The Big Ten Conference had a bit of a revival in 2014. Star power at the running back position had a lot to do with that, as all three finalists for the Doak Walker Award came from the Big Ten. Those three backs and two other B1G stars at running back have moved on via the NFL draft.
Now we are left with one question: Who steps up and replaces those elite ball carriers? Here now are the leading candidates to do so:
Corey Clement, Wisconsin
We won't be sure how much — if any — drop-off there will be in Wisconsin's running game until we see Clement fully embrace the role of "feature back" in the Badger offense. The transition should be a smooth one, as the junior has piled up nearly 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground in two seasons playing second fiddle to Melvin Gordon. Clement is a more compact, shiftier runner than Gordon, but look for him to put up some of the best numbers in the Big Ten and the nation in 2015.
Terrell Newby, Nebraska
If the spring game was any indication, it looks like Newby is the leading candidate to replace Ameer Abdullah in the Husker offense. Newby is a little bigger than Abdullah and doesn't quite have the same wiggle. That said, his acceleration and open-field speed might be a little better than his predecessor. It will be interesting to see how the coaching change in Lincoln impacts the I-back position at Nebraska.
Jordan Howard, Indiana
You could make the argument that no player in college football meant more to his team in 2014 than Tevin Coleman did to Indiana. As a result, Howard might have the biggest shoes to fill of any player in the nation this season. The UAB transfer has already been named the starter for the Hoosiers. Howard has the same smooth running style that Coleman had, with maybe a little more power and a little less speed. Look for him to carry the load on first and second down, while Devine Redding shares carries and gets more looks on passing downs.
Rodrick Williams, Minnesota
There may not have been a more underrated back in the conference a season ago than David Cobb. His vision and toughness as a runner were unrivaled. Williams brings a similar skill set to the table, perhaps with a little more power. After losing 20 pounds in the offseason, the Gopher staff hopes he can stay healthy and be the primary ball carrier. The loss of tight end Maxx Williams and no real threat at receiver will put extra pressure on Williams to get those tough yards in the crunch. If he is unable to do so, look for Jerry Kill to make a switch to Berkley Edwards — literally a track star.
Madre London/Gerald Holmes, Michigan State
There could very well be a two-back system in East Lansing this fall, as the top two names on the depth chart both lack experience but bring different skills to the table. London is more of a quick, shifty runner, while Holmes is more of your traditional Michigan State straight-ahead power back. This versatility will be necessary as the Spartans navigate a schedule full of diverse defensive schemes, both in and out of conference.