Best Legends RB: Mark Or Abdullah?
By Joe Coughlin
The Big Ten’s Legends Division looks like it’ll be a battleground in 2013. Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern and Nebraska will all be vying for the side’s top spot, hopefully forging an engaging storyline wire-to-wire.
The latter two teams are similar offensively. Both return dynamic quarterback-running back tandems they rely upon heavily. The feature backs — Venric Mark for the Wildcats and Ameer Abdullah for the Huskers — are also similar. Both are under 6 feet tall and less than 200 pounds. Both became the go-to guy a year ago. Both return punts, boast blazing speed and are expected to produce even greater things this fall.
All this begs the question: Who’s better?
The Case For Venric Mark
Mark flies. The rising senior, who was a Texas state track champ in the 100 and 200-meter dash, hits top speed within a few strides. And when he does, he gets into the secondary before linebackers can react.
In his first year as the man, Mark gained 1,366 yards to go with 12 scores. He added a receiving touchdown and two more on punt returns. His brain is just as quick as his feet. Mark sees and acts, hitting a hole and not looking back. There’s not much dancing in his game. He makes defenders miss by avoiding them, running around them or shifting his hips to dodge contact.
He’s not big at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, so he doesn’t bust through many tackles and he is susceptible to injury. Injuries knocked Mark out of three games last year (Michigan, Michigan State and Boston College).
The question for Mark is not talent. It’s durability. Fortunately for NU, Mark’s carries will never get too high thanks to dual-threat QB Kain Coulter and capable backup Mike Trumpy.
The Case For Ameer Abdullah
Abdullah is a shifty and powerful runner despite being 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds. You can’t take him down with an arm tackle or a shoulder. It takes an actual wrap or multiple defenders to get him to the ground, if you can get your hands on him.
Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead went down with an injury last year and Abdullah snatched the opportunity, gaining 1,137 yards with eight scores, adding 24 catches for 178 yards and two more TDs.
Abdullah runs wild. He hops and jukes his way to a clearing and jets up field. It’s exciting to watch him run. He’s a talented improviser and always keeps his feet moving. Unfortunately, what makes him successful also is his biggest weakness.
While finishing runs, Abdullah leaves himself open and unprotected. He lost four fumbles as a runner and three more as a return man. He can lose carries if that continues and Nebraska is in the hunt for another Big Ten title game.
Like Mark, however, Abdullah has a star QB handing him the ball, much of the time in read-option situations. Taylor Martinez also gained 1,000 yards on the ground a year ago and has no problem keeping it, especially if he loses trust in Abdullah.
The Winner: Venric Mark
Mark is a star in the FBS, and those who don’t know it should. The senior plays with a load of passion and there’s nothing holding him back from a first-team All-Big Ten selection.
He’s not just a top back in the league, either. In a bowl win over the SEC’s Mississippi State Bulldogs, Mark posted more than 100 all-purpose yards and scored.
Looking at Mark’s and Abdullah’s flaws, Abdullah’s fumbles worry me more than Mark’s durability. If Mark stays healthy, he’ll go big in 2013. He also gained a full yard more than Abdullah her per carry (6.0 to 5.0). Plus, Mark's ability to avoid tackles makes him more of a big-play threat.
That’s enough to give Mark the edge.