Five teams in the Big Ten East return their starting running backs from last season.
Michigan and Penn State are the lone teams replacing their starters, but the Nittany Lions will have more options than the Wolverines when it comes to finding their next star.
Speaking of stars, Ohio State and Penn State are the only teams in the Big Ten with more than one 4-star running back on their respective rosters. The Big Ten West only has one — Nebraska sophomore Maurice Washington — and his future is in doubt at the moment.
Stars only tell some of the story, and sometimes they tell it very poorly, as in the case of Wisconsin’s Jonathon Taylor, a former 3-star prospect.
However, three 1,000-yard rushers return in the B1G East, and two of them are former 4-star recruits, so it’s not nothing.
As with the previous segments of this year’s ratings, the respective totaled recruiting stars (247Sports Composite) at the position are in parentheses for each team.
1. Maryland Terrapins (16)
A talented group of Terp tailbacks will have a rookie position coach showing them the ropes, as head coach Mike Locksley went out and hired DeMatha Catholic High School head coach Elijah Brooks. While he is new, he is well acquainted with Maryland running backs Anthony McFarland and Lorenzo Harrison, having coached both of them in high school. McFarland set a Maryland freshman record last year with 1,034 yards on just 131 carries (7.9 ypc). Buckeye fans may remember him from such films as “Mama, There Goes That Man” and “Mama, There Goes That Man II.” Harrison was injured last season, missing all but three games, but rushed for 622 yards in 2017 and 633 yards in 2016. Juniors Tayon Fleet-Davis (75-331-5) and Javon Leake (34-309-7) are also very capable of being productive in this new Terp offense.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (23)
Junior JK Dobbins returns, as do his 2,456 career yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. Last year, Dobbins struggled to repeat the same number of big plays that he had as a true freshman in 2017. This spring he was determined to get back to that kind of production. He should be featured in the offense more than he was last season, and having a running threat once again at quarterback should help him as well. Fourth-year junior Demario McCall is dynamic and has been a big play waiting to happen throughout his career, but has also battled injuries. Redshirt freshman Master Teague could win the backup job and he has been hand-timed in the 4.3s more than once. True freshmen Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers will provide depth. Crowley was in for the spring and received a sizable number of reps.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions (20)
Nittany Lion sophomore running back Ricky Slade is the only former 5-star running back in the Big Ten. He rushed for 257 yards on 45 carries (5.7 ypc) last year as a backup to Miles Sanders. At 5-foot-9 and 203 pounds, there is some question of whether or not he can handle 18 carries a game, but with the young talent around him, he may not need to. Redshirt sophomore Journey Brown played sparingly last season, but has speed that head coach James Franklin is looking forward to using. Freshmen Devyn Ford and Noah Cain were both rated as 5-star prospects early in the 2019 cycle, but both eventually settled as 4-star tailbacks. Either would have been the prized running back recruit for any program. Cain enrolled early, so Ford will need to catch up. What this group lacks in experience, they make up for in potential.
4. Indiana Hoosiers (19)
Last season, big and burly Stevie Scott (6-2 233) set an Indiana true freshman record with 1,137 yards rushing. He averaged an okay 5.0 yards per carry, but his 228 carries were third-most in the Big Ten and showed Scott to be a tough workhorse who got better later in the season. He carried the ball 30 times for 139 yards at Michigan in the middle of November, for instance. If the quarterback play is better this season, Scott should find more room to run. Cole Gest rushed for 428 yards in 2017, but missed all but one game last season. Sophomore Ronnie Walker was involved a bit last year as well (32-141-2). There is also 4-star running back signee Sampson James out of Avon, Indiana. The No. 10 running back in the 2019 class, James was once committed to Ohio State. He gives the Hoosiers a third big back if the need arises.
5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (15)
Rutgers returns their two leading rushers from last season in junior Raheem Blackshear (143-586-3) and sophomore Isaih Pacheco (111-551-3), and both were fairly productive despite a very limited passing game. Blackshear rushed for 102 yards on 22 carries in a 20-7 loss to Penn State in late November. He also led the team in receiving last year with 44 receptions for 367 yards and two touchdowns. Pacheco rushed for 142 yards on 16 carries in a 42-7 loss to Michigan. That was one of two games of 100 yards rushing for him in B1G play last year. A pair of true freshmen could also get involved. Kay’Ron Adams was the No. 2 running back in the state of Ohio last year and held offers from Cincinnati and Iowa. Aaron Young was the No. 2 running back in Pennsylvania last year and chose Rutgers over Arkansas and Northwestern.
6. Michigan Wolverines (13)
The Wolverines will need to replace their top two rushers from each of the last two seasons in Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. Higdon is off to the NFL and Evans is suspended for the year for academic reasons. Former defensive back walk-on Tru Wilson played well last season, rushing for 364 yards on 62 attempts (5.9 ypc), but managed just 53 yards on 13 carries against five ranked opponents. Sophomore Christian Turner (20-95-0) played a bit as a freshman. The Wolverine hopes, however, appear to be placed upon true freshman Zach Charbonnet (6-2 222), who was the No. 4 RB in the 2019 class. He is big and fast and will have every opportunity to win the job. Sophomore Hassan Haskins was moved over from linebacker.
7. Michigan State Spartans (18)
The Michigan State running game was terrible last season. The Spartans finished 13th in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (124.9) and yards per carry (3.5). They only had one game where they averaged over 4 yards per carry, which was also their only game (Maryland) with 200 yards rushing. LJ Scott will need to be replaced, but that process began last year with Connor Heyward (118-529-5) and La’Darius Jefferson (78-255-2). Heyward led the team in rushing, but was also very involved in the passing game with 32 receptions for 249 yards. The thought here is that a healthy Brian Lewerke at QB will make life much easier on the MSU running backs. Freshmen Brandon Wright and Anthony Williams will push for time, as will sophomore Weston Bridges (16-53) and redshirt freshman Elijah Collins (2-8).