When it was announced last week that Illini running back Josh Ferguson made the Doak Walker Award Watch List, no one should have been surprised. He's a dynamic young talent coming off a sophomore year in which he compiled 1,314 yards yards from scrimmage, which was good enough for 9th in the conference. Add in that this will be his second year in the offense and his first as the definitive number one running back and it all makes sense. But if you looked at various rankings of the Big Ten's top running backs over the offseason, you may have noticed something a bit odd.
Josh Ferguson didn't appear on very many and was out of the top ten when he did. I'm sorry, but that's just absurd.
We're talking about a back who averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year. That was good for 8th in the conference. One player ahead of him was a quarterback (Braxton Miller). Two were seniors (Carlos Hyde and Stephen Houston).
But he only finished 12th in the conference in rushing yards and 14th in rushing touchdowns! The difference between 10th and 12th place was only 179 yards. Nathan Scheelhaase ran for 271. Wes Lunt won't be coming anywhere near that total. He also won't be around to poach four rushing TDs either.
And all of that is without even acknowledging that he was easily the best receiver out of the backfield in the entire conference. Ferguson caught 50 passes last season, placing him 11th in the conference for receptions. Steve Hull finished 6th with 59. This is where we remember that Ferguson is a running back. The next highest reception total for a running back? 39. He averaged 10.7 yards per catch. Out of the backfield.
By no means is Josh Ferguson the traditional or stereotypical Big Ten running back. He's not going to power through defensive lines and beat linebackers into the dirt. But in a spread offense built to open seams for speedy backs with great hands, Ferguson is going to make a killing. Barring an injury, he should easily crack 1,500 yards from scrimmage this year. Passing 1,600 isn't out of the question either. That would be in the top five last year, in case you were wondering. But I forgot. He's not top ten worthy.