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Ranking The Top 5 Returning Big Ten Running Backs For 2021

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As the 2021 college football season approaches, we started doing a series of the top returning players by conference and skill position. So far, we’ve tackled in-depth looks at running backs in the SEC and Big 12, but now let’s turn our attention to the Big Ten.

The conference almost didn’t have a football season in 2020, and as a result, the Big Ten ended up with far fewer games than other conferences. When simply looking at players’ total statistics, it’s difficult to compare the numbers between conferences, so a per game measure is needed.

But even at that, we know numbers don’t always tell the whole story. This list goes beyond what the top returning running backs in the Big Ten did last season. It’s about where we expect them to be in 2021, given the talent, opportunities and supporting cast.

So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Honorable mention: Noah Cain, Penn State, Chase Brown, Illinois

5. Jalen Berger, Wisconsin

Noah Cain could’ve easily made this list, had it not been for a season-ending injury in 2020 and a loaded backfield for Penn State. Chase Brown also might have a breakout season coming after rushing for 540 yards and three scores for Illinois last season.

But instead of either of those guys, I’m predicting a big step forward for Wisconsin running back Jalen Berger. Think about it. When was the last time the Badgers didn’t have one of the top running backs in the Big Ten? Jonathan Taylor, Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale, Melvin Gordon, James White, Montee Ball, James Clay … the list keeps going and going.

Yes, Wisconsin’s rushing offense took a slight step back in 2020, but Berger was only a true freshman. He also paced the team in rushing yards with 301 to go along with two touchdowns on the ground.

There’s a smoothness to the way Berger runs, and his ability to contribute as a pass-catcher could also be beneficial for the Badgers. Is he a top-shelf NFL talent like Taylor or Gordon? Maybe not, but he’s going to be productive in Madison.

RELATED: Ranking The Top 5 Returning Big 12 Running Backs

4. Hassan Haskins, Michigan

Hassan Haskins is a guy who has been around awhile. In his first season in Ann Arbor back in 2018, he made no offensive contributions, but since then, he’s been an important part of the Michigan backfield.

In 2019, Haskins and Zach Charbonnet had a fairly even split of touches (127 to 157). 2020 looked a lot different, however, as Haskins more than doubled his counterpart’s touches (61 to 25), and over the last two games, he was handed the ball 40 times.

He turned those carries into 212 yards and three touchdowns, leading many to believe that the larger workload should continue this upcoming season. That especially holds true for the 6-foot-1, 220-pound bruiser, now that Charbonnet is gone.

3. Master Teague, Ohio State

Master Teague was originally set to take over for J.K. Dobbins when he left for the NFL. But when OSU added Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon last offseason, Teague once again found himself in a rushing committee. And since quarterback Justin Fields is a powerful, capable runner, Teague had even fewer chances to shine.

Now Sermon and Fields are gone, and Teague will have an opportunity to earn a sizable workload in Columbus. Granted, he’ll still have to share the backfield wieth other talented runners such as five-star true freshman TreVeyon Henderson, but Teague’s experience will allow the coaching staff to break in a new starting quarterback.

Through the first three years of his career, he’s produced 1,409 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Expect those numbers to increase significantly for the 5-11, 226-pound junior in 2021.

RELATED: Ranking The Top 5 Returning SEC Running Backs

2. Tyler Goodson, Iowa

Despite being a lowly-rated three-star coming out of high school, Tyler Goodson has become one of the top running backs in the Big Ten. In 13 games during his first season, he totaled 804 yards from scrimmage (638 rushing, 166 receiving) while scoring five times. Since then, he has stepped things up a notch.

The rising junior was named First Team All-Big Ten this past season after totaling 914 yards (762 rushing, 152 receiving) in only eight games. His ability as a runner and pass-catcher gives the Hawkeyes a valuable, versatile member in their backfield.

And now that fellow running back Mekhi Sargent has moved on after a successful career at Iowa, Goodson should be relied on even more heading into 2021. As long as he stays healthy, Goodson is almost a lock to crack 1,000 rushing yards. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him flirt with numbers much higher than that, especially when you’re talking about total yardage.

At 5-10, 200 pounds, he isn’t the biggest, but he’s more than capable of handling a large workload.

1. Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota

The top spot on this list is a no-brainer.

Despite playing only seven games last season, Mohamed Ibrahim rushed 1,076 yards and 15 scores on 201 carries. His 153.71 yards per game ranked second in all of college football, and he was clearly the focal point of Minnesota’s offense, even though the passing game had Tanner Morgan and Rashod Bateman.

Sure, the Golden Gophers were a colossal disappointment at 3-4, but Ibrahim was named Big Ten Running Back of the Year for a reason. He also made First Team All-Big Ten and AP Third-Team All American.

In 27 career games, Ibrahim has rushed for 2,840 yards and 31 touchdowns, which means his per-game average sits at 105.2 yards. Granted, he offers next to nothing as a receiver with only 15 career catches, but his ability as a pure running back is next level

At 5-10, 210 pounds, Ibrahim brings a valuable skill set to the table. He can break tackles through power or make defenders to miss altogether, which is why he’s able to create yardage after contact so frequently. Get your popcorn ready because he’s going to be fun to watch.

Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.

Written by Clint Lamb

Clint Lamb is a College Football Writer for OutKick. Managing Editor for Roll Tide Wire. Sports radio host for The Bullpen on 730/103.9 The UMP. Co-host for The 'Bama Beat podcast through The Tuscaloosa News and TideSports.com.

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