Last year the Big Ten turned in just two 1,000+ yard backs. For those in the know, this is kind of out of the ordinary as the Big Ten has had a history of ground-churning backs. From 2004-2008, the Big Ten had 5, 7, 6, 6, and 5 1,000 yard backs, respectively.
Putting history aside let us talk about the tailback who lead the select few (two) who surpassed the 1k mark. John Clay finished up a sensational sophomore season (take that Dr. Seuss!) with 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns. John Clay had people in Madison forgetting PJ Hill and hailing him the second coming of Ron Dayne.
And why not? Like Dayne and his predecessor, PJ Hill, John Clay is a powerback true to form. He stands 6'2 and weighs a reported 247 pounds! Unlike Hill, however, Clay has much more of a second gear.
With that said, here is a breakdown of the pros and cons on John Clay becoming the next 2,000 yard rusher in college football:
Averaged 22 carries per game
Returns 5 Offensive Line starters
Returns starting Quarterback and receivers
100+ yard games- 9 20+ carry games- 10 Avg. yards per game- 117
Good defense allows him to run deep into games
Analysis: While at the beginning of the year there was a little bit of uncertainty as to who would be the workhorse back at Wisconsin but Clay quickly put that debate to rest. He really hit full stride in the second game of the season and averaged 22 carries a game over the rest of the season. Another incredibly important key to reaching 2,000 yards is having all 5 starting offensive linemen returning. It definitely does not hurt that Wisconsin returns their starting quarterback and top receivers. A good defense also allows Clay to continue to run the ball deep into games.
John Clay got a good amount of carries and was consistent with his production putting in 9 games of 100+ yards while averaging 117 yards per game. At 6'2 and nearly 250 pounds, there is no worries of him being able to take the punishment as well as give the punishment. He is a big, powerful back with some decent wheels and will be running behind a road grading line.
Loses Garrett Graham at TE
Carries are capped off and given to Montee Ball
No 200+ yard games
No great fullbacks
Analysis: While Wisconsin does return the incredibly athletic Lance Kendricks at TE, he is more of a receiver than a blocker. Unfortunately for Clay, Garrett Graham graduated. Graham was a prototypical blocking tight end and really helped clear the field for Clay. Another point is that it seemed like Bret Bielema would let Clay get his carries and about 100 yards rushing before pulling his workhorse and giving carries to Montee Ball. This could be a cause for concern if Clay is shooting towards 2,000. For all his production and consistency, Clay never really had huge breakout games as witnessed by his lack of a 200+ yard game. Lastly, there have not been any fullbacks of mention since Chris Pressley and Bill Rentmeester.
Clearly John Clay has the physical ability and size to make it to 2,000 yards. He has enough of a passing attack on his team to keep opponents honest too. However, it seems as though the coach will continue to cap his carries and spread them to Montee Ball, thus limiting the possibility of reaching 2,000 yards. Although this is a possibility, I would say that Clay could still reach the coveted goal of 2,000 rushing yards in a season.