Unless you’ve been living under an abnormally large rock for the past nine months or so, it’s no secret that junior running back Ezekiel Elliott will enter the 2015 college football season considered one of the best players in the country.
In that very same breath, Elliott can be said to be a Heisman Trophy frontrunner, an award given to college football’s most valuable player. According to the sportsbook Bovada, he’s currently tied with TCU senior quarterback Trevone Boykin for the top odds to win the coveted award.
Elliott had himself quite a sophomore season as a full-time starter after former Ohio State back Carlos Hyde graduated. The tailback enjoyed a solid campaign for the Scarlet and Gray, rushing for 1,182 yards and 10 touchdowns in regular-season play.
Unbeknownst to fans, analysts and teammates alike, Elliott’s season had only just begun, for he would go on a three-game tear, the likes of which the college football world had never seen. Facing the toughest of teams on the biggest of stages, the lifeblood of the Buckeyes shined brightest.
Elliott racked up 696 combined rushing yards and eight touchdowns versus Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship. Wisconsin and Alabama were both ranked in the nation’s top 12 in total defense heading into their respective contests with the Buckeyes.
When the confetti finally settled, Elliott had been named the College Football Playoff National Championship Game’s offensive MVP, and deservedly so.
Now, as the Buckeyes get ready to begin their title defense on Sept. 7, the St. Louis native has fans hoping that his historic late run will translate over into the coming season.
And there’s no reason to believe that won’t be the case.
A major factor that could determine if he has a great season or a truly special one will be the use of his left hand. Elliott played with a fractured left wrist, an injury that subsequently kept him from carrying the ball with his left hand, throughout much of the 2014 season. After having surgery to repair his wrist this offseason, Elliott didn’t merely regain the use of his left hand, but he will be able to utilize the biggest asset he had coming out of high school: the stiff arm, an invaluable move that can devastate opposing defenders if done correctly.
In addition to the use of his left hand, No. 15 will be running behind one of the country’s premier offensive lines that features returning starters in four out of five spots from last season’s dominant unit. The continued success of the line could be what pushes Elliott over the top. He’ll need all of the help he can get with the amount of pressure that has been lumped on his shoulders over the course of the offseason.
In what is widely expected to be his final year as a Buckeye, Elliott will take his best shot at multiple records, hallowed milestones and national accolades. From being a 2,000-yard rusher, something that’d be a first at OSU, to winning the Heisman, nothing is completely out of reach for the star back.
“I mean that would definitely be lovely, but we’re focusing on these team-oriented goals,” Elliott said on Aug. 24 about possibly breaking Eddie George’s OSU record of 1,927 rushing yards. “Like I said, our goal is to get back to the Big Ten Championship.”
While obviously a team-first type of guy, there’s still plenty at stake as he enters his pivotal junior season.
Many have him walking away with the Heisman, including former Buckeye quarterback and current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who said as much on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike on Aug. 26.
Regardless of who wins the Heisman, though, Elliott just hopes that someone from his team will earn a trip to New York for the award ceremony.
“We have a lot of Heisman-caliber players, and if all things go well for us as a team, maybe one of us will be lucky enough to be up there in New York at the end of the year,” Elliott said.
Current odds say that lucky player could most likely be Elliott.
When all is said and done, the Heisman-hopeful back has a realistic chance to immortalize himself in college football history. By season’s end, don’t be surprised if you start hearing Elliott’s name mentioned in the same rare air as past Buckeye greats like George and two-time Heisman winning tailback Archie Griffin.
Elliott is set to begin his assault on the record books against Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 in Blacksburg, Virginia.