Big Ten West running dry?


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CHICAGO — Finding a feature running back to replace the departed Mark Weisman is a major theme of Iowa’s 2015 off-season and fall camp — a job that figures to go to LeShun Daniels Jr., Jordan Canzeri, or both.

Luckily for the Hawks, they aren’t the only team replacing their top rusher from a season ago.

Four of the top five rushers in the Big Ten came out of the West Division in 2014, and they all  have moved on to careers in the NFL.

Indiana’s Tevin Coleman rushed for 2,036 yards in 12 games, doing so while battling injuries. The Atlanta Falcons selected Coleman in the third round of the NFL draft.

Minnesota’s David Cobb finished the season with 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Gophers, then landed with the Tennessee Titans in the fifth round.

Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah compiled 1,611 yards and 19 touchdowns en route to his second-round selection by the Detroit Lions.

The most notable and decorated of the departures is Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, whom the San Diego Chargers drafted in the first round after he ran for more than 2,500 yards and 29 touchdowns as a junior — nearly earning him the Heisman Trophy.

Both Gordon and Coleman left early for the pros, which is good news for Iowa and its prospects in the West. Last season against the Hawks, Gordon ran for 200 yards in Kinnick in their November matchup, and Coleman tore off a 219-yard performance on Oct. 11, 2014, while averaging 14.6 yards per carry.

For the Badgers, the reality is they will likely have another premier running back in 2015. The program has had a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2004, utilizing the ultimate “next man up” mentality at the position.

In fact, even Wisconsin’s backup in 2014 almost finished with 1,000 yards. Now a junior, Corey Clement comes off a season in which he ran for 949 yards (eighth in the Big Ten), averaging 6.5 yards per carry.

In comparison, Weisman led Iowa with 812 yards and an average of 3.8. Gordon may have had a historically great season, but Wisconsin is optimistic that Clement can be the next great Badger running back.

“The starting tailback at Wisconsin … has been a position that’s had a lot of great players ahead of him,” Badger head coach Paul Chryst said. “And I think he’s confident that he can add to that list. And I think he’s excited for that opportunity, quite honestly.”

With Purdue graduating Akeem Hunt (949 yards last year), Northwestern and Illinois are the only two schools in the conference returning their top rushers from 2014. As a freshman last year, the Wildcats’ Justin Jackson ran for 1,187 yards and could be someone to watch in 2015.

Even with the loss of Weisman, it looks as if Iowa has gained some ground in the running game relative to its Big Ten West foes. Whoever gets the bulk of the carries in the Hawks’ backfield, averaging better than Weisman’s 3.8 yards per carry from last season would go a long way in aiding C.J. Beathard and the passing game.

Follow @CharlesGreen on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa football team.

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