Preview: A Strong National Crop of Running Backs Will Feature Several From the Big Ten's Top Teams

By Andrew Ellis on July 22, 2018 at 8:30 am
Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins should be two of America's best in 2018.

Ohio State's running game will undoubtedly play a prominent role in the team's 2018 pursuit of another College Football Playoff. With a new signal-caller taking over, it's expected that the Buckeye offense will rely heavily on one of the nation's top tailback duos. A few key pieces from the offensive line are being replaced, but the overall outlook for the running game is extremely bright. 

J.K. Dobbins' true freshman season was a memorable one as he rushed for over 1,400 yards and seven scores. Mike Weber battled through injury to record 626 yards while finding the end zone 10 times. The Detroit native did surpass the 1,000-yard mark as a redshirt freshman in 2016 and has scored 19 touchdowns thus far in his career. 

Now, with both backs healthy and Dwayne Haskins at the helm, Ohio State fans will wait just over a month to find out how the talented backfield will be utilized and what type of split we will see for the season.

Last week we took a look at the national quarterback picture and how Dwayne Haskins may fit in. The departures of Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, and Lamar Jackson have taken a big hit on the position and it would no surprise if Haskins becomes a household name sooner rather than later. 

The 2018 Draft class also featured some big names at running back. Saquon Barkley was viewed by some as a generational talent at the position. The Georgia duo of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb went off the board in the first 35 picks. Other players like San Diego State's Rashaad Penny, LSU's Derrius Guice, and USC's Ronald Jones are also off to the NFL.

Heading into the 2018 season, the outlook at the position remains strong despite the losses.

Starting off in the Big Ten, Wisconsin sophomore tailback Jonathan Taylor rushed for 1,977 yards and 13 scores as a true freshman in 2017. The Badgers return their starting offensive line which is an absolutely terrifying thought if you're a Big Ten defense. Miles Sanders will look to fill in for Barkley, and I'd expect big things from the former five-star. Karan Higdon will lead the way for the Wolverines and L.J. Scott will again be the bell cow for Mark Dantonio's Spartans. 

There's probably very little doubt that Taylor should put up the most gaudy numbers. As a true freshman he had over 200 more carries than any other Badger ball-carrier. We'll see how Urban Meyer and Kevin Wilson divvy things up between Dobbins and Weber. The Wolverines should be doing a little of the same with Higdon and Chris Evans.

College Football's Top Returning Rushers
BRYCE LOVE SR STANFORD 2,118 8.05 (162.92) 19
A.J. DILLON SOPH BOSTON COLLEGE 1,589 5.30 (122.23) 14
JUSTICE HILL JR OKLAHOMA STATE 1,467 5.47 (112.85) 15
J.K. DOBBINS SOPH OHIO STATE 1,403 7.23 (100.21) 7
MYLES GASKIN SR WASHINGTON 1,380 6.22 (106.15) 21
LEXINGTON THOMAS SR UNLV 1,336 6.33 (111.33) 17
BENNY SNELL JR. JR KENTUCKY 1,333 5.09 (102.54) 19
SPENCER BROWN SOPH UAB 1,329 5.32 (102.23) 10

Switching over to the national picture, Stanford tailback Bryce Love was the country's No. 2 rusher a season ago (behind only Penny), and he's currently the Heisman favorite according to the fine folks in Vegas. At 5-foot-10 and under 200 pounds, Love doesn't have the ideal size to be a workhouse at the next level, but his big-play ability may be second to none. 

Big Ten fans should be thanking the heavens that Philadelphia native D'Andre Swift sided with Georgia over the Nittany Lions. As a true freshman playing behind Chubb and Michel, he ran for 618 yards and three scores while averaging nearly eight per carry. Swift also hauled in 17 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. Now the featured back in Athens, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the sophomore end up in the Heisman picture.

Looking for some familiar names from recruiting years past? Florida State tailbacks Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers are locked into a battle for the starting role. Both Patrick and Akers were seriously considering Ohio State at one point, and the latter is my personal favorite high school running back prospect of the last decade or so. Right now it's looking like Akers is the leader in the clubhouse in Tallahassee. 

Alabama's Damien Harris is another familiar name and he'll be taking over in Tuscaloosa. Remember that time Mark Stoops arrived at one of the five-star's games via helicopter in an attempt to draw him to Lexington? Good effort, Mark. Harris – who is now a senior – rushed for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. 

I admittedly don't know a whole lot about Devin Singletary because honestly who really pays that much attention to Florida Atlantic and the Lane Train? But Kiffin's starting tailback put up a ridiculous 32 rushing touchdowns last season – while also leading the nation in broken tackles – and is back for his junior campaign. I look forward to seeing how he fares against Oklahoma on Sept. 1.

Speaking of Oklahoma, Rodney Anderson should lead the way for the Sooner offense in 2018. Anderson broke out in the second half of last season and rushed for 1,161 yards and 13 scores. His most impressive performance came against Georgia in the College Football Playoff. Anderson ran for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 26 carries against the Bulldogs.

Other names to watch this year include Boston College's A.J. Dillon, Oklahoma State's Justice Hill, Iowa State's David Montgomery, Washington's Myles Gaskin, and Clemson's Travis Etienne. 

For the Buckeyes, a stable featuring the likes of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber probably has other teams feeling a bit envious. Obviously the issue – if you even want to call it that – with having two guys who are capable of leading a backfield is that the statistics likely won't be off the charts for any one player.

I'm sure that matters very little to Urban Meyer and Tony Alford as the Ohio State duo should be firmly in the mix among the nation's elite tailbacks.

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