NEWARK, N.J. – The Big Ten Conference traditionally has been a run-first league and nothing has changed halfway through the current season.
Sure there are teams that run the spread offense or some degree of it and there are teams that can air the ball out.
The bottom line, though, is that the run continues to be the strength of the league in this expansion season with Rutgers and Maryland joining the fold. Four of the nation's top seven rushers are from the Big Ten, and the number might have been higher had Paul James of Rutgers not gone down early with a knee injury.
Tevin Coleman of Indiana leads the nation in rushing, averaging 176.7 yards followed by Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin at 174.3. Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska is fourth at 146.3 and David Cobb of Minnesota is seventh at 136.5.
"You just look at the Big Ten for years and years and years and it always had a collection of great backs, every single year," Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said. "It's not different this year. And each week you have to be able to stop the run against those players because if you don't, it's going to be a long day for you."
The who's who for Purdue over the next month will be games against Cobb, Abdullah and Gordon. The season ends for the Boilermakers with a game against Coleman and Indiana.
"They are all good players but they are different players," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "They have different ways of being productive. The bottom line is they are all difficult to defend."
Ferentz got a firsthand view of Coleman this past weekend in a 45-29 win. The lightning quick junior ran for 219 yards, including touchdown runs of 83, 69 and 45 yards.
"He looked good on film," Ferentz said. "It's one thing seeing him on film and then you are on the field and witness him playing first hand. Really good players find a way to separate themselves out there and when he ran by our bench it was pretty impressive. Watching it on film it was 'Holy smokes this guy is a really good football player.'"
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said that Coleman would have gained close to 1,300 or 1,400 yards last season had he not been hurt when he was closing in on 1,000 with three games left in the season.
"We have to get the offensive line to be more consistent," Wilson said. "He (Coleman) is a home-run guy who plays fast, plays hard, practices hard, is a great kid and good football player."
Like Coleman, Gordon is a burner once in the open. He needed only 104 carries to hit 1,000-yard rushing in his career, and he already has rushed for 1,046 yards in six games this season. He has 13 touchdowns for the Badgers this season.
A senior, Cobb is a throwback power runner, a straight ahead, meat-and-potatoes type of guy. He has had two 200-yard games rushing this season.
Abdullah, who was held to 45 yards on 24 carries by Michigan State's vaunted defense recently, is a back that can do a little bit of everything. He has speed, can run with power and also be a slasher. He lead all active FBS backs with 6,089 all-purpose yards — the seventh player in Big Ten history to top the 6,000-yard plateau in all-purpose yards — and in number of 100-yard games rushing (21). The senior has had three 200-yard games rushing this season.
"They are really good and I think there is a commitment to running the football in this league because I think the coaches understand the importance of it," Nebraska coach Po Pelini said.
There is a reason to run the ball. The Big Ten is based in the north and the weather can influence games, especially in November and December when the cold, the wind, rain and snow make throwing the ball a little more difficult.
"I don't know if weather forces you to run, but it doesn't hurt," Ferentz said. "If you got a runner like that it would be crazy not to accentuate their strengths."
Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report