Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, June 12, 2015
The Big Ten East is home to two of the conference?s top backfields at Ohio State and Michigan State. In fact, the Buckeye backfield may be the best in the nation. Quarterback issues loom at Michigan, Rutgers and Maryland, while Penn State, Indiana, Michigan and MSU need to solidify their running back spots.
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Here is a ranking of the Big Ten East backfields.
1. Ohio State. Loaded. In fact, this may be the best backfield in the nation. It begins with running back Ezekiel Elliott, a top Heisman contender who spearheaded Ohio State?s drive to the national title last year with 220 yards rushing in the Big Ten title game; 230 in the Sugar Bowl and 246 in the title game. Elliott finished with 1,878 yards rushing and 18 TDs. Curtis Samuel is another weapon. And keep an eye on incoming freshman Mike Weber. The Buckeyes will famously try to manage a quarterback situation that features three capable options: Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. How will this work out?
2. Michigan State. Any backfield with quarterback Connor Cook will be effective. But the Spartans need a new lead back with Jeremy Langford gone. Madre London and Gerald Holmes are in the mix. Incoming freshman LJ Scott could be the man. He comes to East Lansing with a fat scrapbook and touted as the top recruit in MSU?s 2015 Class. Delton Williams isn?t currently enrolled after off-field issues.
3. Penn State. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is looking to rebound from a sub-par sophomore season that saw him toss 15 picks with 12 touchdown passes. He had 20 TD tosses and 10 interceptions in 2013. He also was sacked 44 times and under duress on numerous other occasions playing behind a line that often struggled. Akeel Lynch is back after pacing the club with 678 yards rushing last season. The staff also has a collection of talented newcomers. True freshman Saquon Barkley is the team?s most hyped incoming player. And keep an eye on redshirt freshman Nick Scott.
4. Indiana. Getting quarterback Nate Sudfeld back is huge. The offense bogged down when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury at Iowa on Oct. 11. He threw for 1,151 yards with six touchdowns and three picks before the injury. IU was 4-2 when Sudfeld went down; it went 1-6 the rest of the way. No way the Hoosiers can replace Tevin Coleman, an all-time great who ran for 2,036 yards in 2014. UAB transfer Jordan Howard, who ran for 1,587 yards last year, could be a reasonable facsimile. Tommie Mister is coming off a knee injury but has potential.
5. Michigan. What?s going to happen at quarterback? Iowa transfer Jake Rudock may supply an answer amid a crowded pack of contenders that also includes Shane Morris and Alex Malzone, among others. Michigan ranked No. 107 in the nation in pass efficiency last year; that must improve. The rushing attack also needs oomph. USC transfer Ty Isaac enters the fray. He is a 6-3, 240-pound force. Derrick Green and De?Veon Smith, the team?s top returning rusher (519), provide good options in a backfield that needs to be more productive.
6. Maryland. The running back depth is excellent with the likes of Brandon Ross and Wes Brown back. Ross ran for 419 yards in 2014; Brown is the top returning pass catcher with 21 receptions. C.J. Brown is gone. And his heir at quarterback is Caleb Rowe, whose 2014 ended because of a knee injury suffered prior to the Iowa game on Oct. 18. He has a good arm but lacks the read-option skills of Brown, completing 34 of 54 passes for 489 yards last season with five touchdowns and four interceptions. Perry Hills and Shane Cockerille are in reserve and saw lots of action in the spring.
7. Rutgers. The battle to replace quarterback Gary Nova remains intense between Chris Laviano and LSU transfer Hayden Rettig. The situation at running back is more clear: The Scarlet Knights have myriad options led by Paul James-whose 2014 was truncated by a knee injury after four games–and Josh Hicks. Justin Goodwin, Robert Martin and Desmon Peoples are other backs capable of totting the rock. Peoples led Rutgers with 447 yards rushing in 2014.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|