As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.
Is Ameer Abdullah the best running back in the Big Ten?
While there are other contenders — one specific Badger comes to mind — Abdullah could very well be the conference’s best back. As amazing as what Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde did last season was, it was Abdullah who finished the 2013 season with the most rushing yards in the league, with a tremendous 1,690 that ranked ninth in the country.
It was Hyde who ended up running away with the conference’s Running Back of the Year honor, thanks to his 138.3 yards per game and 15 touchdowns in just 11 games. Hyde was suspended for the season’s first three contests, though he still managed to post a season that rivaled nearly every back in the country. He finished 13th in rushing nationally and had some remarkable performances. But Abdullah was certainly right there with him, averaging just eight fewer yards per game than Hyde and totaling nearly 170 more total rush yards. He was also the Big Ten leader in all-purpose yards, accounting for 153.8 rushing, receiving and return yards per game and coming just one yard away from 2,000.
Abdullah struggled with national recognition thanks to the Huskers’ subpar performance last season. Quarterback Taylor Martinez missed half the season, thrusting true freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. into an unexpected starting role, and the Nebraska defense wasn’t very reliable, leading to losses and knocking the Huskers out of the rankings early in the year. Also, Abdullah only found the end zone nine times on the ground. Of the conference’s 10 leading rushers, he was one of three to not score double-digit rushing touchdowns.
This season, however, Abdullah should flourish as the offense’s featured weapon — Martinez and top receiver Quincy Enunwa have both moved on — and with a more experienced Armstrong under center. One downfall, however, could be the Huskers’ inexperienced offensive line. They lose four starters from a year ago including one member of the All-Big Ten Second Team (Cole Pensick) and another who received an All-Big Ten honorable mention (Andrew Rodriguez).
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So will Abdullah be the conference’s best back? He has an upper hand in the argument, given that he’s the conference’s defending leaden rusher. But Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is also expected to have a monster season. Last season, Gordon finished 10th in the nation in rushing, one spot behind Abdullah, with 1,609 yards. Plus, his backfield partner James White — who accounted for 1,444 rush yards of his own — has departed, leaving Gordon with a bigger workload that could see his numbers get even bigger. Other contenders include Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford, who was strong for the conference-champion Spartans last year, and Northwestern’s Venric Mark, the 2012 All-American who returns after missing most of last season with injuries.
The Big Ten, as it usually does, features to have quite the list of talented running backs this season. But it’s Abdullah who might be the best of them all.