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Ranking the Big Ten: Running back

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Northwestern's Justin Jackson is looking to once again rank among the Big Ten's best rushers this season.
Associated Press

As the 2016 season draws nearer by the day, it’s time to start taking a look at some of the top players to watch in the Big Ten Conference.

We continue our Ranking the Big Ten series today by taking a look at the running backs, which despite losing some big time talent should once again be one of the conference’s biggest strengths this season.

1. Justin Jackson, Northwestern

The top returning rusher in the Big Ten, Jackson will once again be the guy who makes Northwestern’s offense go in 2016.

The definition of a workhorse running back, Jackson racked up 1,416 yards and led the league with 312 carries as a sophomore last year. However, the bulk of his production came between the 20s, as he only managed five rushing touchdowns.

Jackson should get plenty of opportunities to up that total this season, especially considering that Northwestern again appears to be limited in its number of legitimate red zone threats.

2. Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Considering Penn State’s long line of talented running backs, Barkley’s 2015 campaign becomes even more impressive.

Barkley broke the school’s freshman season rushing record with 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns and ended up ranking 16th on PSU’s all-time single-season list. His output was good enough to earn consensus second-team All-Big Ten honors.

With the Nittany Lions breaking in a new starter at quarterback, don’t be surprised if Barkley ends up following with an even more productive campaign in 2016.

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Will Wisconsin's Corey Clement finally reach his full potential in 2016?
Associated Press

3. Corey Clement, Wisconsin

After serving as the No. 2 behind Melvin Gordon for his freshman and sophomore seasons, 2015 was supposed to the year that Clement finally emerged as the All-American running back Wisconsin fans had been counting on him to become.

However, lingering groin/hernia injuries plagued him all year, as he was only fully healthy for a couple of games all season and was limited to 50-80 percent in the other games he did play.

Now healthy again with an improved offensive line that is expected to be back to the level of previous strong Badger fronts, this season could finally be when Clement lives up to his lofty potential.

4. L.J. Scott, Michigan State

Scott broke onto the scene as a true freshman last season by leading Michigan State in rushing yards (699), carries (146) and rushing touchdowns (11) and became the first freshman to lead the Spartans in rushing since 2009.

At 6-0, 238, Scott is one of the most physical runners in the Big Ten, especially when it comes to punching in scores in the red zone. His 11 touchdowns on the ground last year not only ranked third in the conference, they were also the most by an MSU freshman since 1996.

The highlight of Scott’s stellar freshman debut came in the Big Ten Championship win over Iowa, as he rushed 14 times for 40 yards during the Spartans’ game-winning 22-play, 82-yard drive. Among those 14 carries were three third-down conversions and the clinching touchdown with 27 seconds remaining.

5. Devine Redding, Indiana

Redding established himself as the power in Indiana’s potent offensive punch last year, rushing for 1012 yards on a whopping 226 carries - which ranked third in the Big Ten only behind Jackson and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott (289).

His workload should be lightened up a bit later in the year when juco transfer Camion Patrick returns to action after tearing his ACL this spring.

That said, Redding will be counted on to shoulder the bulk of the Hoosiers’ running attack for at least the first half of the year, and with how productive that offense has been over the years, more big numbers should be in store.