Rating the 2018 Big Ten Running Backs — East Division

J.K. Dobbins Wisconsin Big Ten Football Championship Game Ohio State Football Buckeyes

The Big Ten is a running backs league. Or at least it used to be. It may still be, but it’s an antiquated way of looking at offenses around the conference.

Blood rivals Penn State and Rutgers are the only two teams in the East that do not return their starting running back. Some schools, like Ohio State and Michigan, return more than one tailback with starting experience.

There are some very talented players to watch at running back in the Big Ten, and more will emerge throughout the season.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State has arguably two of the three best running backs in the Big Ten in sophomore J.K. Dobbins and junior Mike Weber. In fact, if you wanted to, you could probably get away with calling them the two best in the division. Dobbins went for over 1,400 yards last year as a true freshman and has returned faster, bigger, and stronger. Weber, meanwhile, spent much of last year injured, but still managed to rush for 626 yards while splitting carries with quarterback J.T. Barrett. Two very talented true freshmen enter the mix this season in Master Teague and Brian Snead. Teague impressed in the spring. Snead just arrived this week. He is the No. 3 RB in the 2018 class.

2. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan has the second-best one-two punch in the Big Ten in senior Karan Higdon and junior Chris Evans. Higdon emerged as the Wolverines’ best player last season, rushing for 994 yards and 11 touchdowns. Evans was a nice complement against bad teams, adding 685 yards on the ground. Against four ranked teams last year, however, Evans averaged 34 yards rushing per game. Higdon didn’t fare much better, managing just 46.3 yards per game on the ground. Evans and Higdon aren’t “fake good,” but it is time for them to produce against somebody other than Indiana or Minnesota. Depth here is an issue, but the staff likes true freshman Christian Turner.

3. Maryland Terrapins

Maryland has some very good talent at running back, and have had that talent for a while now. Ty Johnson is an explosive back, rushing for 1,879 yards over the last two years. In 2017, Johnson started out with 132 yards on 12 carries against Texas, but as has been his custom, he fades over the course of the season. In 10 games against ranked opponents the last two seasons, his best rushing effort has been 83 yards on 16 carries last year against Wisconsin. Johnson is joined by junior Lorenzo Harrison, who has rushed for over 600 yards in each of his first two seasons. He’s a small guy like Johnson, but runs hard. Redshirt freshman Anthony McFarland was an Ohio State target, but he spent last season recovering from an injury. He had an impressive spring. There is other young talent here as well.

4. Michigan State Spartans

L.J. Scott is already a senior if you can believe it. He has led the Spartans in rushing in each of his first three years, and is the only bet to do it this year. Scott has yet to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, and has only averaged 5 yards per carry once (2016) in his career. Last season was his career worst average-yards-per-carry mark at just 4.5. His three 100-yard games last season came against Minnesota, Maryland, and Washington State. The Spartans need more from him this year. Behind Scott is sophomore Connor Heyward, who had three carries last year, and redshirt freshman Weston Bridges. There is an opportunity for a true freshman to have an impact.

5. Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State is replacing Saquon Barkley this year, and they’ll be doing it with a mix of veterans and young players who have a little over 100 career carries between them. Junior Miles Sanders is expected to be the man this year and expectations are very high for what he will do in 2018. Sanders was one of the top running backs in the 2016 recruiting class. He has 56 career carries for 375 yards (6.7 ypc). Behind him is senior Mark Allen, who is experienced, but has just 66 rushing attempts over his first three years. Freshman Ricky Slade was a 5-star prospect. He may be undersized, but he is explosive. Redshirt freshman Journey Brown has also received positive reviews.

6. Indiana Hoosiers

Sophomore Morgan Ellison led the Hoosiers in rushing as a true freshman last year with 704 yards on 143 carries (4.9 ypc). He had two 100-yard rushing games last year (Georgia Southern – 186; Rutgers – 149), but needs to become a more consistent producer against better defenses. Sophomore Cole Gest rushed for 428 yards last year, including 104 yards against Rutgers. Senior Mike Majette has been talked about for years, but has dealt with injuries forever. He carried the ball 22 times for 22 yards last year. Freshman Ronnie Walker signed with Indiana over offers from Michigan State, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, and Northwestern.

7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

For the second year in a row, Rutgers has brought in a graduate transfer running back to hopefully carry the load. Last year, Gus Edwards came from Miami to help out, and this year it is former Boston College Eagle Jonathan Hilliman. Hilliman has rushed for 2,238 yards in his career, but his best yard-per-carry mark was a 4.1 average as a freshman in 2014. Sophomore Raheem Blackshear rushed for 238 yards last year, though 189 of it came against Morgan State and Lovie State. True freshman Isaih Pacheco will likely also be called upon if the Rutgers running game is still looking for answers. Redshirt sophomore Trey Sneed didn’t play last year.

