(Ed note: This is a personal list and doesn't reflect the opinions of all of our writers)
When most people think of the Big Ten they think of "Three yards and cloud of dust" type offenses and while a lot of the newer coaches in the league have brought the spread offense to Big Ten country the running game is still king in these parts, so what better way to start my rankings of each of the position groups, right?
Hey, it's better than just throwing out the special teams as a teaser for you, no? So, as we go through each position group sit back and enjoy the ride through Big Ten country with us.
1. Wisconsin: How do you lose the all-time leading TD man in FBS history and still rank as the best running back unit in the Big Ten? Simple, you have the 2nd leading active rusher in the FBS back in James White (who also happens to have a career rushing average of 6.1 yards a carry on 422 carries). Oh, and then there's the guy who needed all of nine carries to rack up over 200 yards rushing against Nebraska in that crazy Big Ten championship game last season, a.k.a Melvin Gordon. A lot of folks in Badger nation believe Gordon could be the breakout star of the year in the league and hard to argue after what he did in shredding that Huskers defense last season. This is easily the best one-two punch in the conference and it shouldn't surprise anyone to see both go for over 1,000 yards this season, they both have that potential (and previous results in James White's frosh season). Behind them are three guys that could be on any other two deep in the country, that's how scary good things are in Madison right now and they'll get richer adding star recruit Corey Clement to the mix this fall as well.
2. Ohio State: Having guys like Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall both rank inside our Top 25 players list this Preseason doesn't hurt their ranking here. Neither does the fact that Hyde was a TD machine last season. Hall has a lot of potential and the only thing keeping this unit from the top spot is the fact that potential hasn't led to outright production for Hall just yet and injuries are a concern with him. There's depth to like at this group as well with Bri'onte Dunn bringing the size and speed combo that gives opposing D's fits. Add in QB Braxton Miller (who went for over 1,000 yards rushing last season) and it's even more impressive. However, we are talking strictly RB's here and therefore this group is more like 1B to the Badgers' group.
3. Nebraska: Again, this is a team who lost it's star in Rex Burkhead, but no worries in Lincoln as stud Ameer Abdullah filled in more than admirably when Burkhead went down for six games last year. Abdullah rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and teaming up with bruiser Imani Cross won't hurt either. That man is simply power personified and watching this combo could be a lot of fun in 2013. Abdullah has enough potential in him to be the man who ends the season with the Big Ten rushing title. Behind those two there's also some very intriguing prospects to watch. I'll be keeping an eye out for Adam Taylor myself as he really impressed me with his high school video. They'll need him to help provide depth at a position that has been a little snake-bitten as of late in terms of injuries. However, it's hard not to like what's at the very top of this position group for the Huskers.
4. Northwestern: Venric Mark is perhaps one of my personal favorite players to watch in this conference. I try to not have a rooting interest (outside of my Badgers of course) and do try to be objective more often than not, but watching Mark it's hard not to fall in love with what he can do with the ball in his hands. The guy was amazing in 2012, rushing for 1,366 yards to lead the returning contingent of backs in rushing. Behind him is a solid workhorse back in Mike Trumpy and there's some very intriguing potential in redshirt freshman Malin Jones – a name I've got on my personal watch list this season and you should too. I think he sees the field more and more. Overall this has to be the deepest this position group has been at NU in my lifetime.
5. Penn State: Stand up and take a bow Zach Zwinak, you obliterated any preconceived notions about your abilities last season, topping the 1,000 yard mark and all. I don't think even the most diehard Nittany Lion fan saw that one coming. Question is can he repeat that feat in 2013? He may not have to with a guy like redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch in the backfield (tons of potential in this guy) and Bill Belton, a converted WR, who has speed for days. This group could surprise some and I happen to like what's happening as all three bring different skill sets that could drive defenses crazy.
