This year has been a very disappointing one for the Big Ten. It came into the season with many an opportunity to prove that it could hang with the big time power programs of college football. They had out-of-conference matchups like Wisconsin vs. LSU, Michigan vs. Utah, and Michigan State vs. Oregon and Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech, all of which saw the Big Ten members on the losing end. As a result, the conversation of big time playmakers entering the Heisman race has eluded this once dominant conference, with the exception of Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, who is quickly climbing the ranks of Heisman voters.
Despite the downtrodden conference, there are two Big Ten running backs who deserve more attention than what they’re currently getting.
First is Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. Wisconsin seems to breed running backs and linemen, and Gordon is no exception. Had he entered the NFL draft last year, he likely would’ve been one of the first backs taken. Coming into this season, Gordon was on the radar of some Heisman analysts, but for some reason has seen a dip in recognition despite steady production. Wisconsin’s play calling and attack style in the first two games didn’t truly feature Gordon as well as it could have. The first two games saw Gordon with a combined 33 carries, a relatively average number for top running backs in their first two games of the season. However, in week one, Gordon averaged 8.8 yards per carry against a highly touted SEC defense. In the second half, when Wisconsin struggled to get anything going on offense, people found themselves asking…where’s our Heisman hopeful? This past week Gordon re-entered himself into the conversation with “video game” numbers, putting up a whopping 253 yards on 13 carries for five touchdowns against Bowling Green.
The nation’s best running back that you’ve never heard of can be found in Bloomington, Indiana playing for the Hoosiers. Running back Tevin Coleman is pounding college defenses like none other, and it’s been more than just this season. Last season, Coleman rushed for nearly 1,000 yards despite missing the final three games of the season. He earned All-Big Ten honorable mention as a sophomore and turned heads all year. This season, despite an unfortunate loss to Bowling Green, Coleman has still been able to put up big numbers and wear down opposing defenses. He’s currently averaging 8.6 yards per carry, and already has six touchdowns and nearly 600 yards through three games. He puts up video game stat lines like Gordon, and much like his Big Ten counterpart, has given no indication of slowing down. Coleman is currently third in the nation in rushing yards with 569 yards coming on just 66 carries. The nation’s leading rusher is Pitt’s James Conner with 699 yards on 110 carries, followed by Abdullah who has rushed for 625 yards on 92 carries. The numbers are eye opening, and if this trend continues Coleman will certainly wind up in the Heisman talks.
*Section Photo credit to Michael Hickey, Getty Images North America; Featured Photo (above) credit to and Jeff Hanisch (left) and Pat Lovell (right), USA TODAY Sports