The Wisconsin Badgers: College Football’s True “Running Back U”

After reading these 11 reasons, you won't have any doubt

Camp Randall Stadium, 2018

6. This Success is Year After Year:

Six different Badger runners have had 20+ 100 yard rushing games in their careers. Six different guys! That’s a huge number, folks. And that’s just in the last 12 years. Think about that. That means six different runners have had at least an entire season and a half of 100 yard rushing performances in the last 12 years alone.

Sixty-four times (As of Dec. 7, 2019) a Badger running back ran for more than 200 yards in a single game all-time. This one just speaks for itself. What a number.

As any football fan knows, 200 yards rushing in a single game is no joke.

Five different Badger runners have posted 300+ yard rushing games all-time. Some programs have never had a runner go for 300 yards on the ground. In Wisconsin, it’s a rite of passage for a starting running back.

A whopping 34 times a Badgers runner has gone for 1,000+ yards in a season. However just seven of those came before Alvarez came to Madison in 1990. So the amount of success in recent years is almost unimaginable.

Three different Badgers have rushed for 2,000 yards in a season (Dayne, Gordon and Taylor). Most programs in college football haven’t had one running back hit the 2,000 yard mark even once.

The rest of the Big Ten has combined for three 2,000+ yard rushers all-time. Badgers: three. Rest of the Big Ten All-Time: three.

Okay, Nebraska had a runner go for 2,000+ when they were in the Big 12. Count it if you want. Badgers: three. Rest of the Big Ten: four.


Jonathan Taylor hit the 2,000 yard mark again in the Rose Bowl of his junior season. That gives the Badgers four such seasons, adding to their Big Ten record.

Dobbins also hit 2,000 yards this year.

As a random stat, six times a Badger running back has scored five touchdowns in a game (five different runners).

7. Dominance Over The Big Ten:

The Big Ten is known as one of the two best conferences in all of college football (along with the SEC), where the sport is played at the highest collegiate level. It’s also a conference known for pro-style play, dominant running attacks and stout defenses.

Even so, the Badgers are so far above all other Big Ten programs at running the ball.

Only seven running backs in Big Ten history have rushed for 5,000 career yards. Three of them are Badgers. Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana and Northwestern have all had one runner accomplish the feat.

Five of the top 10 all-time career rushing leaders in Big Ten history are Badgers. No other program has more than one running back in the conference’s top 10.

This is the MOST INCREDIBLE STAT you may ever read:

Since 1993, a Badger running back has led the Big Ten in rushing 14 times. That’s over 50 percent of all seasons played in the last 27 years.

Or to phrase it differently, when it comes to a running back leading the Big Ten in rushing since 1993 it’s:

Wisconsin: 14 times. Rest of the Big Ten: 14 times.


In 2019, Taylor of the UW and J.K. Dobbins of OSU tied to lead the conference in rushing yards.

Since ‘93, no other Big Ten program has had a running back lead the conference in rushing more than three times. Again, the Badgers have had a running back lead the conference in rushing 14 times.

Michigan, Penn State, Iowa and Northwestern have all twice had a running back lead the Big Ten in rushing since 1993. Ohio State has led the conference three times in that timeframe.

For more context on Taylor’s and Dobbins’ respective 2019 seasons, Taylor amassed 26 total touchdowns (leading the Big Ten and the Country) whereas Dobbins finished with a respectable 23.

Again, because of the 2019 season, the Badgers have won over 50% of the rushing titles of the last 27 seasons (14 of the last 27 seasons).

The reason we go back to 1993 is because that’s the year that Wisconsin won its first ever Rose Bowl and that’s when they began their tenure of being NCAA’s “Running Back U”. It’s a fantastic cut-off for when Wisconsin started to lay claim to this prestigious title. It was the genesis of it all.

8. Dominance Over The Big Ten – Continued:

Yes, this needed two separate bullet points to really drive the point home. The three best rushing seasons in Big Ten history are all held by three separate Badgers. Melvin Gordon, Ron Dayne and Jonathan Taylor. The top three.

Including Taylor’s 2019 season, six of the 11 best rushing seasons in Big Ten history (and eight of the top 16) will have been recorded by Wisconsin Badgers.

No other program in the Big Ten has more than one running back in the top 10 all-time in individual rushing season conference totals. Three weeks from now the Badgers will have seven. Read that again.

The two highest single-season rushing touchdown totals in Big Ten history are both held by Wisconsin Badgers (Ball and Gordon).

