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What is Justin Jackson's potential?

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Could he end up being Northwestern's best running back ever?

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Lost in all the hoopla surrounding the Notre Dame game — from Trevor Siemian's improvement to Kyle Prater's performance to Jack Mitchell's clutch kicks to the magnitude of the upset, itself — is that Justin Jackson had a monster day.

Jackson rushed 23 times for 149 yards, an average of 6.5 yards per carry, including a season long of 44 yards. That moves his totals on the year up to 910 yards on 198 carries, most of which came behind some pretty bad performances from Northwestern's offensive line.

These would be good numbers for just about anyone, but what's more impressive is that Jackson is just a freshman. And in a conference that undoubtedly has the best collection of running backs in the country, he's holding his own among the best, without even six months of college practice, strength and conditioning work, which are usually essential for running backs, who have to become used to how physical the college game is.

With a full offseason under his belt — and presumably with a better offensive line at some point in his next three years — Jackson looks poised to be a full-fledged star for the Wildcats in the next few years. In fact, his performance this year already stacks up as one of the better rushing seasons in recent years.

Year Leading Rusher Yards
2014 Justin Jackson 910 (with 2 or 3 games left)
2013 Treyvon Green 736
2012 Venric Mark 1366
2011 Kain Colter 654
2010 Dan Persa 519
2009 Arby Fields 302
2008 Tyrell Sutton 890 (9 games)
2007 Tyrell Sutton 522 (7 games)
2006 Tyrell Sutton 1000
2005 Tyrell Sutton 1474
2004 Noah Herron 1381

To reach Mark's 2012 rushing total, Jackson would need to rush for an average of just over 150 yards in NU's next three games (assuming the Wildcats make a bowl game). That's actually somewhat conceivable, given that Illinois and Purdue have absolutely terrible defenses, but even if he doesn't reach Mark's total, he's already on track to have the fourth best rushing performance at NU over the past 11 years, despite not playing much early in the season.

But past this season, what are Jackson's possibilities? Obviously, injuries can happen, and they're even more likely when you get the workload that Jackson does. But if he stays healthy, NU's star freshman has the chance to become the gold standard of NU running backs.

Right now, the standard is Damien Anderson, Tyrell Sutton or Darnell Autry, depending on who you ask, but Jackson has the physical tools to surpass them all (yes, Otto Graham was great, but it's really only fair to do modern era comparisons).

Player Career Yards
Damien Anderson 4,485
Tyrell Sutton 3,886
Darnell Autry 3,793
Justin Jackson 4,732 (at current pace)

We've all seen Jackson's shiftiness and vision on display this year, and despite being short on weight room time, he's been outstanding at picking up yards after contact. Give him another few years in the weight room and the results could be special.

Fans and coaches are always skeptical of giving freshmen credit too fast, and there's certainly a chance Jackson's results could drop off. But right now, it's fair to be optimistic about the future, and about the chances of Jackson being the best running back in Northwestern history by the time he leaves school.