2018 Big Ten Ratings

QuarterbacksEast | West

6 Responses

  1. HEY Mills,
    Go back to what you do best B——-, Whining and Criticizing. You are a “wanna be” who knows nothing about the game except what he reads and hears on ESPN. Besides you CANNOT spell, Urban’s last name is spelled MEYER, no s on the end. What a JERK! GO ROOT FOR THAT TEAM UP NORTH.!!!
    You would not be happy if God were coaching The Ohio State University Buckeyes football team!!!!

  2. Tony Alford has a room full of tremendous tailbacks where the top 2 of them are among the Nations best, not just the Big10’s best. Their workload is going to increase by a lot as long as Dwayne Haskins is behind center. The curious part to me is whether or not the coaching staff (meaning the CEO) is capable of developing an actual pro style offense. If not, the offense could turn into a rent a wreck, OR Dwayne will be benched and Tate Martell becomes the starter. If that happens the offense will become as productive as 2017 and the backs will again be marginalized by design. That’s when predictability sets in and when big games show up on the calendar the CEO forgets there actually ARE tailbacks on the roster.

    Mike Weber and JK Dobbins aren’t good backs, they are great backs.

    I know people around these parts hate it, but the fact is, Dwayne Haskins is going to need all the help he can get from gameplanning and in game adjustments if he’s going to be successful. That means the tailbacks should be the prime time attractions on this 2018 version of Buckeye offense. I’m personally confident they can be “best in America” as a tandem if they are showcased.

    It took an injury to JT Barrett before the staff finally realized just how good Zeke was. Before that, it took injuries to Braxton before they understood just how good Carlos Hyde was.

    You have great backs? Turn them loose and trust their talent and ability to establish and dictate what opponents HAVE to do to remain competitive. There’s just no reason in the world why Mike and JK shouldn’t both be 1600 yard rushers in 2018.

    1. Haskins is a better passer by leaps and bounds over Barrett. If Ohio State wants to play with the big boys, they need to open up the passing game now that we have an Qb who can ACTUALLY throw the football. If we game plan against the likes of a Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, and think we can beat them running dives up the middle, think again.

      1. I don’t believe now, or in the past that the passing games looking like Pop Warner league had a single thing to do with the guy behind center for the Buckeyes. The CEO wants it that way. Look at his history everywhere he’s coached. He CAN’T produce (yes, that’s a challenge) produce a pro style quarterback. The only guy he’s ever had on staff who COULD was Tom Herman. The rest are RPO guys who happen to have a few gimmicks of their own they try to blend into CEO Meyers philosophy. Why he targets any pro style quarterbacks at all makes entirely no sense to me because you can’t put an oversized square peg into an undersized round hole OR visa versa. Nobody can point to a single QB that the CEO has ever recruited that had any success at the next level, and no, he didn’t recruit Alex Smith to Utah.

        Chris Leak had a very good arm, but he wasn’t recruited by CEO Meyer, nor was he ever developed beyond what he already possessed after the boss arrived. Cardale was/os a huge armed quarterback. He was that coming into Ohio State, and the CEO didn’t recruit him either. Jim Tressel did.

        I don’t have to be an expert to know when a guy has never field dressed a deer when out hunting. In the pro’s there’s no real developers of young talent. The position coaches are virtual plug and play guys for the most part. The CEO of any organization can tell you exactly what they do, and what steps are involved in producing the end product. That doesn’t mean they have a practical skill to actually make it happen. Every young kid is different and if you don’t have the coaching position talent capable of developing a raw young athlete, it’s just not going to happen. Hiring a pro position coach is FAR from developing kids. He might know all the language and all the right plays but, if he can’t teach those skills, all that plug and play professionalism means exactly spit in the wind.MAYBE assistants like Ryan Day or Bill Davis can LEARN how to do that but the fact remains that prior to coming to Ohio State they had never done it before. If last year is indicative of what is to be expected by Ryan Days “education”, Dwayne Haskins is going to have a very tough year. There are outlier cases where guys produce IN SPITE of the leadership, but those cases are rare, or even situationally fortunate. Like Cardale being fortunate to have a position coach who could actually utilize and prepare his skills like Tom Herman. Ryan Day is NO Tom Herman.

        CEO Meyer is no developer of pro style quarterbacks and he never will be, and that’s fine. But it DOES make a person scratch their head when a pure pro style quarterback shows up in his log of recruiting targets. Dwayne is a tremendous pro style quarterback with a TON of arm talent. Pete Carroll would have turned him into a GREAT professional prospect. Maybe even 1st round talent. He couldn’t have done that with JT Darrett though. Football is football, but there’s a huge difference in styles. Some “philosophies”, not so much. Between a pro style offense and the RPO is a major shift in approach and player necessities, regardless of the skill levels/talent of the players.

        This is going to be a fascinating year at Ohio State.

  3. Imagine what our RBs might do if the QB doesn’t lead the team in rushing attempts. To have had games last year where JT had more carries than both these guys COMBINED is just idiotic. 2018 is actually a very big year for Meyer and his offense…because if there is no evolution you could begin to argue there never will be with him.

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