No surprise there. Although, nationally, if you were to ask casual college football fans many would wrongly assume a Ohio State or Michigan runner would be atop this list.

Downtown Madison, 2018

Only two players have ever scored more than 30 total touchdowns in a single-season Big Ten history… you guessed it, both were Badgers. Ball (39 TDs) and Gordon (32 TDs).

The next closest total in Big Ten history is 26 TDs (shared by Taylor and two other players from Indiana and Ohio State).

So, the top three seasons (in terms of total touchdowns scored) are represented by the Badgers.

Seven times a Badgers has ran for 20+ touchdowns in a season. For reference, Michigan has never had a player rush for 20 touchdowns in a single season.


9. National Awards Won By Running Backs:

The Wisconsin Badgers have had two Heisman Trophy winning running backs in program history — Alan Ameche (1954) and Ron Dayne (1999). Ball finished 4th in 2011, Gordon finished 2nd in 2014 and Jonathan Taylor finished 5th in 2019. Five Badgers have finished in the top five in Heisman Trophy voting.

The Doak Walker Award is awarded annually to the best running back in the entire country. Five different times a Wisconsin Badgers running back has won the Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the nation (four different runners). Which is the most all-time. Texas has won it four times with just three different runners. Texas Tech, Alabama, Arkansas and Stanford have each won it twice.

Yeah, like we said… Wisconsin is “Running Back U.”

Eight other times a Badgers back has been a semi-finalist for the award and four times a Wisconsin back was a finalist without winning it.

The Walter Camp Award has been won by two Badgers running backs (Ron Dayne and Alan Ameche). Three other times a Badger has been named a semi-finalist (Ball and Taylor twice).

Ron Dayne won the AP Player of the Year in 1999, the lone Badgers to ever win it.

What about All-Americans?

Seven times a Badger runner has been named Consensus All-Americans (four times the runners were unanimous selections). We’ll see is Taylor is unanimous by the time voting is done in 2019.

Since 1999, Wisconsin has had six running backs be named Consensus All-Americans. Three times the runners were unanimous selections. Again, we’ll see if Taylor gets this designation again.

The rest of the Big Ten COMBINED has had three unanimous Consensus All-American running backs in that same span.


Yes, that means the rest of the Big Ten, with all of those historic, powerful programs, has as many indisputably-elite runners as the Badgers have had over the last 20 years.

We’ll see if Jonathan Taylor adds more to this legacy once All-Americans are announced for the 2019 season.

10. Big Ten Awards Won By Running Backs:

Let’s talk about the Big Ten Running Back of the Year award for a moment.

What’s in a name?

This award, which goes to one of the premier positions in football in one of college football’s most historic conferences, is named after two Badgers — appropriately. Not an Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State or Nebraska runner. This is no mistake, the Big Ten conference knows the ample history of the Badgers at the position.

This award is officially called the Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year Award.

The first player to ever win it was, also appropriately, Wisconsin runner Montee Ball. Since it was created in 2011, a Badgers has won it five times in nine years — 55% of the times it’s been awarded.

Jonathan Taylor won the award in 2019 without much argument.

But the madness doesn’t end there.

Five times the Wisconsin Badgers have had a running back win the Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year Award (it’s been around since 1990).

The next closest Big Ten team, when it comes to having a running back win the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Award, is Penn State. They’ve had two running backs combine to win it three times.

These facts just say more than anything could about how dominant the Badgers have been at the running back position.

11. Rose Bowl RB Success:

Three times a Wisconsin Badger running back has been named the Rose Bowl’s MVP (Brent Moss and Ron Dayne twice). Every time Wisconsin has won “The Granddaddy of them All” a running back has been named MVP of the game.

Alan Ameche and Ron Dayne are in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. Dayne and Montee Ball are both members of the Rose Bowl’s All-Decade Class and Ball was the first player to ever score a touchdown in three straight Rose Bowls (unfortunately all losses).

However running back Brent Moss was named MVP of the Badgers’ first Rose Bowl victory on January 1, 1994. His efforts shouldn’t be forgotten in the history of success at this position for the Badgers. He was the first of the greatness to come in Madison in the Alvarez Era.

Of course no one will ever forget Ron Dayne’s historic Rose Bowl against the UCLA Bruins, and their vaunted defense, to cap off the 1998 season. The experts said no one, not even Dayne, could run on UCLA. Dayne ran for 246 yards and four touchdowns en route to the Rose Bowl championship.

Dayne would follow that effort up with another MVP effort in the Rose Bowl to cap off his senior season. Legend.

