June 16, 2024

Ranking the Big Ten’s best running backs of 2024

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Big Ten's best running backs of 2024

Penn State running back Kaytron Allen carries the ball during the first quarter against Illinois Saturday September 16, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

Running backs have to put on the chin strap, and lace the cleats up tight when carrying the ball in the most physical conference in the country.

In a league that’s full of elite defenses, rushers have a slim margin for error on the gridiron. However, with the Big Ten expanding to 18 teams this July, these 18 individuals are ready to make their mark, and build on last season’s production.

Which is why August can’t get here fast enough for the fans.

18. Kaelon Black, Indiana: The former two-star prospect led James Madison in carries, and rushing yards last season. Black played in every game, and helped the Dukes win 11 of their first 12 contests. He also displayed soft hands out of the backfield. Black rushed for 125 yards in the opener against Bucknell. The following week he caught a 10-yard touchdown pass at Virginia. Black finished with 76 yards on the ground, and 43 through the air at Utah State. Not to mention Black rushed for a touchdown, to go along with two receiving scores against Georgia Southern. The Virginia native hauled in a five yard touchdown pass in the bowl game against Air Force. The Sun Belt isn’t the Big Ten though.

17. Cam Porter, Northwestern: The Ohio native has generated 937 yards on the ground over the past two seasons. Porter led the Wildcats in carries and rushing yards in 2023. He also helped Northwestern reach eight wins, which were the most in the program since 2018. Porter rushed for 90 yards against UTEP, and 78 against Howard. The former four-star prospect generated 72 yards on the ground in the victory at Wisconsin. Porter rushed for a touchdown, and caught another against Maryland. His 95 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the win over Purdue, were both season-highs. Porter also found the endzone against Minnesota. However, his 3.9 yards per carry needs improvement.

16. Kade Feagin, Illinois: The former four-star prospect played in nine games, and made four starts as a true freshman last year. Feagin is a six-foot-three, 250-pound bruiser, who uses his massive frame to trample would-be tacklers. He even earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten because of his heroics. The Illinois native rushed for 85 yards at Purdue. Feagin posted 84 yards on the ground, and a score in the win at Maryland. The physical specimen also found the end zone against Wisconsin, when he posted 24 carries for 97 yards, which were both season-highs. Not to mention he rushed for 89 yards in the win at Minnesota. Feagin also hauled in a 23-yard pass against Indiana.

15. Emmett Johnson, Nebraska: The Minnesota native finished third on the the team in carries, rushing yards and touchdowns on the ground last season. Johnson made six starts over the final seven games, and helped the Huskers finish second in the Big Ten, and 38th in the FBS in rushing offense. He rumbled for 73 yards in the victory over Northwestern. The following week Johnson posted 76 yards on the ground, and a touchdown in the win over Purdue. Johnson also found the endzone at Michigan State. The former three-star prospect rushed for a season-high, 84 yards against Maryland. Johnson is in stacked running back room though, that includes Gaber Ervin Jr., and Dante Dowdell.

14. Nate Carter, Michigan State: The 22-year old rushed for 983 yards over his final two seasons at Connecticut. Carter put together a solid campaign in his first year with the Spartans in 2023, considering he led them in carries, rushing yards and touchdowns on the ground. He also started all 12 games. The New York native got off to a hot start, with a season-high, 113 yards on the ground, to go along with two total touchdowns in the opening victory over Central Michigan. The following week he rushed for a 111 yards, and a season-high, three touchdowns in the win over Richmond. Carter posted 97 yards on the ground against Maryland. Not to mention he rushed for 108 yards at Iowa.

13. Tawee Walker, Wisconsin: The Las Vegas native started out his career in the Juco ranks, but has molded himself into a dangerous running back. Walker had to split carries with Gavin Sawchuk at Oklahoma last season, but played in 11 games, and made one start. He rushed for two touchdowns in the opener against Arkansas State. The following week Walker posted 117 yards on the ground against SMU. Not to mention he recorded two rushing scores in the win over Texas. Walker found the endzone, and rushed for a season-high, 146 yards at Kansas. He’ll share the load with Chez Mellusi, who has rushed for 1,594 yards, and 11 touchdowns over the past three seasons with the Badgers.

12. Leshon Williams, Iowa: The Chicago native led the Hawkeyes in carries and rushing yards last season, despite having to share the load with two other backs. Williams rushed for 145 yards, and hauled in a touchdown pass against Western Michigan. He carried the ball 25 times for 174 yards and a score in the victory at Wisconsin, which were all season-highs. The former three-star prospect posted 74 yards on the ground against Purdue, and 79 at Northwestern. Williams had a memorable performance in the win at Nebraska, where he rushed for 111 yards. Not to mention he has 1,233 rushing yards over the past two years. Kaleb Johnson will be in the mix too, and has 1,242 career rushing yards.

11. Woody Marks, USC: The former four-star prospect has led Mississippi State in carries and rushing yards in each of the past four seasons. Marks also posted 1,883 yards on the ground, and 22 rushing touchdowns during that span. He’s versatile too, and has 214 career receptions for 1,225 yards. Last year he rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the opener against Southeastern Louisiana, which were both season-highs. The following week Marks recorded 123 yards on the ground in the victory over Arizona. The Atlanta native also had a rushing score at South Carolina. Marks scored the game’s only touchdown in the win at Arkansas. He tallied a 15-yard receiving score against Southern Miss.

10. TJ Harden, UCLA: The former three-star prospect has rushed for 1,152 yards, and 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Although Harden had to split carries with Carson Steele last year, he led the Bruins in rushing touchdowns. He posted 76 yards on the ground in the opener against Coastal Carolina. The following week Harden rushed for 91 yards, and a score at San Diego State. Harden rushed for a season-high, 142 yards, and scored twice in the victory at USC. The Californian also found the endzone against NC Central, Oregon State, Stanford and Colorado. Harden left a lasting impression, with 105 rushing yards, and two touchdowns in the bowl win over Boise State.

