CHICAGO -- Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon are competing for the title of Big Ten's best running back, but they're not about to let that battle get in the way of their friendship.
Neither back was taking the bait this week at Big Ten Media Days when they had an opportunity to engage in a little smack talk, although Abdullah did say, with a laugh and a heavy dose of sarcasm, "I hate him" when discussing Gordon.
"Melvin, he's a great guy," Abdullah said. "We're not really rivals. Even in game week, we text all the time. We might trash talk here and there, just friendly trash talk. We're really good friends. We just want to prove, on a national standpoint, that we're good running backs, and not just in the Big Ten."
They both already have gone a long way to proving that point -- both players made NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks' list of the top 10 running backs in college football. Abdullah rushed for 1,690 yards (ninth in the FBS; first in the Big Ten) and nine touchdowns last season. Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 TDs in 2013 (10th in the FBS; second in the Big Ten).
Their impressive showings in 2013 had both backs considering entry in the 2014 NFL Draft and they commiserated about their decisions before opting to return. Abdullah is a senior, but Gordon has two years of eligibility remaining and he wasn't dropping any hints about his plans for the future this week.
For now, the two are focused on the season at hand, and they'll be giving each other scouting reports on common opponents, except perhaps the week leading up to the Nov. 15 meeting between their teams in Madison.
"We text throughout the season. He'll ask me what I think about this team and what they do and vice versa. We help each other out in that area," Gordon said. "We're there for each other."
Both are regarded as leaders of their respective squads, but Abdullah became one of the biggest stars of Big Ten Media Days. He was selected to deliver the annual student-athlete speech during the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon and was said to have received a standing ovation at the completion of his remarks.
That response couldn't have come as a surprise to Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell, who raved about Abdullah earlier in the day.
"He's a leader in every way. He's not only a vocal leader that inspires, but he's a 'show you' kind of leader. He shows you what it's about. He comes to work every single day with the same mentality, same attitude. He's going to bust his butt all day long until we're done. No question about it, and then he's going to stay after and do extra work. Those kinds of guys, like Ameer Abdullah, every locker room in the country needs an Ameer Abdullah. ... He comes in, works hard every day, and he doesn't expect a high-five for working hard because that's what you do. You wake up and go to work.
"When you got that kind of attitude and work ethic, it's contagious. It's been contagious to me. There's no doubt. How I've trained this year is 180 degrees different than how I've trained every year and I owe it to (Abdullah). I'm better for it."