Ranking the B1G's most productive running back duos of the last decade
On the surface, it seemed like a black-and-white premise. Come up with the B1G’s running back duos in the last 10 years and let the numbers do the talking.
Well, the numbers did the talking, but there were a lot of voices to consider.
First of all, can it really be considered a “duo” if there isn’t a second back getting significant work? In my opinion, it cannot. So while backs like Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell are two of the top RBs in B1G history, they aren’t on this list because they weren’t part of true two-back systems.
Having said that, a duo doesn’t necessarily have to operate in the traditional sense. Sometimes a productive tandem is filling in for another back and not letting a team skip a beat.
To evaluate these duos — many of whom played behind different offensive lines against different competition — production was the ultimate decider.
With that, feel free to tell me how wrong I am about this list.
Requirement — Team must have secondary back who rushed for 500 yards OR scored six rushing touchdowns.
10. 2013 Ohio State
Lead back — Carlos Hyde: 1,521 yards, 15 TDs
Secondary option — Jordan Hall: 536 yards, 8 TDs
Total — 289 rushes, 2,057 yards (7.12 YPC), 23 TDs
Just like in 2006, the Buckeye backfield found a way to shine in spite of the fact that it shared looks with the B1G Offensive Player of the Year. Hall was huge when Hyde was suspended early in the season, and even though his role lessened, he qualifies this list for averaging two scores per game in non-conference play.
9. 2015 Indiana
Lead back — Jordan Howard: 1,213 yards, 9 TDs
Secondary option — Devin Redding: 1,012 yards, 9 TDs
Total — 422 rushes, 2,225 yards (5.27 YPC), 18 TDs
The only group from this past season that earned a top-10 spot was Indiana, which had two backs finish in the top five in rushing. Howard was elite when healthy, and Redding was elite when Howard wasn’t healthy. Many will remember Redding’s 227-yard performance in the Pinstripe Bowl, but he had three multi-touchdown games before that and he only had single-digit carries twice.
8. 2014 Michigan State
Lead back — Jeremy Langford: 1,522 yards, 22 TDs
Secondary option — Nick Hill: 622 yards, 9 TDs
Total — 383 rushes, 2,144 yards (5.60 YPC), 31 TDs
The 2014 season truly was the year of the B1G running back. Lucky for MSU, it had two that were capable of looking like feature backs. Langford and Hill were a deadly combination for a unit that set a school record for total offense. And not surprisingly, in Hill’s two worst games of the season, MSU suffered its only two losses. Langford was the Spartans’ stud, but Hill played a big part in a top-five finish.
7. 2014 Indiana
Lead back — Tevin Coleman, 2,036 yards, 15 TDs
Secondary option — D’Angelo Roberts, 493 yards, 6 TDs
Total — 377 rushes, 2,529 yards (6.71 YPC), 21 TDs
I don’t think people outside the B1G appreciated how good Coleman was. He turned in the sixth-best single-season rushing total in B1G history. With all due respect to Zander Diamont, but Coleman did most of his damage without a passing threat at quarterback. Roberts had a double-digit carry in eight games, but his production tapered off when Diamont took over. With a healthy Nate Sudfeld, this duo could’ve been in the top three.
6. 2010 Wisconsin
Lead back — John Clay: 1,012 yards, 14 TDs
Secondary option — Montee Ball: 996 yards, 18 TDs
Total — 350 rushes, 2,008 yards (5.74 YPC), 32 TDs
If this was “B1G’s best running back trios in the last 10 years,” this group would’ve been No. 1. James White, Wisconsin’s third-string running back in 2010, got the least amount of work and still ran for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to B1G Freshman of the Year honors. He got so much action because Clay and Ball obliterated B1G defenses and led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl. Clay couldn’t stay healthy down the stretch, but he and Ball were the ideal 1-2 punch behind Wisconsin’s dominant line.
