The Wisconsin Badgers lost their top two running backs from a season ago when both Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale graduated. With the duo off trying to make NFL rosters, the Badgers are looking to the future and a stable of young running backs in 2017.
Last year, Clement carried the bulk of the load for Wisconsin, rushing 314 times for 1,375 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and 15 scores. Ogunbowale was next in line with 91 carries for 506 yards (5.6 per carry) and five scores. Ogunbowale added 24 catches for 208 yards and a score, while Clement caught 12 passes for 132 yards.
With that duo — who totaled 2,221 yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns last year — gone from the roster this season, who wil step up to fill the void?
Here's a look at the leading candidates to step in and be the bell-cow for Wisconsin this season.
One of the more experienced backs returning for Wisconsin this season despite his sophomore status, Shaw emerged as the third option behind Clement and Ogunbowale last season. He was third on the team with 457 rushing yards (on 88 carries) and averaged a solid 5.2 yards per carry. He scored five touchdowns, as well.
Shaw is the probable day one starter for the Badgers next season. We've already seen flashes from him last season, and he looks like he could be the real deal for the Badgers.
The unknown among the possible contributors, Chris James is ready to take the field after sitting out a transfer season last year. Before transferring from Pitt, James ran for 437 yards on 87 carries (5.0 yards per carry) and scored four touchdowns, eerily similar numbers to Shaw's production as the No. 3 guy for the Badgers last year.
James will get his chance to play this fall. The question is, can he take the No. 1 spot?
The forgotten running back it seems, Deal returns for his junior season after playing just five games last season while dealing with injuries. He had just 32 carries for 164 yards last season, but was used extensively in 2015, totaling 503 yards on 117 carries, scoring six touchdowns.
If Deal is healthy in 2017 he will be in the mix to handle a major share of the running back duties this season.