It may not be nationally recognized, but the Minnesota Golden Gophers have one of the best backfields in the conference. Senior starter David Cobb had a breakout season in 2013.
He is likely to receive the majority of carries this season. He is the most complete back on the roster with the physicality to run between the tackles and the speed to turn any carry into a big play.
The reserves combine a wide array of complementary skill sets. Rodrick Williams Jr. and Donnell Kirkwood are big backs that aren’t going to run past any defender, but will run through them. Redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards is a speedster that can turn the corner and score from anywhere on the field.
The backfield could get even deeper if Jeff Jones becomes eligible. The four-star, nationally recognized Minneapolis native fell just short of his necessary ACT score to be eligible this fall. Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune lays out the background and what’s next really well.
Also joining this fall is Rodney Smith, who should complement Jones. Because of the amount of depth in the backfield, Smith is likely to redshirt this season. Redshirt sophomore Jake Kirsch (transferring in from Rochester Community and Technical College) and Josh Parks are walk-on newcomers this fall.
Cole Banham will finish his eligibility this fall after transferring in from Minnesota State-Mankato three years ago. He has seen action in three games, but only has two carries listed as his statistics.
The fullback position is a little bit messier. Miles Thomas transferred in with a teammate from Butler County Community College. His teammate has left the team, leaving just one other player listed on the roster as a fullback. Tyler Hartmann has more experience with the Gophers playbook, but Thomas played more during the spring.
Projected Depth Chart
First Team - 27 David Cobb, SR, Killeen, Texas (Ellison High School)
Second Team - 35 Rodrick Williams Jr., Lewisville, Texas (Lewisville High School)
Third Team - 32 Berkley Edwards, RS FR, Novi, Mich. (Chelsea High School)
Fourth Team - 20 Donnell Kirkwood, RS SR, Delray Beach, Fla. (Atlantic High School)
Fifth Team - 16 Jeff Jones*, FR, Minneapolis, Minn. (Washburn High School)
The Rest - 31 Cole Banham, RS SR, Lakeville, Minn. (Minnesota State-Mankato); 44 Jake Kirsch, RS SO, Rochester, Minn. (Rochester Community and Technical College); 37 Josh Parks, FR, Chisago Lakes, Minn. (Chisago Lakes High School); 24 Rodney Smith, FR, Jonesboro, Ga. (Mundy’s Mill High School)
First Team - Miles Thomas, JR, Downs, Kan. (Butler County Community College)
Second Team - Tyler Hartmann, RS SO, Andover, Minn. (Andover High School)
* - if eligible
The Rest of the Division
Illinois Fighting Illini - Josh Ferguson returns as the starter. Backup Donovonn Young returns as well.
Iowa Hawkeyes - Starting running back Mark Wesiman and fullback Adam Cox. Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock, second and third, respectively, on the Hawkeyes in rushing last season, return as well.
Nebraska Cornhuskers - Ameer Abdullah returns as the starter. Imani Cross and Terrell Newby also return as the top reserves.
Northwestern Wildcats - Venric Mark was granted a medical redshirt and will return as the starter. Last season’s leading rusher, Treyvon Green, also returns.
Purdue Boilermakers - Akeem Hunt returns as the starter. Brandon Cottom and Dalyn Dawkins also return as the top reserves.
Wisconsin Badgers - James White is graduated. Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement are expected to handle the workload. Gordon was the Badgers’ leading rusher last season.