First and foremost, this isn't any kind of dig at new Iowa running backs coach Chris White. It isn't, it isn't, it isn't.
The following post was stimulated by a tweet White posted last week. (@IowaCoachWhite) I was genuinely curious if White was right, or how close he was.
White was talking about Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock of Iowa, both juniors-to-be.
If you quantify who has the best returning 1-2 tandem in college football this season on sheer 2012 statistics, Weisman and Bullock aren't your guys. If you quantify it by saying you think they form the best RB duo in the nation, that's your opinion and you're fully entitled to it.
When healthy, both were pretty good. Weisman played in 10 games, but only had double-digit carries in six. He totaled 815 yards on 159 carries. Bullock played in only six of Iowa's 12 games. He had double-digit carries in each game. he had 145 rushes for 533 yards. So that's a total of 304 rushes for 1,348 yards for the team that ranked just 101st nationally in total rushing.
A duo that had twice as many rushing yards last season as Bullock and Weisman was Kent State's Dri Archer (1,429 yards) and Trayion Durham (1,316). Archer averaged 8.99 yards per rush. Durham was more the horse, carrying 276 times to Archer's 159.
Another great returning pair is at Tulsa, a fact Iowa State knows too well. The Cyclones dealt with Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas twice last year, and will play at Tulsa this September. Watts rushed for 1,108 yards, Douglas for 936.
Numbers aside, I'd say the best running back pairs in the Big Ten this year are at Iowa and Wisconsin. Or at Ohio State and Nebraska. Or at Northwestern. Or somewhere else. There's no way to know how a No. 2 guy will show, or how much he'll have to show. Last year, Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska was called on when Rex Burkhead got hurt, and Abdullah came up big. Ditto Weisman at Iowa when Bullock was injured.
But Wisconsin has had a killer 1-2 punch for years, and 1-2-3 punch some of those.
Here are the conference's teams and their top two returning RBs by total yardage last season (All players are listed in the class they'll be in this fall)
Northwestern (1,715 yards): Venric Mark (sr.) 226 carries-1,366 yards. Mike Trumpy (sr.) 76-349. Note: Returning senior quarterback/sometime wide receiver Kain Colter rushed for 894 yards in 2012.
Nebraska (1,461): Ameer Abdullah (jr.) 226-1,137. Imari Cross (soph) 55-324. Note: Returning senior quarterback Taylor Martinez rushed for 1,019 yards last season.
Wisconsin (1,427): James White (sr.) 125-806, Melvin Gordon (soph) 62-621.
Iowa (1,348): Mark Weisman (jr.) 159-815, Damon Bullock (jr.) 145-533.
Penn State (1,258): Zach Zwinak (jr) 203-1,000. Bill Belton (jr.) 60-258.
Minnesota (1,187): Donnell Kirkwood (sr.) 218-926. Rodrick Williams Jr. (soph) 57-261.
Ohio State (1,185): Carlos Hyde (sr.) 185-970. Rod Smith (jr.) 32-215. Note: Returning junior quarterback Braxton Miller rushed for 1,271 yards last season.
Indiana (1,049): Stephen Houston (sr.) 161-749. D'Angelo Roberts (jr.) 83-300.
Illinois (883): Donovonn Young (jr.) 131-571. Josh Ferguson (soph) 75-312.
Michigan (756): Fitzgerald Toussaint (sr.) 130-514. Thomas Rawls (jr.) 57-242.
Purdue: (544): Akeem Hunt (jr.) 42-335. Brandon Cottom (jr.) 23-209.Michigan State (71): Nick Hill (jr.) 21-48. Jeremy Langford (jr.) 9-23. (Le'Veon Bell accounted for 92 percent of the Spartans' rushing yardage last season.)