#1- Mike Hart-Junior-Michigan
#2- Antonio Pittman-Junior-Ohio State
#3- Albert Young-Junior-Iowa
#4- Tyrell Sutton-Sophomore-Northwestern
#5- Tony Hunt-Senior-Penn State
#6- Pierre Thomas-Senior-Illinois
#7- Javon Ringer-Sophomore-Michigan State
#8- Kory Sheets-Sophomore-Purdue
#9- Amir Pinnix-Junior-Minnesota
#10- Chris Wells-Freshman-Ohio State
This was a very tough list to assemble because the margin between #1 and #3 is very slim. Cases could be made for Hart, Pittman, or Young to be number one, but Hart gets the edge because of his past big-time performances and his leadership. It might sound like a cliché', but as Hart goes, so goes Michigan. During an injury-filled 2005 that featured poor offensive line play, Hart was unable to match his performance of 2004. Still, he helped Michigan to victories in key games against Michigan State and Penn State. The only real question about the Wolverines junior ball-carrier is will he stay healthy the entire season? If he does, he is more of an impact player than his immediate competition and is the clear #1.
Antonio Pittman and Albert Young are players that really emerged last year as sophomores. Their numbers are very similar (Young 249 att. 1,334, 8 TDs, Pittman 243 attempts 1,331 yards, 7 TDs) and both come from traditionally tough running teams. Pittman will likely have to split carries with Maurice & Chris Wells but that does not take away from the talent this young man has. Young has a very solid line in front of him and should carry most of the load in the backfield.
I wrote before the 2005 season that Tyrell Sutton would make a splash as a freshman for the Wildcats. The Akron native was a cannonball in his first collegiate season, rushing for 1,474 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Wildcats return most of their starting offensive line and get Trevor Rees back this year, so expect more big things from Sutton.
The Nittany Lions are rebuilding their offensive trench but return one of the leagues premier power runners in our fifth ranked tailback, Tony Hunt. Hunt had an exceptional 2005, rushing for 1,047 yards along with six touchdowns.
Over in Champaign, Pierre Thomas is a do it all type back for the Illini. Thomas rushed for 664 yards, caught 28 passes for 225 yards and six total touchdowns while also handling return duties.
At #7, Michigan State's Javon Ringer is a very nimble and speedy back that fits well into the Spartan spread offense. As a freshman last season, Ringer rushed for 817 yards off 122 carries along with five scores.
Purdue's Kory Sheets is #8 on the list and he will be relied on heavily this year for the Boilermakers now that Jerod Void and Brandon Jones are gone. Despite some fumbling and injury issues last season, Sheets still turned in solid production with 104 carries for 571 yards and 10 touchdowns.
At Minnesota, Amir Pinnix has the tall task of making up for the loss of Laurence Maroney to the NFL and Gary Russell to academic troubles. Pinnix did show some promise last year rushing for 467 yards and one score off 78 carries. The Golden Golphers must replace their interior line but Minnesota has been productive with every back they've featured in recent years and Pinnix should be no exception.
I'm sure slotting Chris Wells in the top-10 when he hasn't played a down of college ball is highly unpopular, but I can't see Wells not being a factor this year. This youngster is physically ready to play right now and he performed at a high level against top competition at the Army All American Bowl. He will have to share carries with Antonio Pittman this year but expect to see glimpses of a future star (and maybe even Heisman candidate) in the making.