When Urban Meyer was hired as Ohio State's head coach in November of 2011, Ohio State fans were familiar with Meyer's formidable spread offense attack, having been brutally victimized by Meyer's Florida Gators in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. The possibility that Ohio State would render B1G opposition in similar fashion was a tantalizing vision for Buckeye fans.
While Ohio State fans were eager to see the spread offense in action, one of the aspects of the spread offense was somewhat disconcerting. Buckeye fans, accustomed to powerful tailbacks such as Archie Griffin and Eddie George, were somewhat perplexed as to whether Coach Meyer's offensive philosophies would mesh with a school accustomed to legendary Coach Woody Hayes' "3 Yards And A Cloud Of Dust" style.
In both 2012 and 2013, Ohio State fans could exhale easily, as Carlos Hyde emerged in the mold of a dominant power back for the Buckeyes. Heading into the 2014 Orange Bowl contest versus Clemson, Hyde has rushed 183 times for 1408 yards, averaging 7.7 yards per carry during the 2013 season. Jordan Hall, who filled in for Hyde at the beginning of the 2013 season, rushed 81 times for 536 yards, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.
Hyde and Hall will have exhausted their eligibility after the 2014 Orange Bowl, which could lead Ohio State fans to wonder which back is next on the horizon, to carry on the storied legacy of Buckeye running backs. The answer is Ohio State does not have one back to carry on the strong rushing attack. Ohio State may have four.
Heading into 2014 winter conditioning and spring football, a front-runner for the starting tailback position may be Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott has rushed 30 times for 262 yards, averaging 8.7 yards per carry. Elliott was Coach Meyer's top tailback recruit from the 2013 recruiting class, and could emerge as the starter heading into the 2014 season.
Senior Rod Smith may contest Elliott for the starting position. Smith has the physical characteristics to be the starting tailback at Ohio State, but has struggled with fumbles in the past, as well as off the field issues, that have prevented him from more playing time. 2014 will be Smith's last opportunity for significant playing time.
Redshirt sophomore Warren Ball has carried the ball sparingly in 2013, but may have an opportunity for more work in 2014. Ball redshirted in 2012, and has carried the ball 13 times for 76 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Ball has worked primarily on special teams, and may need to continue to do so to garner carries next season.
The enigma of this group is Bri'onte Dunn. Dunn played as a true freshman in 2012, rushing 25 times for 133 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Reluctant to play special teams, and facing a logjam at the position in 2013, Dunn was redshirted for the 2013 season. Rumors swirl that Dunn may transfer after the season, yet Ohio State fans remain hopeful that Dunn will stay in Columbus.
Another player to keep in mind that also impacts the tailback position for Ohio State is Dontre Wilson. Wilson does not have the physical attributes of the other players listed above, but Wilson will also be used by the coaching staff in a variety of ways going forward.
Four powerful tailbacks, all eager and ready to take over the load. Four backs to the future for 2014 and beyond in Ohio State football.