307 attempts, 1,923 yards, 33 TDs
A Heisman finalist and consensus first-team All-American as a junior, Ball’s outstanding 2011 season places him at the forefront in this year’s race for the Heisman. While the Big Ten features a talented collection of running backs, none of them came close to matching Ball’s numbers. The Missouri native recorded 18 more rushing touchdowns and 600 more yards than the next closest player last season. Although it will be difficult to top those numbers in his senior year, Ball only needs 18 total scores next season to tie an NCAA career-record.
(BRIAN SPURLOCK – USPRESSWIRE)
BigRedReport.com Reasoning: His decision to return for his senior season could go one of two ways. Either his production takes a hit because the opposing defenses are familiar with him or he continues to be the vanguard of Wisconsin’s Big Ten-leading offense. With expectations of the latter prevailing, Ball should once again reign supreme in the Big Ten, despite drawing all the attention from the opposition. It’s also worth noting that the three Heisman finalists who finished ahead of Ball last season left for the NFL, leaving Ball with a genuine opportunity to claim the hardware in his final go-around in Madison.
284 attempts, 1,357 yards, 15 TDS
In the shadow of Montee Ball’s tremendous junior campaign, Burkhead emerged as one of the nation’s finest halfbacks during Nebraska’s Big Ten inaugural season. Selected to the conference’s first-team alongside Ball, Burkhead was one of just three tailbacks in the conference to average 100 or more yards. He, alongside with quarterback Taylor Martinez, anchored a Husker offense that ranked third in rushing and fourth in scoring. Contrary to many of his counterparts, the Plano Senior High alumnus won’t make the highlight reels for his speed or shiftiness; however, it’s his blue-collar work ethic that fuels his ability to break the century mark on any given day– a mark he reached seven times in 2011.
BigRedReport.com Reasoning: Establishing himself as an All-American caliber halfback, Burkhead will once again be the focal point in the Nebraska offense as they set their sights on capturing their first Big Ten title. In order to win the Legends Division, though, the Huskers will need Burkhead to replicate, if not better, his numbers from 2011. With a full season under his belt in which he started all 14 games, the Doak Walker semifinalist, who fell just two carries shy of a school-record, is poised to become the nation’s premier halfback and cement himself among some of Nebraska’s all-time greats.
244 attempts, 1,241 yards, 7 TDs
Despite off-the-field problems and serving as a backup in 2010, Redd developed into a dependable option for the Nittany Lions as a sophomore. His breakout campaign garnered him second-team All-Big Ten honors as he finished in the top 25 nationally in rushing yards. His emergence helped alleviate a Penn State team that was hampered by inconsistency at the quarterback position. While new head coach Bill O’Brien has hopes of finding a solution to the team’s woes under center, Redd will once again remain the focal point of the Nittany Lions’ offense considering how dangerous he is because of his ability to slash through the opposition’s defense.
BigRedReport.com Reasoning: O’Brien is bringing his spread offense to Happy Valley with the hopes of creating a high-octane offense centered on Redd. Although Penn State has struggled to become an offensive juggernaut recently, ranking 11th in the conference in scoring last season, O’Brien’s NFL-style offense will be a perfect fit for the junior. With uncertainty surrounding the quarterbacks, Redd’s role will be similar to that of 2011, but he should see an increase to his 244 carries from a year ago. While Ball and Burkhead will receive the national recognition among the conference’s tailbacks, Redd, barring any injury, should quietly manufacture a terrific season with hopes of reaching the 1,400-yard mark and 15-touchdown plateau.
182 attempts, 948 yards, 13 TDs
After unseating Edwin Baker halfway through the season in 2011, Bell is quickly becoming the hottest name in the Big Ten. Finding himself in Mel Kiper’s top 25 prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft in addition to receiving high praise from numerous other college football analysts, Bell proved he has a knack for finding the endzone thanks in large part to his 6-foot-2, 238 pound. frame. Finishing fourth among Big Ten halfbacks with 13 scores, Bell was named an honorable mention All-Big Ten second team despite only starting the last six games as a sophomore.
Bell is now the guy in Lansing
BigRedReport.com Reasoning: Even though he only had a small sample size in 2011, carrying the ball just 182 times, Bell is well on his way to becoming a household name in college football. With the Spartans losing Kirk Cousins to the NFL Draft and inserting Andrew Maxwell under center, Bell will take on a much larger role as a junior. Because of the expected run-first gameplan for Michigan State, the Ohio native has the potential to be a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2012 and a darkhorse for the conference’s offensive player of the year award.
187 attempts, 1,041 yards, 9 Tds
Toussaint began making a name for himself when conference play opened up last season. Eclipsing 100-yards in five games against Big Ten opponents, Toussaint became the 31st Wolverine to break 1,000 yards in a season. Despite carrying the ball less than 200 times, the All-Big Ten honorable mention led the conference’s top ten runners with 5.6 yards per carry while ranking seventh in yardage. More impressive, though, was the fact that between all of the runners who reached 1,000 yards, Toussaint registered the least amount of carries – 34 attempts less than his quarterback, Denard Robinson.
BigRedReport.com Reasoning: The Youngstown native benefits from the threat his quarterback has on opposing defenses. Because defensive coordinators need to take in account the fact that Robinson can hurt them with his arm and legs, Toussaint is able to go about his business as a second-option in the eyes of his opponents. But by no means is he a second-tier caliber player. Head coach Brady Hoke believes the redshirt-junior has the potential to be a 1,600-yard rusher in 2012, which would put him alongside Montee Ball as one of the nation’s best halfbacks. While that may come across as a stretch, there’s no question that Toussaint will be seeing plenty of touches this season as one of the cornerstones of one of the nation’s top rushing attacks.
*** Big Red Report's Josh Harvey and Kyle Phillippi contributed to these rankings and are not that of Fox Sports. ***