6. Indiana: Personally, I included Stephen Houston in my Top 25 list at No. 25, however he needs a better offensive line performance, which should be coming this year, to really make a splash. Last season he ran for 749 yards last season. More importantly though, he ran for 12TD's. Houston may also be the best receiving back in the Big Ten, catching 37 passes last year. Joining him to form a pretty good running back corp in Bloomington is Tevin Coleman, who ran for 225 yards on just 51 carries last season as a freshman. However, beyond these two there's not much to like right now and that's the problem.
7. Michigan: This could be the biggest swing and miss on my rankings list, or I could be proven dead on – that's how confusing this group is in 2013. Sure, Fitz Touissant returns, but what will he look like after his nasty leg break last season. It wasn't like he was setting the world on fire in 2012 to begin with. He's not a given to win this starting position in my book, especially with the near consensus No. 1 RB in the 2013 class, Derrick Green, coming to Ann Arbor. Add in a steady Thomas Rawls and you could have a very potent backfield. Problem is, this group hasn't shown enough in their careers to give me confidence they'll light it up this season. Potential mixed in with a group that's had mixed results at best (looking at you Fitz) doesn't impress me. Let's see if you can prove me wrong in 2013 though. I'll gladly eat some humble pie if you can entertain us all year long.
8. Minnesota: Two words, one name…. it's all you need to know: Donnell Kirkwood. He's perhaps one of, if not the, most underrated running backs in the conference. He may end up being assisted this season by having a better offensive line around him too. Kirkwood, who ran for 926 yards last season, is a great combo of compact body and power that drives opposing D's nuts. However, behind him are two guys with a ton of potential who need to put it together before I can move this unit up and of course I'm talking about intriguing David Cobb (who looked amazing this spring) and Rodrick Williams. Along with MSU this unit has some potential to move much higher by season's end, but hard to justify at this position, in this conference, just going off of "potential."
9. Iowa: Yes, Mark Weisman had a very solid season last year, rushing for 815 yards and all, but in a land of 1,000 yard rushers being the norm and for a team that's produced their fair share I wasn't all that impressed. Behind him there's some experience and some good options for a change in Damon Bullock and a returning Jordan Canzeri (who lost last year to a knee injury), however this is a group that I need to see do it again this year before I'm impressed. Anyone can catch lightning in a bottle once. The offensive line also has me concerned about this group's ability to put up the numbers needed in 2013 to make this team successful.
10. Illinois: Perhaps this ranking is a bit unfair, but after a series of injuries and terrible play from the offensive line last season this group has a hell of a lot to prove to me. Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson scream potential, but at what point does it become disappointment over anticipation? These two have yet to break out despite having all the physical tools available to them. If the Illini want to avoid the cellar in the Leaders Division these two are going to have to wake up and realize their potential. Again, I'd be happy to eat humble pie on this ranking at the end of the season, but that requires these two to actually turn that switch on at the collegiate level. For both it's now or never.
11. Purdue: We've gone over this group in depth this past week in our Purdue Preview Week, so I won't harp too much on it, but this is a group loaded with potential in Akeem Hunt and Brandon Cottom. So, why not higher? Well, both need to prove they can stay healthy and be productive players in more than a bit player role. Neither has done that to this point. However, I also happen to like the freshman that we referenced this week (so check out the link above) and at the end of the day if Hazel is to be successful those two will be keys to it happening in 2013.
12. Michigan State: Losing a running back may not have hurt any team more than the Spartans, who counted on him to be their offense for a vast majority of the season thanks to a wildly inconsistent passing game. That creates the problem that exists this year in East Lansing – NO EXPERIENCE. Is there talent? History says there could be, but we don't know a damn thing about any of these guys. Do any of you know who Riley Bullough (making switch from LB), Jeremy Lankford, or Nick Tompkins are? Sure they have Nick Hill as the "experience" however it's likely that an incoming freshman is going to have to be the guy and that means a lot of potential growing pains for the likes of Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton, or Delton Williams. Sitting here in June we simply don't know enough about this group and there's way too much depth and talent across the conference to rank these guys any higher entering 2013.