Big Ten Running Backs

Story posted August 31, 2017 in Sports, CommRadio by Joe Esquivel-Murphy

The Big Ten enters this season as one of the nation’s best football conferences with some of the best running backs in the nation. Penn State star Saquon Barkley steals the show, but he is not the only exceptional back the conference has to offer, as seven of the leading 10 rushers from last season return.

Barkley is the best back in the country as his elite combination of size, speed and agility makes it almost impossible for defenders to take him down in the open field. Last year, he ran for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns, which led the conference last season.

Barkley’s hands out of the backfield make him a more dangerous weapon as linebackers and safeties are unable to keep up with him. His stellar play will keep him in the hunt for the Heisman trophy throughout the season as the Nittany Lions fight for a Big Ten title.

Despite Barkley’s stellar season, the leading rusher in the conference was actually Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, tallying a total of 1,524 yards.

His consistency for the Wildcats is incredible as he has eclipsed 1,000 in every year he has started. Jackson will be in a fight with Barkley to retain his conference rushing crown, but his quick cuts and ability to jet through small creases will keep defenses up at night.

Minnesota running back Rodney Smith might fly under the radar more than any other running back across the nation as he finished second in the conference with 16 touchdowns. He might not be the fastest running back in the conference, but gets the job done for the Golden Gophers.

His six 100-plus-yard games last season were a great building block to explode next season as Smith’s game deserves national attention. P.J. Fleck could have Minnesota on the rise and Smith will be the star of the offense this season.

Ohio State running back Mike Weber was one of the main reasons the Buckeyes were able to succeed when J.T. Barrett was struggling. While his numbers were not that great, Weber had to share a backfield with one of the most productive quarterbacks to play at Ohio State.

He nearly ran for 1,100 yards, breaking the Ohio State freshman record, and his numbers should improve as Urban Meyer will look to take some pressure off his quarterback. A 1,500-yard season with double-digit touchdowns should not be considered out of the picture for a running back with the talent of Weber.

Akrum Wadley ran for 1,081 yards and 10 touchdowns, which was slightly better than his graduated teammate LeShun Daniels Jr. Add into the equation that quarterback C.J. Beathard was drafted by the 49ers and Wadley is the clear star of the Iowa attack.

His ability to run in between the tackles, despite only weighing 195 pounds, gives the Hawkeyes the necessary rusher to help alleviate pressure from the starting quarterback. Opposing defenses will be stacking the box until a quarterback can prove themselves, but Wadley’s ability to make people miss will give him an outside shot of contending for the Big Ten rushing title.

Maryland running back Ty Johnson returns after leading the nation last season in yards per carry at 9.1. His limited touches prove that he is a dynamic running back and the consistent carries will help propel a dangerous Terrapin running game.

The rushing title in the Big Ten will be highly contended with numerous different backs having the opportunity to take home the title.

Joe Esquivel-Murphy is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and Spanish. To contact him, email