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The Best Returning Big Ten Running Backs

Big Ten running backs

For decades, one of the strongest positional groups in the Big Ten has been running backs. Just last year, the conference saw guys like Chase Brown and Evan Hull get drafted, and will likely see even more go in 2024. The Big Ten running backs are as good a group as any in the nation.

The three best programs in the conference each have an embarrassment of riches at the position with two or even three running backs who could start nearly anywhere else. The game itself may be distancing itself from running back play but don’t tell that to these five studs. When deciding All-Big Ten honors to follow the season, it’s going to be like splitting hairs.

The Best Returning Big Ten Running Backs in 2023

This conference is ridiculously deep at running back. Realistically, any of the top five/six players could make their own argument to be the best. There are a few who just missed the mark, however.

Honorable Mentions: Sean Tyler (Minnesota); Keytron Allen (Penn State); Roman Hemby (Maryland)

#5. Donovan Edwards, Michigan

There was always a feeling around Michigan that the best was yet to come. Donovan Edwards showed flashes as a true freshman in 2021 but he really came into his own last year and is one of the best returning Big Ten running backs heading into 2023.

As the two in the one-two punch in Michigan, Edwards is as dynamic as any in not just the Big Ten but the nation. To start the year, Michigan did not utilize Edwards much. However, over the last seven games of the season, including the Big Ten Championship and CFP Semi-Final against TCU, Edwards ran for over 100 yards five times. In his first action as RB1 at Ohio State, Edwards showed just what he could do.

While Michigan looked bottled up on the ground for the first three quarters, Edwards took over the fourth. His two touchdowns on the day came off of 75 and 85-yard gains deep in the fourth quarter.

The fun thing about Edwards is his receiving ability as well. Last year, he accounted for 200 yards and a score off of just 18 receptions. Should Edwards decide to hop into the NFL Draft after this year, he will be highly sought-after due to his dual-threat, playmaking abilities as well as the fact that there will be plenty of treads left on the tires.

#4. Nicholas Singleton, Penn State

Penn State is legitimately ridiculous when it comes to recruiting and developing running backs. In a crowded running back room with a handful of other freshmen, Nicholas Singleton took the job with a vengeance.

Despite not leading the way in attempts, Singleton accounted for the most yardage for the Nittany Lions in 2022 with 1,061. On four occasions, including in the Granddaddy Of Them All, Singleton rushed for over 100 yards. In Penn State’s beatdown of Auburn, he ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

He was already an exciting and dangerous runner but he’s working on filling out his profile. Singleton only caught 11 passes last year and he’s been working in the offseason with the receivers to hone his craft. Give him a few more opportunities to make plays and he could very well find himself atop a list of the best returning Big Ten running backs a year from now.

#3. Miyan Williams & TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State

Personal bias could not go without mentioning both star running backs at Ohio State but logic made sure they were not ranked too high. Both Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson have their strengths and are very good at what they do.

Starting with Henderson, he made an immediate impact. His first touch as a Buckeye was a 70-yard touchdown catch off of a running back screen. As a true freshman in 2021, Henderson carried the load to the tune of 1,248 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground and 312 yards and four touchdowns through the air. It looked like he was going to etch his name alongside guys like Ezekiel Elliott and J.K. Dobbins.

Unfortunately, a foot injury nagged him all last year. It was obvious that he was not himself in 2022. In total, he finished with 571 yards and six touchdowns in just eight appearances. That foot injury reduced his ability to make the big cut and it affected his mental processing as well. There were times a whole opened up and a healthy Henderson would have hit it. Either way, a healthy Henderson is going to be incredibly difficult to keep off the field and even more difficult to bring down.

Now to Williams. He was not a guy many Ohio State fans expected to be able to make an impact when he came in. “Chop” has done everything and more. He’s never truly had the opportunity to be RB1 but he’s taken advantage of every opportunity. Last year, Williams split time with Henderson and Dallan Hayden but led the way with 825 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Williams is an actual wrecking ball of a man. He’s ridiculously difficult to bring down with deceptive speed. He’s already gotten NFL attention and will likely be a popular name once the 2024 cycle kicks off.

 

#2. Braelon Allen, Wisconsin

A pattern is emerging. Braelon Allen burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2021 for the Badgers, as most of these Big Ten running backs did.

After a slow start to his career, Allen went off. Over the course of the next nine games (including the Las Vegas Bowl vs Arizona State), Allen rushed for 1,219 yards…and that includes the paltry 47-yard performance against Minnesota. In total, Allen ran for 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns and earned Second-Team All-Big Ten honors.

2022 was more of the same for the superstar back. Allen eclipsed 100 yards seven times, including a season-high 165 yards and a score against Ohio State. To Allen, he didn’t feel like he improved. Considering he came to Wisconsin as a defender, it’s impressive that he’s developed into one of the top running backs.

It will be interesting how the Wisconsin offense uses Allen with Luke Fickell at the helm, of course.

#1. Blake Corum, Michigan

The player with the argument to be the top running back in the entire nation is the obvious choice to be the top Big Ten running back, returning or not.

What hasn’t Blake Corum done? As a sophomore in 2021, Corum broke out massively, rushing for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns. He did all of that while playing second fiddle to future fourth-rounder, Hassan Haskins. Corum kicked off 2021 with a trio of 100+ yard games and added another later on in the year against Northwestern. The expectations were sky-high for the 5’8″, 200-pound monster from Marshall, Virginia. He burst through those expectations and hit the moon.

As the primary back for the back-to-back Big Ten champions, Corum was near unstoppable. After starting slow (in terms of yards; 235 in three games), Corum kicked it into high gear. In that third non-conference game, Corum only rushed for 71 yards…but he punched it in five times! Did his defense help him out and set up multiple short fields? Sure, but Corum made sure the mighty Huskies of UCONN felt their mistakes.

After that “slow” start, Corum went nuclear. Over the next eight games, Corum rushed for over 150 yards per game and even eclipsed 200 yards in that classic against Maryland. Unfortunately, Corum did sustain a significant knee injury in the win over Illinois. He tried to tough it out against Ohio State — and, if we are honest, Corum could’ve broken off one of those 70+ yard touchdowns in the second half — but to no avail. Corum missed the rest of the season.

In total, the Michigan Man™ rushed for 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns. Corum racked up awards left and right, including the Big Ten Running Back of the Year and finishing seventh in Heisman Trophy voting.

Plain and simple, if Corum heals up and is 100%, Michigan’s floor is 11 wins and well within the CFP discussion.

 

Big Ten running backs

Photo courtesy:  Alex Gould/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

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