Ground and pound, play in the trenches. Big Ten football thrives on the run game and that is what makes it special.
The conference might have lost Kenneth Walker III to the NFL but there are plenty of elite backs returning to the field this season. At this point of the offseason, there is a clear sense of the teams that will be able to lean on their rushing attack this season.
As we enter the month of July, we creep closer to the start of camp. Here is where the running back groups for the Big Ten teams rank currently.
14. Indiana - Shaun Shivers and Josh Henderson
Indiana is coming off a lost season and the run game will not help in 2022. Stephen Carr is gone and the Hoosiers will rely on a duo that combined for 108 rushing yards last season. Both Shaun Shivers (Auburn) and Josh Henderson (North Carolina) transferred in looking for extended roles this season. That may or may not happen successfully. The backfield for Indiana could not be anywhere but last because of the unknown factor.
13. Rutgers - Kyle Monangai and Aaron Young
Isiah Pacheco has been the guy in Piscataway for three years. He is now in Kansas City with the Chiefs while Kyle Monangai and Aaron Young look to take over the ranks. The positive — both runners got a chance to get their feet wet last season. Monangai and Young combined for nine touchdowns in 2021. Neither back has been the premiere rusher and this leaves a huge question mark in the backfield. Potential is high for this group but for now, it is yet to be realized. Al Shadee-Salaam showed off his speed in the spring game and could be a factor next season, as could 4-star incoming freshman Samuel Brown.
12. Purdue - King Doerue and Sampson James
It seems as though King Doerue is in line to replace Zander Horvath after rushing for 533 yards last season. This is an offense that will be spreading the field frequently and Doerue has a chance to be a big-time contributor. Purdue, as a whole, are up in the air in terms of expectations and it begins in the backfield.
11. Maryland - Challen Faamatau and Colby McDonald
Maryland is going to be slinging it all over the field. Taulia Tagovailoa is back under center and the air game is going to be king for the Terps. Can Challen Faamatau and Colby McDonald take the next step? They combined for 558 yards last season and will have to take that number even higher this season.
10. Iowa - Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams
Tyler Goodson is with the Green Bay Packers and Gavin Williams is looking to step into the starting role. This ranking has a hint of program bias considering the rushing attack for the Hawkeyes is usually strong. A pair of Williams have a chance to keep that tradition going within the offense.
9. Nebraska - Gabe Ervin Jr. and Rahmir Johnson
The leading rusher, and biggest piece of the offense, for Nebraska is gone. Adrian Martinez is now with Kansas State and this should give a duo in the backfield a chance to improve. The problem is, the Martinez effect is not there and Johnson will have to adapt to being the main option. In 2021, he rushed for 495 yards and four touchdowns. There will be more to come as the Huskers look to move forward.
8. Michigan State - Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard
263 attempts, 1,636 yards, 18 touchdowns. It is impossible to replace Kennth Walker III as he was a main factor in Michigan State returning to the Top 10. Now, it could be on the shoulders of Colorado transfer Jarek Broussard. He rushed for 895 yards in 2020 and 661 last season. Payton Thorne will be back under center and the Spartans will want a running back to takeover from day one.
7. Northwestern - Evan Hull and Andrew Clair
Is Evan Hull underrated in the Big Ten? During a horrendous season from the Wildcats, Hull totaled 1,009 yards on the ground on 196 carries and seven scores. This is incredible production that Northwestern would sign up for right away. Andrew Clair is the prototypical backup who can get some tough yards when needed. Hull might have been overlooked because of the pure disaster that was the 2021 season but he will be on radars this offseason.
6. Penn State - Keyvone Lee and Devyn Ford
There are some doubts surrounding Sean Clifford. Why? Who knows. Clifford has been rock solid for Penn State over the years. The team has had plenty of issues that have kept them from being successful. One thing we do know is that Clifford will have some weapons to work with. In the backfield, Keyvone Lee is back and will not have to worry about Noah Cain. Lee led the tea with 108 carries for 530 yards last season. This group has a high upside heading into the fall.
5. Illinois - Chase Brown and Josh McCray
If there is a bright spot for Illinois heading into the season, it is clearly its rushing attack. Chase Brown rushed for 1,005 yards last season while Josh McCray totaled 549. Both backs carried the ball 100+ times. The Illini landed Tommy DeVito as a transfer under center to improve the passing attack. With that being said, Illinois will continue to lean on the rushing attack — and Isaiah Williams. If all goes right, this could be one of the top rushing groups in the conference.
4. Minnesota - Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts
Mohamed Ibrahim lit up Ohio State to the tune of 163 and two scores over the first three quarters of the opener last season. A torn Achilles cost him the 2021 season but Ibrahim has a chance to be one of the best runners in the nation. There will clearly be a question mark on if he will be as explosive but Minnesota is glad to have him back. This makes the team better immediately.
3. Michigan - Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards
Hassan Haskins is gone but Blake Corum was no slouch last season with 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. Expect Corum to step into Haskins’ role and Donovan Edwards will be extended as well. The Wolverines have an offense that could see plenty of options this season. Cade McNamara is back but J.J. McCarthy will also see some time. In the backfield, there will also be two solid runners to rotate.
2. Wisconsin - Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi
Braelon Allen completely burst onto the scene last season at the age of a high school senior. He rushed for 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman. Not only will Wisconsin have an elite group in the Big Ten, it is not crazy to say Allen could lead a group that is top three in the nation. Chez Mellusi added 815 yards last season. Graham Mertz continues to be a wild card but one thing we do know is that the rushing attack for the Badgers is as elite as it gets.
1. Ohio State - TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams
TreVeyon Henderson was a Heisman candidate last season as a freshman and will be back this year. He rushed for 1,248 yards and 15 touchdowns cementing his position as the best running back in the Big Ten. Henderson had an unmatched combination of explosive power and breakaway speed. Miyan Williams eclipsed 500 yards as Henderson’s backup in 2021. The Buckeyes have been at the top of many rankings this offseason and that should not be surprising for a team looking to contend for a National Championship.