Two years ago, we all wondered if Ezekiel Elliott would be able to fill the void left by the departure of Carlos Hyde.
We probably all feel a little silly about that question now, huh?
It’s the nature of college football, of course, but despite high recruiting rankings, Elliott was a question mark a season after Hyde was the Big Ten’s best running back for Ohio State. Elliott then went on to break out in the postseason for the national champs, and last year he was one of college football’s best running backs, rushing for 1,821 yards and earning a top-five spot in the NFL Draft.
So it’s on to the next question mark at Ohio State: Mike Weber.
Weber potentially has even higher expectations than Elliott did. The No. 7 running back recruit in the Class of 2015 and the best player in the state of Michigan, Weber famously decommitted from Michigan during a loss to Maryland in Brady Hoke’s final season. Weber then committed to Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, and thanks to those high recruiting rankings, people have been wondering about when he would star for Ohio State for a couple years now.
The time has come, maybe a little earlier than it was supposed to. Elliott, after all, left following his junior season, and the dismissal of Bri’onte Dunn earlier this offseason left Weber as really the only option in the backfield for the Buckeyes. Meyer all but declared Weber the starter during Big Ten Media Days.
“I like where he's at. I don't like, I love where he's at as far as what kind of physical condition he's in,” Meyer said. “And I anticipate he'll be the starting tailback, but that's why we have training camp.”
Like many of the rest of the guys who will be stepping into starting roles for Ohio State this fall, Weber has no collegiate experience. He redshirted last season. It means, like many of his teammates, he’ll have to get ready and he’ll have to prove that he can turn those high recruiting rankings into gameday success.
And who else is getting Weber ready but quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Barrett knows a thing or two about being an inexperienced player in a starting role. That’s what he was as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago when Braxton Miller was injured right before the season started. Barrett proved he was ready, leading the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular season before suffering his own injury ahead of Ohio State’s postseason run.
“Mike Weber, he’s an explosive back that we have,” Barrett said. “He cares a lot about his teammates, I feel like. We’re going to just keep on pushing him. I try to push him every day, I work out with him quite a bit and just try to make sure he understands that the work that happens in the offseason is where you win the game. You don’t win the game Sept. 17 when we’re at Oklahoma or when we’re down the road playing at a place like Wisconsin. That’s not where you win the game at. You win the game in the offseason and in the moments that really define you and who you are.
"So I’m just pushing him to strive to get better. I push him, he probably at times hates me. I know he could give so much for this team, and I just want to make sure he performs at his best.”
It’s a team-wide theme, getting these young guys ready for game action. As Barrett mentioned, there’s a huge early season test coming at Oklahoma, and that’ll be quite the baptism by fire for the young Weber.
But as much as lack of experience is a theme for these Buckeyes, so too is big expectations. Weber was part of a highly rated Ohio State recruiting class, and at Ohio State those guys are expected to deliver.
Elliott did in taking over for Hyde. Maybe we’ll all feel silly about questioning Weber, too.