Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
Welcome to the second instalment of Hoosier Huddle's Top Five Series. This week's edition will feature the top five running backs the Hoosiers will face in the regular season in 2015. Like we did with our previous top five, all the Hoosier Huddle writers ranked their running backs one through five. So without further adieu here are the top five running backs the Hoosiers will face off against in 2015.
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
Zeke, as he is affectionately called amongst Ohio State fans, burst onto the scene at the most important time for the Buckeyes last season averaging 167 yards per game over the last half of the season.
This year the hype is at an all-time high. Elliott is on almost every preseason watch list imaginable and should take home plenty of hardware when 2015 is over. He will be hard pressed to improve upon his numbers from last season (1,878 yards 18 TDs), but he will enter the year healthy and should be able to at least come close to those numbers if the Buckeyes play 15 games again. He has the speed to break off monster runs and the size at 6-foot and 220 pounds to run between the tackles. Elliot is clearly the best back IU will face in the regular season.
2. Leon Allen, Western Kentucky
When the Hilltoppers roll into Bloomington on Sept. 19 Hoosier fans may be worried about Brandon Daughty and the passing game, but don't sleep on their running game. WKU features on of the best runners in the nation in Leon Allen. Allen rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 13 TDs on the ground while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. But wait, there is more. Allen also was third on the team in receptions with 51 catches for another 476 yards and three touchdowns, so do not be shocked when you see him playing on Sundays.
Allen is the kind of do everything back that could give the Hoosiers fits on defense. He will be exciting to watch as a college football team, but have you shaking your head if you're an IU fan.
3. De'veon Smith, Michigan
This is where things got tricky. Smith led the Wolverines in rushing as a sophomore with 519 yards on 108 carries and reached the end zone six times on the ground. Smith took over for Derrick Green, who could've easily been on this list, after he was lost for the year with a collarbone injury.
At 5-foot-11 and 228 pounds smith is built like a bowling ball and is perfect to take on the physical nature of a full Big Ten season. Having two other capable backs should help Smith stay fresh.
A new coaching staff and scheme may lead to a better running game for Michigan where Smith is penciled in as a starter on Phil Steele's depth chart. Smith's numbers may not jump off the page as he will be splitting carries with Green and Drake Johnson.
4. Akeel Lynch, Penn State
Akeel Lynch led the 2014 Penn State team in rushing yards with 678 yards and four scores, and that was with a terrible offensive line. In 2015 Lynch will be running behind an improved line and should be able to crack the 1,000-yard mark.
Lynch will also be the bell cow for Penn State after splitting time with the now departed Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak. He possesses great speed and enough size to handle 200+ carries against Big Ten defenses. Lynch is also a threat catching the ball out of the backfield catching 10 balls for 69 yards. Look for this junior to be a featured weapon for Penn State in 2015.
5. Paul James, Rutgers
James has a ton of potential, but his career has been derailed by major injuries. In his career at Rutgers he has run for 1,266 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 14 games. That would be a pretty solid season, but those numbers are over parts of three seasons.
James should be back and starting for the Scarlett Knights to start the season, if he makes it to Oct. 17 to face the Hoosiers is a major question mark right now, but the kid can play and be a difference maker. When he is on the field, James has can score from anywhere and in any way. He has both a rushing and receiving score of 50+ yards to his name.
James could see his carries limited and strength saved due to the fact Rutgers has a few capable running backs on the roster. Desmond Peoples, Josh Hicks, and Robert Martin all return to take the load off of James while creating one of the deepest running back groups in the country.