9. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The Pair: Kyle Monangai and Aaron Young
The Spares: Al-Shadee Salaam, Samuel Brown, Ja’Shon Benjamin, Rashad Rochelle
Hey, Rutgers isn’t in the rock bottom! They were actually somewhat reasonable running the ball last year, finishing 8th in the conference. They actually had two different guys run for over 100 yards in a B1G game. That’s something, for Rutgers.
Freshman Sam Brown was a four star recruit and looked to be emerging as the starter. Unfortunately, he had surgery after his biggest game and was out for the rest of the season. From the committee Kyle Monangai emerged, at least for one game, where he rushed for 162 yards against Michigan State. He led the team in rushing, but with a paltry 445 yards.
Things are changing a bit with ex-Minny ex PSU ex Rutgers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, though he’s never been accused of ignoring the run game. Rutgers returns their three top rushers and add a couple frosh to the mix. There are worse situations in the league.
8. Illinois Fighting Illini
The Pair: Reggie Love and Josh McCray
The Spares: Jordan Anderson, Aidan Laughery, Kaden Feagin
The Big Bert’s were pretty effective with the tried and true strategy of running the ball and playing defense. Chase Brown ran for an eye popping 1643 yards last season, but now he’s off running for the Cincinnati Bengals. It’s back to the drawing board for the Illini, though they do have some interesting options.
Reggie Love is getting the most pub coming back. He got action in every game last season, from the low (1 carry for -3 yards against Minny) to the highish (11 carries for 85 yards against Northwestern). Also coming back is sophomore McCray, though he had much more limited action. We may also get some freshman action, as girthy four star frosh Feagin enrolled in the spring and is in the mix to get some carries.
He Was a High School QB: Illinois lost Chase Brown, who was arguably the most important player to any team in the B1G last year. Still, I don’t feel bad about running back. Two RS sophomores will do the heavy lifting. Josh McCray had a very promising freshman year, but struggled with injuries last year. Reggie Love III runs very hard and rushed for 329 yards behind Brown last year. Beyond them, there are a pair of unproven RS freshman in Jordan Anderson and Aidan Laughery. Laughery was recruited by half of the B1G. That may not seem all that promising, but if there is one thing I trust Bert to figure out, it’s running the damn ball.
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Pair: Sean Tyler and Zach Evans
The Spare: Bryce Williams, Darius Taylor, Marquese Williams
A similar situation to Illinois. Minnesota saw Mo Ibrahim lead the conference in rushing and break program records. He watched the draft go by without getting called, and ended up signing with the Lions. Backup Trey Potts was also not drafted, but decided to follow Kirk Ciarocca to Penn State.
So it’s a pretty new room for the Gophs. Western Michigan transfer Sean Tyler looks to be the starter. He ran for over a thousand yards last season and gives them a bit more of a home run presence, even if it will be hard to replicate the constant ram of Ibrahim. A couple other options are Zach Evans and four star frosh Darius Taylor. Feels like a game of Yahtzee on the backfield, but we are giving a lot of weight to the fact that Minny was second in the league in rushing last year. They will row the boat in some fashion. But let’s hear from an expert:
WhiteSpeedReceiver: I feel really good about the RBs, but there isn’t a lot of experience there at all. Mo is gone, Trey Potts hit the portal to get paid at PSU, and the 2 freshmen that got a bunch of yards when Mo went down in 2021 already got paid at other schools.
Bryce Williams, who scored 2 TD against Wisconsin in 2018, is the leading returning rusher in games featuring at least one B1G team. Sean Taylor transfers in from WMU and has been productive, but he’s only got 154 in 3 games against the conference. Freshmen Darius Taylor and RS FR Zach Evans are both really exciting, but they have a total of 6 carries in colleges (including one TD, but it was only against Northwestern.) That’s a lot of pressure on guys who haven’t done much of anything at this level.
6. Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Pair: Anthony Grant and Gabe Ervin
The Spares: Rahmir Johnson, Emmett Johnson, Kwinten Ives
This was a tough one to rank. The Nebbers weren’t particularly great running the ball last year, though Matt Rhule and company seem intent on making it happen. They return bell cow Anthony Grant, but then he got suspended for part of the spring for bad grades. Which, hey, kudos to Nebraska for still grading their football players. I have to imagine he just drew Scott Frost caricatures all over his exams.
In any case, they’ve had some attrition. Backup Ajay Allen has hit the portal, as have some other guys. The main guys left are Ervin and Johnson, who figure to compete not just for carries but the starting job, given that Grant clearly isn’t a favored child under the new regime. Like I said, this was a tough one. Illinois and Minnesota are better rushing programs but return a bunch of noobs, while Nebraska returns a non noob who status is questionable. Whatever, if someone hates it just send a complaint up the chain.
5. Maryland Terrapins
The Pair: Roman Hemby and Antwain Littleton
The Spares: Ramon Brown, Nolan Ray, Colby McDonald
The Terps show up pretty high on this list, mostly because they return a strong tandem in Hemby and Littleton, who combined for roughly 1400 yards on five bucks a carry. Both were freshmen last season, and Hemby was the track star who developed into a running back, and Littleton was the 270 pound thumper who liked to thump.
They also return third stringers McDonald and former four star freshman Brown, as well as adding Nolan Ray. You could make a case they should be even higher on this list, though they were only 7th in the conference in rushing and YPC last season, so they need a better performance to get higher on the OTE list. No BCE, Terps.