The Big Ten has been known for elite running backs for years and years. From Mike Hart to Ron Dayne to Eddie George to Anthony Thompson to Archie Griffin to Alan Ameche and Howard Cassady in the '50s, the conference has produced some of college football’s top runners for generations. But what about this season? Montee Ball is a touchdown machine at Wisconsin; Rex Burkhead has been a star for Nebraska, while Penn State’s Silas Redd and Iowa’s Marcus Coker are putting up very respectable numbers. And the two best runners in the Big Ten might not even be running backs, as Michigan’s Denard Robinson and NU’s Taylor Martinez both rank in the top six of the league in rushing yards.
Who is the top runner in the B1G?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Since the questions asks about the bets “runner” not “running back,” I think you have to go with Denard Robinson, Michigan’s dual-threat quarterback. Montee Ball is having a terrific season at tailback for Wisconsin, but I believe if you asked any coach in the league who is the more dangerous player with the ball in his hands, the answer would be Robinson. The man they call Shoelace is second in the league in rushing, just behind Ball, with 108.8 yards per game, and his 6.4 yards-per-carry average ranks first in the league for players with over 50 crushing attempts. Robinson has been clutch with the ball in his hands as well; 15 of his 27 rushing attempts on third down have resulted in a first down. He might not be a prototypical quarterback — or running back — but Robinson has to be considered the best pure runner in the Big Ten.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the answer has to be Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. He may score 30 touchdowns this season, and the Badgers limited him against their non-conference opponents (although Ball did have multiple scores in all four of those games). It’s easy to credit UW’s solid offensive line for his success, but a powerful back like Ball can make any line look good. He’s no more part of a “system” than Denard Robinson at Michigan or Taylor Martinez at Nebraska. While both of those quarterbacks deserve praise for their production and highlight-reel runs, I’m taking the big Badger when you really need a positive play. After scoring 18 TDs last year while sharing carries, Ball has continued his end zone onslaught this season with 17 rushing scores in seven games. And unlike Robinson, Ball’s numbers have improved in Big Ten play with 62 rushes for 408 yards (6.6 ypc) and eight scores in just three league games. While I think Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead and Penn State’s Silas Redd deserve consideration along with the two QBs, I’ll take my chances with Wisconsin’s Montee Ball.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The change in coaching staffs has limited his ability to run just a bit, but I’d take Michigan’s Denard Robinson as the best in the Big Ten. The junior has to be one of the best athletes playing college football, possessing dynamic all-around skills, speed and electric playmaking ability. Robinson finished 2010 with 1,702 rushing yards, but is likely to fall short of that mark in 2011. The junior has 716 yards and nine scores on the ground through six weeks, while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Also, Robinson has largely carried the offense, as Michigan has struggled to find a go-to running back. There’s the danger of Robinson taking too much of a beating as the year progresses, but the junior is far too dangerous on the ground to prevent Michigan from utilizing his skills. Robinson may not be the power back that Wisconsin has with Montee Ball or the shifty playmaker Nebraska has with Rex Burkhead, but he gets my vote for the Big Ten’s top runner.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Penn State's Silas Redd is leading the Big Ten in rushing at 852 yards and might be the most valuable tailback in the league considering he is the entire Nittany Lion offense (and they are 7-1). Michigan's Denard Robinson is likely the most explosive and electric runner of the football - with the bigger, more physical Taylor Martinez not too far behind him in that category. But Robinson touches the ball 60-80 times per game, has the option to gain yards on pass plays and could never run the football 20 times between the tackles without completely breaking down physically. Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead is the most complete, most underrated and possibly best all-around running back in the league. But Wisconsin's Montee Ball is leading the league in yards per game (108.1) and has scored nine more touchdowns than anyone else in the league. And if you needed any more proof of his value to UW, the Badgers outscored Michigan State 28-7 when Ball was in the game and were outscored 31-3 when he was not last weekend. Plus, his name is Ball after all.
With respect to Big Ten running backs, the best pure runner in the conference is Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Over the past two seasons, Shoelace has scrambled 368 times for 2,418 yards (6.6 ypc) and 23 TDs in 19 games. That's an average of 127.3 rush yards and 1.2 TDs per game on the ground in 2010-11. No one in the country can top that. To put those numbers in perspective, Alabama's Trent Richardson (989 yards, 17 TDs in 8 games in 2011) is averaging 123.6 yards and 2.1 TDs per game this year. And all Richardson does is run; Robinson also plays quarterback — leading, play-calling and passing when he's not running at a feature back's workhorse pace. Hail to the Victor, Denard X is the best runner in the B1G.