As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.
Who will fill Carlos Hyde’s shoes for the Buckeyes?
Though he didn’t finish as the conference’s leading rusher last season, there was no better running back in the Big Ten than Carlos Hyde. The Buckeyes’ back finished with 1,521 yards (third in the Big Ten) after missing the first three games of the season. His 138.3 yards per game was the conference’s best average. His 15 rushing touchdowns were second-most in the league.
Hyde was an unstoppable force at times, running away with the title of the conference’s Running Back of the Year. He scored multiple rushing touchdowns in five different games, including his first three of the season. His three second-half touchdowns vs. Northwestern secured a victory in Evanston, and he struck the Land of Lincoln another blow later in the year with four scores against the Fighting Illini. He went over 100 yards in all of his final nine games, and his 226 yards against Michigan became the highest total in that rivalry’s history.
All in all it made him a second-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers.
But it means there are gigantic shoes to fill in Columbus, and it won’t be Hyde’s backup from a year ago to do it. Jordan Hall was awesome in those first three games the Buckeyes were without Hyde, rushing for 402 yards, but he’s departed, as well. Dontre Wilson got 31 carries for 250 yards, but he’s listed as a wide receiver.
The main contender for the majority of the carries is Ezekial Elliott. He was a true freshman last season, when he rushed the ball 30 times for 262 yards behind Hyde an others. It’s a young backfield, with the running back corps numbering one senior, five sophomores and a freshman. Many of those guys, Elliott included, were highly ranked recruits, and Urban Meyer & Co. will look for their recruiting efforts to start paying off in the wake of Hyde’s departure.
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The good news is that the Buckeyes’ running game is not limited to the running backs. As mentioned, a talented receiver like Wilson could play a role. But it’s quarterback Braxton Miller who will provide the biggest assistance as the less-experienced Ohio State backs get their feet wet. Miller’s game is about as perfect a dual-threat game as one could imagine. Last season — in which he won his second straight Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award and finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting for the second time — he was the Buckeyes’ second-leading rusher, finishing with 1,068 yards on 171 rushing attempts, fewer than 40 carries less than Hyde. A third of his total touchdowns were scored on the ground.
Add to that what figures to be a strong Buckeyes’ passing game led by Miller, and the running backs will have plenty of help and plenty of time to develop.
Before he arrived at Ohio State, there had never been a 1,000-yard rusher on a Meyer-coached team. That changed when he came to Columbus and Hyde put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Can Elliott or one of the other young guns in the Ohio State backfield become the next?