9. Roman Hemby, Maryland: The 21-year old has led the Terrapins in carries, and rushing yards in each of the past two seasons. Hemby has 16-straight starts during that span, with 1,669 yards on the ground, and 14 rushing touchdowns. Last year he caught 38 passes, and generated seven total scores. Hemby put up 162 rushing yards, and 55 receiving against Charlotte. The Maryland native rushed for two touchdowns in the win over Virginia. Hemby hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass at Northwestern. The six-foot, 208-pounder also caught a touchdown against Penn State. Hemby rushed for 113 yards, and had a receiving score in the victory at Rutgers. He also scored against Towson.

8. Jonah Coleman, Washington: The Californian led Arizona in carries, and rushing yards last season. Coleman also averaged a jaw-dropping, 6.8 yards per carry. He hauled in a touchdown pass in the opener against Northern Arizona. Coleman rushed for 71 yards against UTEP, 75 against Stanford and 77 against UCLA. Not to mention he rushed for a season-high, three touchdowns at Washington State. Coleman also found the endzone against Utah, and Arizona State. The former three-star prospect rushed for 143 yards at USC. His 179 yards on the ground at Colorado were a season-high. After Coach Jedd Fisch suspended Tybo Rogers indefinitely, Coleman should have the job on lock.

7. Jordan James, Oregon: The former four-star prospect backed up Bucky Irving last season, but tied for first on the Ducks with 11 rushing touchdowns. James led the Pac-12, and finished 10th in the FBS in yards per carry. He got off to a hot start with 86 yards on the ground, and a season-high three rushing scores in the opener against Portland State. James rushed for two touchdowns against Hawaii. The Tennessee native hauled in a 18-yard touchdown pass in the victory at Utah. His 103 rushing yards in the win over Washington State were a season-high. James had eight rushing scores through Oregon’s first six games. Noah Whittington will be in the mix too, after missing the final 10 contests.

6. Darius Taylor, Minnesota: Although he shared the load with Jordan Nubin as a true freshman last season, he led the Golden Gophers in carries, rushing yards and touchdowns on the ground. Taylor only played in six games, but in limited action he displayed skills of an elite rusher. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder was a workhorse too, with 30-plus carries in two games. Taylor rushed for 193 yards, and a touchdown in the victory over Eastern Michigan. The following week he had 138 yards on the ground, and a score at North Carolina. Taylor rushed for 198 yards, and two scores at Northwestern. He had 35 carries for a season-high, 208 yards, and a touchdown in the bowl win over Bowling Green.

5. Devin Mockobee, Purdue: The 21-year old is very productive, with 1,779 yards on the ground, and 15 touchdowns over the past two seasons with the Boilermakers. Mockobee earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten in 2023 for his heroics. He rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown in the victory at Virginia Tech. Mockobee also posted a rushing score against Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Northwestern. His 153 rushing yards in the victory over the Golden Gophers were a season-high. Mockobee even eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards against Ohio State. The former three-star prospect left a lasting impression with a 38-yard touchdown reception in the season finale win over Indiana.

4. Kaytron Allen, Penn State: The Virginia native has rushed for 1,769 yards, and 16 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Allen put up those numbers despite sharing the load with Nicholas Singleton. He led the Nittany Lions in rushing touchdowns, and earned second-team, All-Big Ten honors in 2023. Allen got off to a hot start with 103 yards on the ground against Delaware. The 21-year old rushed for a season-high, 137 yards, and hauled in a touchdown pass against Michigan State. Allen found the endzone twice against Rutgers. The former four-star prospect also had a rushing score against Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan. Singleton has 1,813 career rush yards and 20 touchdowns.

3. Kyle Monangai, Rutgers: The New Jersey native led his team to seven victories last season, in which he finished first in the Big Ten, and 17th nationally in rushing yards. Monangai became the Scarlet Knight’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Jawan Jamison accomplished that feat in 2012. Not to mention his 1,262 yards on the ground were the most by a Rutgers running backs since Ray Rice’s 2007 campaign. Monangai rushed for 143 yards, and a season-high three touchdowns against Virginia Tech. He also went over 100 yards rushing against Temple, Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State, Maryland and Miami. Monangai capped off the year with second-team, All-Big Ten honors for his heroics.

2. Donovan Edwards, Michigan: The former five-star prospect has patiently waited for his turn behind Blake Corum to lead the Wolverines’ backfield. Edwards continues to look promising up to this point too. He filled in nicely when Corum got injured down the stretch in 2022. That year Edwards rushed for 173 yards against Penn State, 216 against Ohio State, 185 against Purdue in the Big Ten Championship Game, and 104 against TCU in the Playoffs. Last season he rushed for 104 yards and two scores in the victory over Washington. Edwards also found the endzone against Indiana, Purdue and Penn State. The 21-year old had two explosive runs in the spring game, and looked very physical.

1. Quinshon Judkins, Ohio State: The former three-star prospect posted video game numbers at Ole Miss over the past two seasons. Judkins a two-time, 1,000-yard rusher, and a two-time, first-team, All-SEC performer. He rushed for 2,725 yards and 31 touchdowns with the Rebels. Judkins set single-season, school records with 1,567 yards on the ground, and 16 rushing scores in 2022. The Alabama native left Ole Miss as the No. 2 career leader in rushing touchdowns, No. 3 in yards on the ground, and often does his moonwalk dance after scoring. He’s prepared to share the load with TreVeyon Henderson, who has rushed for 3,671 yards, and 32 touchdowns over the past three seasons.

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