Does Nebraska really have to be top three in rushing to win the Big Ten?

Does it take an elite rushing attack to win the Big Ten?


In an interview with the World-Herald's Tom Shatel on Sunday, Nebraska coach Mike Riley reiterated his staff's commitment to running the ball. After a 37-29 bowl win over UCLA, Riley said he wanted the Huskers to be top three in the Big Ten in running the football. The profile of Big Ten champions, Riley intimated, includes an elite ability to run the ball.

Is that true? A deeper dive than what follows is probably warranted, but here are short run game profiles on the Big Ten champions (and starting in 2011, the two Big Ten division champions) since 2004. In 2012, we've included Ohio State, which beat both Wisconsin and Nebraska en route to a 12-0 season but was kept from the Big Ten title game because of NCAA sanctions. 

2004

Michigan: 153.6 yards per game (5th in the Big Ten), 3.8 yards per carry (6th in the Big Ten)

Iowa: 72.6 yards per game (11th in the Big Ten), 2.0 yards per carry (11th in the Big Ten)

2005 

Penn State: 212.8 (1); 5.1 (2)

Ohio State: 196.7 (4); 4.7 (7)

2006

Ohio State: 169.8 (3); 4.6 (2)

2007

Ohio State: 196.9 (4); 4.6 (3)

2008

Ohio State: 192.5 (3) 4.6 (5)

Penn State: 205.8 (2); 5.2 (1)

2009

Ohio State: 195.92 (3); 4.52 (4)

2010

Wisconsin: 245.69 (2); 5.47 (2)

Ohio State: 220.08(4); 5.23 (3)

Michigan State: 152.15 (7); 4.45 (5)

2011

Wisconsin: 235.57 (1); 5.42 (1)

Michigan State: 137.93 (11); 3.95 (9)

2012

Ohio State: 242.25 (2); 5.2 (3)

Wisconsin: 236.36 (3); 5.21 (2)

Nebraska: 253.36 (1); 5.36 (1)

2013 

Michigan State: 173.79 (8); 4.28 (6)

Ohio State: 308.64 (1); 6.80 (1)

2014

Ohio State: 264.47 (2); 5.75 (3)

Wisconsin: 320.14 (1); 6.92 (1)

2015 

Michigan State: 151.29 (9); 3.84 (12)

Iowa: 180.00 (5); 4.48 (5)

If you do the math, the Big Ten champions — conference and division, plus that Ohio State team — had an average ranking of 4.04, or about the fourth-ranked run game, over that 12-year span. In yards per carry, that number is a 4.13 ranking average, again about the fourth-most efficient run game in the league.

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