In his junior season Jonathan Taylor put up 137 total yards from scrimmage in the Rose Bowl.

12. Other Bowl Game RB Success:

But it’s not just Rose Bowl success, but bowl games success for Wisconsin runners… and it’s getting more common by the year.

In the Badgers’ 2005 Capital One Bowl win over Auburn Brian Calhoun ran for 213 yards and a touchdown.

Wisconsin’s 2009 Champs Sports Bowl victory over Miami featured John Clay running for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

The 2015 Outback Bowl victory for the Badgers over Auburn saw one of the best postseason performances in program history from Melvin Gordon. He rushed for 251 yards and three scores.

In 2016 and 2017 Corey Clement ran for a touchdown in consecutive bowl wins for the Badgers (including The Cotton Bowl).

Freshman back Jonathan Taylor ran for 130 yards in Wisconsin’s Orange Bowl win over Miami in 2017. In 2018 he followed that up with 205 yard, one touchdown performance in a rout of Miami in the 2018 Pinstripe Bowl.

As you can see, when Wisconsin wins big bowl games, it’s almost always on the strength of their running game. Taylor has one more bowl game (and one more game in general) to enhance his and his program’s legacy.

How these running backs have impacted the entire Wisconsin Badgers football team:

These runners aren’t just putting up monstrous stats, they’re also helping this team win an incredible amount of games. Since 1993, the Badgers have won at least 10 games in a season 13 times. They’ve gone to 25 bowl games in 26 years, including 18 years in a row. Ohio State’s bowl game streak is at seven years. Wisconsin is currently on a five bowl game winning streak.

This program, since that ’93 season, has won the Big Ten six times including the first two Big Ten Conference Championship Games. Wisconsin has appeared in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game six times, more than any Big Ten team (one more time than Ohio State).

It’s almost all thanks to the running game.

So What We’re Saying Is…

It’s utterly clear that all of these reasons come together to emphatically prove that Wisconsin truly is the Big Ten’s and college football’s undisputed “Running Back U”.

Yes, we know that USC has won more Heisman Trophies at the position. Despite this, in recent years, the Badgers have completely stolen the title of “RB U” from the Trojans.

There really is no other conclusion to come to. We sincerely hope you enjoyed this journey through the history of Wisconsin’s dominance at the running back position. We think it’s quite clear this trend is not ending anytime soon.

Do you honestly think any other program, in any conference, could come up with as impressive of a list of 11 reasons as to why they’re actually “Running Back U” — no. No other program has dominated their major conference as thoroughly as the Badgers have at the running back position.

Thank you Barry Alvarez for your vision in creating a team that delivers consistent results with the ability to compete on a national stage and for creating a culture of winning where there was none.

The foundation of that culture is undoubtedly  the running game and running backs, throughout the years, have taken this to a new level. Had Barry not become the Athletic Director following his legendary coaching career, perhaps his work would have been undone. Instead, the culture has grown stronger in recent years. There is none of this success without Barry, don’t ever forget that Badgers fans.

Because of Barry, and his handpicked head coach Paul Chryst, the future is incredibly bright. Although there’s a few other reasons for optimism, especially at running back.

Another chapter of this team’s unrelenting history at the running back position is soon to be written by incoming four-star freshman Jalen Berger. The New Jersey native is poised to be next in the long-line of Wisconsin running back success in 2020, his freshman season. He’ll likely be the starter over incumbent Watson.

Berger had offers from Alabama, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, OSU, Oregon, Tennessee, UCLA and a plethora of other prestigious programs. But he chose “Running Back U” — can you blame him?

He’s one of many great running backs to come from the state of New Jersey to play ball in Madison (Ron Dayne, Anthony Davis, Corey Clement and Jonathan Taylor preceding him). It’s an amazing pipeline for this team and university. Can Berger, like Dayne and Taylor, be the next Badger to win the Doak Walker Award?

Time will tell, but it’s bound to be a hell of a ride.

For you Packers fans that are also Badgers fans, we’re glad we could give you some fun reading material. For you Packers fans that aren’t Badgers fans, well, we hope you at least learned to appreciate the way the Badgers run the ball! And if you’re not a fan of the Packers or the Badgers… why did you read this piece?!

Go Packers and Go Bucky!

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We seek to bring more context to, and share interesting stores about, the history of the Green Bay Packers and the NFL as a whole. Clickbait be damned. "We" are Daniel and David Zillmer; hit the about or contact to learn more.

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