Continuing with our series highlighting the best players at each position group Iowa will face in 2017, it’s time to take a look at the running backs.
The Hawkeyes will be challenged to shutdown some of the better running backs in the country this season, and the best five they’ll play against are all in the Big Ten.
Let’s take a look.
5. LJ Scott, Michigan State
Hawkeye fans are all too familiar with Scott, as he was the main man on that epic game-winning drive in the 2015 Big Ten Championship game. He’s a load and quite frankly, he is the embodiment of Spartan football. So far in his two-year collegiate career, Scott has piled up 1,693 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground.
4. Mike Weber, Ohio State
Weber burst onto the college football scene in 2016 with a solid freshman campaign. Stepping in to fill the gigantic shoes left behind by Ezekiel Elliott, Weber ran for 1,096 yards and nine scores, averaging six yards per rush. Look for all of those numbers to improve in 2017 as his role in the offense increases.
3. Rodney Smith, Minnesota
Despite splitting carries, Smith was still able to rush for 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He’s a game-breaker with the type of speed that makes him a threat to score on every carry. New Gopher head coach P.J. Fleck is no stranger to successful rushing attacks. As such, expect Smith to repeat his stats from last season at a minimum, more than likely improving on those numbers.
2. Justin Jackson, Northwestern
Jackson has quietly been one of the most dominant backs in all of college football over the last three seasons. He has rushed for over 4,100 yard and 30 touchdowns so far in his career. He saved his best performance for last in 2016, popping off for 224 yard and three touchdowns against Pitt in the Pinstripe Bowl. His production has increased from year to year, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him flirt with the 2,000-yard mark in 2017.
1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Barkley is the total package. He’s got the size, speed and vision that allows him to take over games and kill the will of opposing defenses. He has posted over 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground in two seasons. In 2016, he developed into more of a legit pass-catching threat, hauling in 28 balls for 402 yards and four scores. Penn State will go as far as Barkley will carry them in 2017, and that final destination could very well be the College Football Playoff.
Don’t sleep on:
Markell Jones, Purdue
Jones is Purdue’s best player and as such, he’s the focal point of their offense. Unfortunately, he’s not surrounded by much else, allowing opposing front sevens to load the box against the Boilermakers and limit his production. Despite that, he’s still put up nearly 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns during his two seasons in college so far. Look for new head coach Jeff Brohm to further cater the offense to Jones’ skill-set, increasing his production and effectiveness.