400 yards in his first three games before going down with a shoulder injury against...Michigan. He will at least have a chip on his, ahem, shoulder. Everyone else is a mish mash of whodat and all have to run behind the Spartan offensive line, which I’m told is suboptimal.
11. Iowa Hawkeyes
The Pair: Kaleb Johnson and Leshon Williams
The Spares: Jaziun Patterson, Terrell Washington, Kamari Moulton
By rights, I should probably rank Iowa’s running backs the same as their 2022 rushing performance, which was dead last in the B1G. They were the only team to average less than 100 yards a game, and were a full 15 yards a game behind Indiana. As with everything else related to Iowa’s offense, they sucked.
Of course, Iowa does manage to have the whole come up much shorter than the parts. Kaleb Johnson was legit good last year, leading the team in rushing on over 5 yards a pop. Plus, he was just a freshman - Iowa fans can hope and dream that instead of tearing up his knee he will rush for 1500 yards. Hopes and dreams, hopes and dreams. Leshon Williams was much less effective, but he is back, too. Jaziun Patterson was even less effective, but he’s back as well. Things can only point up, right?
10. Purdue Boilermakers
The Pair: Devin Mockobee and Dylan Downing
The Spare: Tyrone Tracy,
This is a tough one. Purdue’s run game was often an afterthought under Jeff Brohm. But Jeff Brohm is gone, and new OC Graham Herrell runs the Air Raid but historically has been fairly balanced running the ball. He doesn’t have an embarrassment of riches, but he does have a Devin Mockobee, who somehow became an almost thousand yard rusher as a walk on freshman. Let’s hope they put him on scholarship.
But hey, we have an actual Boiler on staff to talk about the Boilers.
BoilerUp89: Purdue returns Mockobee. Last years freshman walk on who became the starter and ran really well. Former Iowa WR/special teams star Tracy is converting to more of a RB than WR after being a bit buried on Purdues WR depth chart. Not a lot of depth. Third guy is Downing who has been okay but nothing special so far in his career. I’m concerned about depth. Wouldn’t be an issue with a Brohm style offense where you throw the ball as much as possible but with a slightly more balanced offense injuries could really hurt and force the new guys to return to a excessive passing attack.