When there is talk about the best running back in the Big Ten, Wisconsin sophomore Melvin Gordon and Ohio State senior Carlos Hyde dominate the conversation. For some reason, Nebraska junior Ameer Abdullah always gets overlooked.
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"I know one thing: I wouldn't trade him for anybody," Huskers coach Bo Pelini said in his weekly Monday news conference. "I know there are other good backs out there, but obviously, I believe so much in Ameer that, like I said, I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the country -- not only as a player, but as a person, as a leader and what he brings."
Abdullah (5-foot-9, 190 pounds) leads the Big Ten in rushing at 138.5 yards per game; he has rushed for six TDs and is averaging 7.1 yards per carry. Abdullah has a string of five consecutive 100-yard games and has reached that plateau in seven of the Huskers' eight games this season. He has had at least 20 carries in four games and at least 17 in seven contests.
Unlike Hyde and Gordon, Abdullah is an accomplished receiver, and he also has spent time as a kick and punt returner. Abdullah has good speed, running a 4.49 in the 40, and is shifty and explosive. He can run between the tackles effectively as well as turn the corner. He also has shown he is a willing pass blocker.
Abdullah became the Huskers' feature back when Rex Burkhead was injured midway through last season, and he responded with a 1,137-yard season. This season, he is on a pace for an 1,800-yard season if the Huskers go to a bowl.
Only three Nebraska running backs ever have reached the 1,600-yard mark: Mike Rozier did it twice, and Ahman Green and Lawrence Phillips each did it once; Rozier and Phillips were first-round picks, and Green -- the leading rusher in Green Bay history -- was a third-round pick.
The Huskers play at Michigan on Saturday, and Abdullah will be running behind a banged-up offensive line. Senior guard Spencer Long, one of the best linemen in the Big Ten, was lost for the season in early October. Another guard, junior Jake Cotton, suffered a minor knee injury in last week's win over Northwestern and, at the least, won't be 100 percent this weekend. Andrew Rodriguez, who normally starts at right tackle, has worked at guard in practice this week, and could move inside against the Wolverines. Starting center Cole Pensick also could start at guard; in that scenario, junior Mark Pelini -- Bo's nephew -- would start at center.