With two already listed, the top-10 most important Buckeyes continues as the countdown to kickoff stands at just eight weeks.
No. 8 Most Important Buckeyes: Ezekiel Elliott, sophomore running back
Amidst a season filled with outstanding offensive output, Carlos Hyde became OSU coach Urban Meyer’s first 1,000-yard back – despite having missed the first three games of the season.
Half a year later, Hyde is a member of the San Francisco 49ers and the Buckeyes are looking to fill the 1,521-yard hole that he left.
Fortunately for OSU, roaming the sidelines for the Buckeyes during the 2013 season was a former four-star running back prospect, built almost exactly in the likeness of Hyde himself.
His name: Ezekiel Elliott.
While he may possess Hyde’s lethal combination of size and speed that any running backs coach in America would yearn for, Elliott certainly has a tall task in front of him to replicate the performance of No. 34.
In his freshman campaign, Elliott showed flashes of brilliance when provided the opportunity to touch the turf.
For instance, Buckeye fans will certainly remember his coming out party against Florida A&M, when the seemingly unknown No. 15 darted onto the field and rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries.
Outside of that afternoon, however, Elliott amassed just 16 carries for the rest of the season, which makes prognosticating his impact next season that much more difficult.
Elliott’s sophomore campaign could go one of three ways.
The first scenario is one in which Elliott mirrors Hyde in almost every circumstance and becomes Urban Meyer’s first multi-season 1,000-yard running back. His immense speed with his “bowling ball” stature gives him an element Hyde never possessed and turns him immediately into a faster version of his predecessor with the same impact each time he touches the ball.
This scenario renders itself rather unlikely, but if it were to unfold, OSU could very well be the front-runner to win the 2014 National Championship.
The second scenario is the most likely: Elliott is a less experienced, less effective version of Hyde who barely becomes the second 1,000-yard running back under Meyer. Again, Elliott seems to have all the tools but may have trouble adjusting to the college game in his first season as a starter.
In the final scenario, Elliott isn’t at all prepared for a starting role in the backfield, forcing senior quarterback Braxton Miller and sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson to shoulder the entirety of the offensive load, which figures to be too much and holds OSU back for the entire season.
Based on what we saw from Elliott a year ago – if only in a couple of games – it seems as if this would be the least likely scenario.
Coach Meyer constantly lauded Elliott last season for his work ethic and his demeanor both on and off the field, which would seem to prove that he’s going to put in the work necessary to ensure this is not the case next season.
Again, anything can happen, but this would be more a surprise than an eventuality.
Should this list only have consisted of offensive players, it’s easy to see how Elliott could very well rank amongst the top two or three most important Buckeyes.
At his best, he could elevate the Buckeyes to a National Championship.
At his worst, he could drag OSU to its most mediocre season in Urban Meyer’s tenure.