Four Big Ten products make Athlon's top 30 RBs

Athlon Sports released its Top 30 Running Backs for 2012, and a quartet of Big Ten backs made the list. Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, last year’s Heisman Trophy finalist, leads the Big Ten contingent, at No. 2., behind only South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore. Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead comes in at No. 3, while Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell (No. 14) and Michigan’s Fitzgerald Toussaint (No. 26) round out the Big Ten representatives.

For what it’s worth, former Penn State running back Silas Redd, now with USC, registers in at No. 11.

[Athlon.com: College Football’s Top 30- Running Backs for 2012]

Here’s what Athlon says about the four Big Ten backs:

2. Montee Ball, Wisconsin

“Ball emerged as one of the elite tailbacks in his junior season at Wisconsin, leading the nation with 1,923 rushing yards and an astounding 33 rushing touchdowns. His 39 total TDs last year tied the NCAA record originally set by Barry Sanders in 1988. Ball has rushed for at least 100 yards in 16 of the last 20 games dating back to November 2011. Don’t be surprised if Ball is on the podium in New York in early December accepting the Heisman Trophy.”

3. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska

“Burkhead thrived in his first full season as Nebraska’s No. 1 back, rushing for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averaged 106 yards per game in Big Ten play and earned first-team all-conference honors last season. Although quarterback Taylor Martinez should get better as a passer in 2012, the Cornhuskers will lean heavily on Burkhead to win games. The senior is capable of recording 300 overall carries and will also be a factor in the passing game, as evidenced by his 21 receptions last year. Burkhead is a sleeper candidate to watch in the Heisman race and should be one of the Big Ten’s top offensive players this season.”

14. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State

“With Kirk Cousins finishing his eligibility in East Lansing, the focus for Michigan State’s offense will shift back to the rushing attack. Bell is expected to be the Spartans’ workhorse in 2012 after rushing for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. At 6-foot-2 and 244 pounds, the junior brings an intriguing blend of power and speed and should surpass 1,000 yards for the first time in his career this year.”

26. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan

“The emergence of Touissant in late October took some of the pressure off quarterback Denard Robinson in the Michigan offense. He rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Purdue on Oct. 29 and then went on to run for 508 yards in the month of November, more than anyone in the Big Ten not named Montee Ball.”

Athlon also considered the top freshmen to watch, a list that included Illinois’ Josh Ferguson, Iowa’s Greg Garmon and Ohio State’s Bri’onte Dunn.

Ranked too high: Rex Burkhead – Look, Burkhead is a phenomenal running back, but I’m just not sure there are only two better ones than him in the nation. Not a slap in his face at all – I’d just put him more in the 5-7 range.

Ranked too low: Le’Veon Bell – Bell is primed for a huge season. He has all the tools, and as long as Andrew Maxwell can present some kind of passing threat, he’s going to challenge the aforementioned Burkhead for the Big Ten’s No. 2 back.

What about Ball?! While it’s hard to argue about being ranked the nation’s No. 2 running back, I’m not sure what else Ball could do to bolster his case as the top guy. Maybe score three or four touchdowns EVERY game? Whatever the case, considering what Ball has done the past year-plus and the fact the No. 1 guy is returning from a season-ending knee injury, it’s hard to imagine the Badger star isn’t the nation’s best back. At the very least, let’s wait to see what Lattimore does in live action.

Brent Yarina is a web editor and blogger for BTN.com. Find all of his work here and follow him on twitter at @BTNBrentYarina.

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6 Comments

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ukeone on 8/22/2012 @ 3:15pm EST Said:

I don’t know, Brent! If a national publication placed a B1G player in such high esteem, why would you (or the BTN, for that matter) have notion to question it? Is it BIAS (for your own ‘annual, traditional favorites’…& alma maters? Face it, Nebraska has received so much “in your face”…”ha! ha!”…”You’re not as good as you thought you were” rhetoric from you guys ever since they enterred the B1G (just take a good, ‘closer look’ at some of last year’s articles about Nebraska football and compare them to the long-time B1G members who have performed ‘similarly or less’. Clearly, there is some mudslinging[however ‘unintended’ you may say they are] in the general attitude of those articles.). Your (ummm) brand of journalism doesn’t sit very well with the ‘newcomers’ of this conference, and maybe it’s about time to show some ‘mutual respect’ for ‘all’ members of the B1G on an even note. (A little ‘encouragement’ from you guys wouldn’t hurt anyone either.) I don’t know about you, but I would be ‘happy’ to see a member B1G athlete (aka: Rex Burkhead…great athlete on the field, exceptional student in the classroom and outstanding citizen outside the borders of the university) recognized so highly on a ‘national’ level! After all, you are representing the B1G, aren’t you? I’m quite certain that ‘Rex’ is…as he’s just ‘that kind of person!’ And the Huskers (& Rex) would not only ‘love to win a conference title for themselves, but also (hopefully) a ‘national title’ for the school, HuskerNation …AND…’proudly’ for the B1G (& its member schools) as well! Or is Michigan and Ohio State still the ‘only’ schools ‘qualified’ for that honor?

    Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/22/2012 @ 3:20pm EST Said:

    Sorry, I don’t know what you are referencing. The fact that I said Rex was ranked too high? That’s just my personal opinion, not BTN’s. As I said, Rex is a terrific back, but I’m just not sure there are only two guys who are better than him. That’s not a slap in the face. As for the Michigan and Ohio State comment, I don’t even know what that means.

ukeone on 8/23/2012 @ 4:11am EST Said:

“Ranked too low: Le’Veon Bell – Bell is primed for a huge season. He has all the tools, and as long as Andrew Maxwell can present some kind of passing threat, he’s going to challenge the aforementioned Burkhead for the Big Ten’s No. 2 back.”
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Glad that’s just ‘your personal opinion,’ & not BTN’s…thanks a bunch for clearing that up for me, Brent. In ‘my opinion’ (omitting the ‘slap in the face’ comments, of course, because its really not necessary since we’re just sharing ‘opinions’)…Ball will have a lot of problems facing him this season, especially coming from ‘relentlessly attacking’ defenses that will likely cause him much difficulty (and pain…sorry for the prediction here) in reaching New York at season’s end (if he’s still standing, of course). And your prediction of the ‘aforementioned’ Bell reaching #2 in the B1G is a bit lofty, noting Athlon’s #14 national ranking of him (which isn’t really bad, either). Yes, he’s a ‘good’ back, but I’m not sure that there will be only ‘one’ back in the B1G better than him, either (since there will be a lot of new & talented backs not yet evaluated that will be hitting the dirt this fall)…but, that’s just my opinion, of course. I admit the Michigan & Ohio State comment was out of context (apologies)…but, it’s the ‘predictable and obviously biased’ comments you (and others) make throughout the season & year that make reading your articles so difficult for me. Getting back to this one, though: Bottom line is that Rex Burkhead was placed at #3 for good reason…and his accomplishments ‘both on & off the field’ justify his high ranking (at least the national press think so)…and, LONG-jumping your #14 ‘personal” favorite ahead of him like that was ‘indeed’ a slap in the face (at least that’s the way I took it)…but, I’m over-reacting (right?) because I’m just defending a guy who deserves ‘a lot more praise’ than what you (and others) are willing to give him. I hope to see Burkhead in New York, too…and if he wins, hoorah! And if Lattimore wins (most likely), sorry for ‘your’ Ball….but what do I know…I’m not a press expert.

    Brent Yarina, BTN.com on 8/23/2012 @ 10:59am EST Said:

    I’m sorry you feel that way. And I don’t dislike Burkhead at all. I don’t know where you are getting that from. I simply don’t think he’s the No. 3 back in the nation. Nothing wrong with that.

ukeone on 8/23/2012 @ 12:41pm EST Said:

Fair enough…good luck to ya!

Nathan Walters on 8/23/2012 @ 1:57pm EST Said:

Great list. I too agree that, at this point, Burkhead may be a little high. There is no player that’s more liked in Nebraska and has more esteem with other fan bases, and that might help with his lofty ranking.
With that being said, I do think it’s possible Rex (Sexy Rexy, Rex Bulkhead, Superman) really comes into his own this year. Taylor Martinez should have better passing and running statistics, and that will only open up holes for Burkhead to showcase his running ability.
He’s already a demigod here in the Cornhusker State, and an All-American year with a trip to New York City (possible but not probable with that whole Heisman thing) would surprise nobody in Lincoln.