Who are the top running backs in the Big Ten for 2011?

Last week the top wide receivers in the Big Ten were profiled. This week the focus will be on the top running backs in the Big Ten for the 2011 season.

The running back position is what has defined the Big Ten conference and separates it from every other conference in college football.  The Big Ten is known for having physical running backs that lower their shoulder pads to run over opposing defenders.

The Big Ten in the last decade had three running backs win the Doak Walker Award. Larry Johnson was the first to win the award in 2002, Chris Perry followed in 2003, and Shonn Greene won in 2008.  Out of all the conferences in college football, the Big Ten had the most Doak Walker Award winners in the last decade.

The 2011 season in the Big Ten will once again feature dominant running backs who have the potential to be crowned college football’s best running back.

Here is a look at the top running backs in the Big Ten who could potentially win the Doak Walker Award.


Montee Ball (Wisconsin)

He showed at the end of last season that he has what it takes to be the feature back on a Big Ten team.  In his last 5 games of 2010 season, Ball averaged 155.4 rushing yards-per-game.  If he can put these types of numbers up for an entire season, not only will he have a chance to win the Doak Walker Award, but also he will have a shot at the Heisman Trophy.

Edwin Baker (Michigan State)

At 5’9”, Baker is a very powerful running back who can easily shed tackles but also has the speed to break long runs at any point in a game.  He proved this last season by having three carries of 50 yards or more.  In 2010 Baker rushed for 1,201 yards and had 13 touchdowns.  If Baker wants to be considered for national awards this season he is going to have to be more consistent against teams with good defenses.  Last season Iowa and Illinois shut him down by holding him to under 30 yards rushing.

Marcus Coker (Iowa)

Coker was just a freshman last season when he burst onto the national scene after his performance in the Insight Bowl.  In Iowa’s third straight bowl win, Coker rushed for 219 yards against Missouri.  Coker will handle majority of the carries this season and could be primed to for a big year with Iowa’s experienced offensive line.

James White (Wisconsin)

With White’s blazing speed he truly is a change-of-pace type of running back.  Every time he touches the ball he has the potential for a big play.  He showed this big play ability last season when he averaged an astonishing 6.7 yards-per-carry while rushing for 1,052 yards.  With John Clay no longer on the team, White’s carries will increase and he will have a great opportunity to improve his rushing yards from last season.

Rex Burkhead (Nebraska)

Burkhead was one of the most multidimensional running backs last season in the Big Twelve.  Nebraska used him in a variety of ways and he excelled at it.  Last season Burkhead rushed for 951 yards and average 5.5 yards-per-carry.  Burkhead is the type of running back that succeeds in the Big Ten and he could have a huge impact for Nebraska as they transition to a new conference.


* –Montee Ball photo credit: AP Photo via daylife.com

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