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Best B1G Leaders RB: James White or Carlos Hyde

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James White produced good numbers in 2012 despite the presence of Montee Ball. Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images.
Carlos Hyde got a fraction of the attention granted to Braxton Miller, but his 970 yards and 16 touchdowns played a big role in Ohio State's unbeaten season. Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images.

The Big Ten may be falling out of love with the powerful run game that defined it for years, but that doesn’t mean it lacks the personnel to handle the job.

Some of the nation's best backs make their home in Big Ten country, and two of them will try to run their teams to the top of the Leaders Division.

Wisconsin junior James White and Ohio State senior Carlos Hyde return and should each put up impressive numbers on the stat sheet. In fact, it’s entirely possible – since each has help in his respective rushing attack – they compile similar numbers, making distinction complicated. Therefore, I’m going to do it before the season even starts.

Who’s the better back, White or Hyde?

The case for: James White

White didn’t really play behind Doak Walker Award-winner Montee Ball; he played with him. White’s an experienced, versatile back who Wisconsin uses all over the field. So he didn’t steal carries from Ball, he complemented him.

In his career, White’s gained nearly 2,600 yards with 32 scores. He’s also had nine 100-yard games and caught 30-plus balls – all that as a “backup.”

What distinguishes White is that he’s fast – head-turning, blur-inducing fast. The Badgers direct him to the edge frequently, and he gets there in a hurry, beating anyone to the sideline and if he’s able to turn up field, look out.

And he's more than fast. White is an incredible improviser, which makes him good out of the “Barge,” Wisconsin's pistol-like formation. He can take a direct snap, find a hole and hit it quickly. He’s an average size back at 5-foot-10, which allows him to duck and dive defenders until a clearing appears.

Usually small backs can wear down once given a full load. It won’t happen to White, who is in an uber-competitive position battle with redshirt sophomore Melvin Gordon, who may have more potential than White or Ball.

The case for: Carlos Hyde

In 2012, Hyde wasn’t the feature running back for two games and wasn’t the focus of Urban Meyer’s offense (that designation belonged to Braxton Miller). Still, Hyde scored 16 times and gained 970 yards. If the Buckeyes weren’t on probation, Hyde would have played two more games while he was at his best. His total could have been closer to 1,200 and 20.

Hyde is a bruising back. Videos of his physical prowess in practice are on YouTube. At 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, Hyde powers through holes. He’s a between-the-tackles bulldozer with unexpected elusiveness.

Hyde has incredible balance and a pro’s ability to shift his pad level when he has to. It’s clear when Hyde runs he’s on a mission. He has a nose for the paint, whether it is in the end zone or the first-down yard line.

Miller will again guide OSU’s offense and no back under Meyer has ever gained 1,000 yards. So Hyde should be fresh, but he is too good to keep his hands off the ball. In OSU’s three toughest games – two overtime wins and a one-point win over Michigan State – Hyde had less than 20 carries. That tells you something.

The winner: Carlos Hyde

Known as El Guapo, at least by some, Hyde’s skill set is what’s handsome. He can do it all. Hyde’s power game only sets up his speed game. While he’s not as blazing as White, Hyde can get the job done in the open field. His long strides do him a favor down the sideline and he can stay on his feet thanks to his strength.

Hyde has the kind of game that can wear down defenders on all levels as a game and season progresses. That’s the type of back I want in the Big Ten.

You can’t go wrong with White, however. He’s going to get his, but I think if he was alone in that backfield, he’d be easier to prepare for than Hyde.

That’s how you distinguish the two. Take each out of his situation and pick one to be your guy. Not by much, but by enough. Hyde always knows how to get that extra yard.