Jordan Canzeri was essentially forgotten for most of the year as Iowa leaned on fellow running backs Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock.
Canzeri enters Iowa's most crucial stretch of the season more valuable than ever.
Canzeri did more than just give Weisman and Bullock a breather in Iowa's last game, a 38-14 romp at Purdue on Nov. 9. The sophomore revived Iowa's stumbling running game with 165 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
The Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) host Michigan (7-3, 3-3) on Saturday before closing out the regular season at Nebraska (7-3, 4-2). Iowa has an opportunity to double its win total of four from last season, and Canzeri and his fresh legs could play a key role in the final two weeks.
"He's certainly in the rotation now a lot more prominently than a month ago," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Not so long ago, Canzeri was the future at running back for Iowa.
But a knee injury opened the door for Weisman and Bullock to jump ahead of Canzeri on the depth chart.
Canzeri, a 5-foot-9, 192-pounder from Troy, N.Y., emerged as a valuable freshman in 2011. He even started an Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma after starter Marcus Coker was suspended and rushed for 58 yards.
When Coker left the team, the starting job appeared to be Canzeri's to lose. But he tore his ACL in spring practice and took a redshirt year in 2012, even though he could have come back and helped the Hawkeyes toward the end of the season. With Canzeri unavailable, Iowa turned first to Bullock and later to Weisman. Though both missed time with injuries, they showed enough to earn a head start on Canzeri heading into the offseason.
Canzeri came back this spring and at times looked like Iowa's best back. But that wasn't enough to unseat Weisman or Bullock.
The Hawkeyes leaned on Weisman heavily early in the season, and he responded with at least 100 yards in four of the first five games. Bullock had been his primary backup, with at least 10 carries in all but two games.
But once the Hawkeyes got into the heart of their Big Ten schedule, their running game slowed down considerably. Weisman has also dealt with lingering elbow and foot injuries, and Canzeri was a bright spot in a 28-9 loss to Wisconsin with a team-best 43-yard run.
Iowa wen to Canzeri as its No. 1 back against Purdue to give Weisman some much-needed rest, and Canzeri responded with the best game of his career.
Bullock didn't look bad either against the Boilermakers, gaining 85 yards on 10 carries.
"Yeah, Mark was a little beat up at that point, but I think he's feeling a lot better now. So we'll try to use everybody we can, like every position, but one is a little bit more prominent so everybody can see what's going on there," Ferentz said.
Canzeri likely won't get the most carries for the Hawkeyes against Michigan, but he's proven he can give Iowa a boost off the bench.
Though Canzeri has only played limited snaps, he has 338 yards on a team-high 6.9 yards per carry.
"If he's fresh and ready to go, we'll utilize everybody for sure," Ferentz said of Canzeri.
Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP