After passing on opportunities to declare for the NFL draft, running backs Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska and Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin are the country's top two returning rushers.
Both are using this spring as a start for polishing their games and enhancing their draft stocks for 2015.
Nebraska and Wisconsin, which will compete in the Big Ten's new West Division, are mighty happy to have their stars back.
Abdullah went over 1,000 yards for the second straight year, and his 1,690 yards was the fourth-best total in program history.
He said his priorities are to hang onto the ball better and improve in pass protection. He said defensive end Randy Gregory and linebacker Zaire Anderson have made him better in that area this spring.
"I ask them to give me their worst every day — don't hold back, don't 'brother-in-law' me, don't treat me good just because I'm on your team," Abdullah said. "If I can block those guys, I plan to be pretty good in the season."
Asked how important Gordon's presence will be this fall, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said, "Huge is probably not a big enough word."
Gordon averaged 123.8 yards and scored 12 touchdowns last season. He said he felt in his heart that staying at Wisconsin another year would be best for him.
"I want to be a complete back, and I feel there are some things I still needed to work on," he said.
A look around the Big Ten West:
ILLINOIS: Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said he's in no rush to decide on a quarterback to replace four-year starter Nathan Scheelhaase. The candidates are Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey and Reilly O'Toole. Cubit said there's separation in the competition, but he wouldn't say who is ahead. "You see it, but it's not that big a deal right now because you've got to be fair," he said.
IOWA: The Hawkeyes have to replace three linebackers who combined to start 104 games and make 985 tackles. The front-runners are Travis Perry, Quinton Alston and Reggie Spearman, all of whom saw action in every game last year. QB Jake Ruddock is "perfectly healthy" after having knee problems and being generally banged up at the end of last season, coach Kirk Ferentz said.
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