Let me get this out there first, the Buckeye offense will go as far as Junior running back Ezekiel Elliott takes them. It won’t matter which quarterback lines up behind center in Scarlet and Gray. If Ohio State is to repeat as National Champions, Elliott will need to be close to the player who rushed for 696 yards and 8 touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship game, and the College Football Playoffs. Not the Guy who rushed for 138 yards, 2 TDs on 27 carries in the first three games of the season.
Coming into the 2015 season he is by many people’s opinion the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. But, is he even the top back in the country? Here’s a look at his competition based on how they finished in 2014.
Total Rushing Yards
#3 Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio St., Junior, 1,878 yards
#4 Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego St., Junior, 1,867
#6 Devon Johnsom, Marshall, Junior, 1,767
#7 James Conner, Pittsburgh, Junior, 1,765
#8 Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, Sophomore, 1,713
#10 Kareem Hunt, Toledo, Junior, 1,631
#14 Jordan Howard, UAB, Junior, 1,587
#16 Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan, Sophomore, 1,551
#17 Nick Chubb, Sophomore, Georgia, 1,547
#18 Leon Allen, Western Ky., Senior, 1,512
Elliott finished in the top three despite not rushing for a hundred yards in the first three games of 2014, and missing the century mark six times in fifteen games. Part of his early season inconsistency was due in part to an inexperienced offensive line that came on strong at the end of the season. Also, teams loaded the box on the running game, hoping to force the Buckeye Offense to let a young J.T. Barrett throw more.
The O-line’s experience—they return four starters in 2015—along with Elliott’s growth as a runner, is the reason most believe he will hoist sports most coveted individual award.
#3 James Conner, Pittsburgh, Junior, 26 TDs
#4 Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan, Sophomore, 24 TDs
#6 Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech, Senior, 22 TDs
#8 Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, Sophomore, 21 TDs
#9 Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego St., Junior, 20 TDs
#11 Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio St., Junior, 18 TDs
#13 Devon Johnson, Marshall, Senior, 17 TDs
#14 Dee Hart, Colorado St., Senior, 16 TDs
#14 Kareem Hunt, Toledo, Junior, 16 TDs
#14 Shock Linwood, Baylor, Junior, 16 TDs
Touchdowns can be very misleading when evaluating running backs. Depending on situation and the system, quarterbacks can rack up touchdown carries as well. The Buckeyes spread option is why J.T. Barrett, Ohio State’s QB for most of 2014, scored 11 touchdowns on the ground; his longest was 86 yards.
Rushing Yards Per Carry
#2 Kareem Hunt, Toledo, Sophomore, 7.96
#3 Elijah McGuire, La-Lafayette, Junior, 7.61
#6 Nick Chubb, Georgia, Sophomore, 7.06
#7 Michael Gordon, Arkansas St., Senior, 6.92
#8 Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio St., Junior, 6.88
#10 Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego St., Junior, 6.76
#11 Dee Hart, Colorado St., Senior, 6.57
#13 Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, Sophomore, 6.51
#15 Corey Clemet, Wisconsin, Junior, 6.46
#17 Storm Woods, Oregon St., Senior, 6.3
6.88 yards per carry is nothing to sneeze at, especially going against the talented defenses in the Big Ten. Other than Nick Chubbs at Georgia, none of the backs ahead of Elliott play in one of the Power 5 conferences, where the talent and competition is much better.
Rushing Yards Per Game
#3 Kareem Hunt, Toledo, Junior, 163.1
#4 Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego St., Junior, 143.6
#5 Devon Johnson, Marshall, Senior, 135.9
#6 James Conner, Pittsburgh, Junior, 135.8
#7 Jordan Howard, UAB, Junior, 132.2
#8 Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, Sophomore, 131.8
#12 Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio St., Junior, 125.2
#16 Paul Perkins, UCLA, Senior, 121.2
#17 Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan, Sophomore, 119.3
#18 Nick Chubb, Georgia, Sophomore, 119.0
Elliott, unlike most of the top running backs in this category, plays in a well-balanced offensive system with an accomplished quarterback—no matter which one wins the job—with him in the backfield. That means defenses won’t be able to load up on him, and it will create even more opportunities for him to dominate.
Another stat that determines the greatness of a running back, yards after contact. Last season, Elliott gained 836 yards after first contact. That was good for fourth most amongst Power 5 running backs.
Despite what’s happening in the NFL, running back in the college game still holds high value, and none are more valuable than Elliott. Don’t believe me, just go replay the final three games of the Buckeyes 2014 season.