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Tevin Coleman, Melvin Gordon rank 1-2 in nation in rushing

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Andy Manis/Associated Press
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon has rushed for at least 175 yards in four consecutive games.

You have to forgive Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald if he's a little tired of gearing up to face a star running back.

"There's pretty talented running backs, especially in the (Big Ten) West," he said during his weekly Monday news conference. "It's a different week, a different stud."

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The Big Ten owns the top two rushers nationally, along with three of the top four and four of the top eight. And if scouts want to see the top backs in action, all they need to do is watch Northwestern video.

This week, Fitzgerald's defense is preparing for Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, who is fourth nationally in rushing at 146.3 yards per game. Last week, it was Minnesota's David Cobb, who is eighth at 136.5 yards. And two weeks ago, it was Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. No. 2 nationally at 174.3 yards.

At least Fitzgerald and Northwestern don't play Indiana, which features the nation's leading rusher in Tevin Coleman (176.7 yards per game).

Here's a quick look at each back.

Abdullah: Abdullah (5-foot-9, 200 pounds), a senior, leads the nation with three 200-yard games this season, and he also has 10 rushing touchdowns -- one more than he had all of last season, when he ran for 1,690 yards. "Abdullah's consistent production and outstanding skills are quickly making him one of the fastest risers in the 2015 draft class," NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks wrote in late September. And while Abdullah hasn't been used much as a receiver this season (seven receptions), he had 50 catches combined in 2012 and '13.

Cobb: Cobb (5-11, 229), a senior, has had two 200-yard games and is on his way to setting a school single-season rushing record. He lacks elite speed, but is a downhill runner with good vision and balance. Cobb should become the first Gophers running back drafted since 2006, when Laurence Maroney -- whose single-season record Cobb is on the way to breaking -- went in the first round.

Coleman: The nation's leading rusher toils in anonymity in his own league, overshadowed by Gordon and Abdullah. He also has had two 200-yard outings this season. Coleman (6-1, 210), a junior, is averaging 8.8 yards per carry, an eye-opening average for a guy with 120 attempts. He has had eight consecutive 100-yard games dating to last season, the longest such streak in the nation; he also has had 15 consecutive games with a rushing TD, which also is the longest such streak in the nation. "There is always a place in the NFL for a big running back capable of being a three-down player," Brooks wrote late last month. "Thus, scouts are excited about the potential of Coleman." Coleman has eight rushes of at least 40 yards, four of at least 60 yards and three of at least 70 yards this season, and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio -- whose Spartans face Coleman and the Hoosiers on Saturday -- said during his weekly news conference that "when you look at the statistics of his big runs, they're staggering."

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Gordon: Gordon (6-1, 206), a junior, currently is riding a streak of four consecutive games with at least 175 yards, and he has had two four-TD outings this season. He is a member of College Football 24/7's Midseason All-American team, and NFL Media analyst Charles Davis says Gordon is a potential first-round pick -- notable because no running back has been taken in the first round in the past two drafts. Brooks long has been a Gordon fan, saying he is "a big-play runner with outstanding speed and quickness." Brooks also has pointed out that "Gordon effectively runs between the tackles on counters and powers, exhibiting enough strength and power to run through arm tackles in traffic. As a result, NFL scouts are encouraged by his ability to be a feature back at the next level."

One conference dominating near the top of the rankings isn't rare. The Big Ten had three of the nation's top six rushers in 2008, with runners finishing second (Iowa's Shonn Greene), fourth (Michigan State's Javon Ringer) and sixth (Ohio State's Beanie Wells) in the rankings. The Pac-12 had two of the top four last season: No. 2 Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona and No. 4 Bishop Sankey of Washington. Still, the extent to which the Big Ten is dominating the top of the rushing charts this season is note-worthy.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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