The Big Ten has seen its fair share of historic running backs come through the conference, and that tradition continues in 2014 as eight players were named to the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list. It is an award the Big Ten has won six times in the last 20 years.
However, only Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (2012) and Iowa’s Shonn Greene (2008) have won the award in the past decade. Could that change in 2014?
The roster of 53 players to make the preseason watch list is deep on talent and returning candidates, but the Big Ten could have a very good shot given its returning talent at the position — a group that may be the deepest of any in the Big Ten this season.
Big Ten backs Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska), Bill Belton (Penn State), David Cobb (Minnesota) Tevin Coleman (Indiana), Josh Ferguson (Illinois), Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin), Jeremy Langford (Michigan State) and Zach Zwinak (Penn State) all are on the watch list.
Six of the eight are seniors heading in to 2014 and only Melvin Gordon and Josh Ferguson are juniors making the list.
Not only is the group of Big Ten players an experienced group, they also happen to have been highly productive last season. Abdullah led the conference in rushing and finished ninth nationally with 1,690 yards and is the leading returning rusher in college football.
Right behind him was Gordon, who had 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year. David Cobb was the other 1,000-yard rusher on the list for the Big Ten, as he ran for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.
If either can explode in the game against each other or in the primetime games they will play in the nonconference season, that could easily vault them in to another category. Expect these two to be in contention deep in to the season regardless of the teams outcomes.
Yet they aren’t the only reason to be optimistic.One of the most intriguing reasons to think the Big Ten could make a run isn’t just the depth it is the talent and explosiveness from some of its running backs.
Not only is Gordon the second leading returning rusher in the country, he averaged 7.8 yards per carry and led the nation in runs of 40 and 50-plus yards a season ago. Joining him in the explosive territory is Coleman, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry and had 985 yards on just 131 carries last season.
Give him a bigger role in 2014 and he could be a 1,300 or 1,400-yard rusher. Getting yourself on SportsCenter and making highlight reel plays were his specialty in 2013:
What could hurt the conference is the overall depth of the position, as schools like Penn State and Wisconsin will have multiple running backs taking on carries and taking away huge stats from others. PSU’s Belton and Zwinak combined for over 1,700 yards last season, but they will also be splitting more carries with an emerging Akeel Lynch.
The 2014 race for the Doak Walker Award won’t be an easy one for any Big Ten running back to win, but given the top-level talent the conference will put on display you have to like the chances of another Big Ten player taking home the honors for the third time in a decade.