5. 2012 Wisconsin
Lead back — Montee Ball: 1,830 yards, 22 TDs
Secondary option — James White: 806 yards, 12 TDs
Total — 481 rushes, 2,636 yards (5.48 YPC), 34 TDs
B1G fans might only remember Ball for breaking a new all-time record seemingly every week, but he had a capable, experienced understudy in White. In his third season as a backup, “Sweet Feet” had another double-digit touchdown season. With all the wear and tear Ball took by the time he was a senior — though still an extremely productive one — he needed White to deliver like he did. White had four 100-yard games, including a four-touchdown effort in a B1G Championship rout that clinched another Rose Bowl berth for the Badgers.
4. 2007 Michigan State
Lead back — Javon Ringer: 1,447 yards, 6 TDs
Secondary option — Jehuu Caulcrick, 872 yards, 21 TDs
Total — 467 rushes, 2,319 yards (4.97 YPC), 27 TDs
If a running back sets a school record for rushing touchdowns in a season and he isn’t even the primary runner, that’s quite the 1-2 punch. That’s what Caulcrick did as a senior playing alongside Ringer, who was MSU’s its first 1,000-yard rusher in six years. Ringer’s best season came in 2008, but he and Caulcrick did plenty of damage in Mark Dantonio’s first season in East Lansing. Many might remember that MSU lost six games that season by an average of five points, all of which by single digits. But Ringer and Caulcrick’s production shouldn’t be forgotten.
3. 2011 Wisconsin
Lead back — Montee Ball: 1,923 yards, 33 TDs
Secondary option — James White: 713 yards, 6 TDs
Total — 448 rushes, 2,636 yards (5.88 YPC), 39 TDs
Go figure that even when Wisconsin had a dynamic quarterback in Russell Wilson, it still used multiple backs to pound the rock. And while White served his complimentary role well as a sophomore, it was Ball’s season that will always be remembered. The consensus All-American was a Heisman finalist during a year in which he tied Barry Sanders’ FBS record for touchdowns in a season. He also broke an NCAA record with 13 straight multi-touchdown games and he scored the most points ever by a non-kicker. It’s a miracle that White even got 141 carries.
2. 2013 Wisconsin
Lead back — James White: 1,444 yards, 13 TDs
Secondary option — Melvin Gordon: 1,609 yards, 12 TDs
Total — 427 rushes, 3,053 yards (7.15 YPC), 25 TDs
Wisconsin went from having these monstrous, run-you-over backs like Ron Dayne, P.J. Hill and John Clay, to using shiftier, open-field burners like Gordon and White. You can debate who the primary back was — they were separated by 15 carries even though White started — but both had starring roles. They finished in the top 10 among Power Five rushers in 2013, a feat rarely accomplished by any duo in the 21st century. They were also the only pair on this list to both rush for 1,400 yards. Even at Wisconsin, that’s noteworthy.
1. 2014 Wisconsin
Lead back — Melvin Gordon: 2,587 yards, 29 TDs
Secondary option — Corey Clement: 949 yards, 9 TDs
Total — 490 rushes, 3,536 yards (7.21 YPC), 38 TDs
Of all the dynamic Wisconsin RB duos, none match the production of that dominant 2014 group. Gordon’s record-breaking year was one of the best not only in B1G history, but in FBS history. He set the single-game FBS rushing mark — in three quarters — in a 408-yard demolition of Nebraska. On top of that, the Heisman Trophy finalist set the single-season B1G rushing record by a whopping 478 yards. What made this duo one-of-a-kind was the fact that Clement would take over in the second half and picked up where Gordon left off. He did that against Illinois, Maryland and Rutgers, not to mention the fact that he ran for 100 yards in an Outback Bowl upset of Auburn. Not many backups can rip off 6.5 yards per carry, but Clement was exceptional. That, coupled with Gordon’s record-breaking season, made the 2014 group the best of the best among Wisconsin’s line of dominant duos in the last 10 years.