For most of this decade, Ohio State has been one of the most talented teams in the country on both sides of the ball. Names like Ezekiel Elliot, Joey and Nick Bosa, Michael Thomas, Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward have become star players in the NFL and they all got their start in Columbus. Currently, 52 former Buckeyes are on NFL rosters in one way or another, which is among the best in the league. They are a “pick your poison” kind of team, and this year they have a lot of potions in their arsenal.
Justin Fields, Quarterback
A lot of scouts knew Justin Fields would be a hell of a football player at the college level, however very few figured that he would be this good right away… and playing for a different team than the one that recruited him. Coming out of high school in 2018 as the best dual threat QB and 2nd overall QB (behind Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence), Fields committed to play for Georgia and would serve as a backup to junior QB Jake Fromm. After one season in a Bulldogs uniform, Fields told reporters that he would transfer to another school.
Like a couple of other Heisman worthy candidates — including LSU QB Joe Burrow and Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts — Fields has shined for his new squad, the top ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, but unlike those other two quarterbacks his season is a little unlikely in that it shouldn’t have happened this year. Burrow and Hurts are graduate transfers, meaning because they already have their degrees they are eligible to play for their new team right away. Fields, only a sophomore, sought out different circumstances: a standout baseball prospect as well, he alleged that a member of the baseball team had used a racial slur against him. While that may or may not have been proven true, it paved the way for him to play immediately for Ohio State.
Since taking over in the first game of the year, Fields has led this loaded Ohio State team to the top of the College Football Playoff Rankings and it’s not hard to see why. The offense, behind Fields’ 33 total touchdowns to just 1 INT, is the most efficient in the country and has averaged over 48 a game on over 515 total yard of offense. He doesn’t just get it done with his arm, but also his legs. His 9 rushing touchdowns is tied for the team lead and has reached the end zone on the ground in all but one game this season.
While he hasn’t thrown for over 250 yards in any game this season — an interesting wrinkle when you look at the play of the other Heisman worthy QB’s — he hasn’t really needed to because his offense is capable of making plays. And when you have an offense as good as Ohio State, the one thing that can make it look even better is the play of the defense. Oh, and about that defense? They’re the second most efficient in the country. Talk about a one-two punch!
Chase Young, Defensive End
On the opposite side of the ball, the quarterback of this vaunted Buckeyes defense is DE Chase Young, whom many believe could be the best overall player in the country. In his first two years at Ohio State, Young recorded 13.5 sacks including 10 last year. This year, he’s currently sitting at 13.5 through 8 games… that’s the best in the nation, by far. Add in the five forced fumbles this year (including two against one of the best rushing attacks in Wisconsin) and you’re looking at one impressive 2019 campaign. The question is can a defensive monster like Young make it on the list of Heisman nominees?
If you’re the type of person that wants to see a big game on the resume, look no further than the Wisconsin game a few weeks ago. The Badgers, led by one of the best collegiate runners of all time in Jonathon Taylor, had no room to run against Young and the Buckeyes front line. Taylor, who has amassed over 5,000 yards in just three years, carried the ball 20 times for 52 yards and that’s because he was staring in the face of Chase. Young, meanwhile, was absolutely dominant on his way to recording four sacks and two forced fumbles, one of which he recovered.
A lot of people are in Young’s corner for consideration. ESPN College Gameday’s David Pollack and Kirk Herbstreit both believe Young deserves a spot on the Heisman ballot, with both of them putting him in the top three. Pollack believes he’s the “best and most dominant player” in all of college football. Mel Kiper has put him as the top overall player on his draft board, recalling past Buckeye pass rushers and top 3 overall picks Joey and Nick Bosa as prime examples as to why a team needs to build around a game changing defensive end.
Simply put, it makes it easier for your top ranked offense to execute if the defense shuts down the opposing offense, and that’s exactly what the Buckeyes have done. The defense only allows 7.8 points per game, the highest total being 21 against FAU in the fist game of the season. Since then, the Buckeyes have only allowed 10 points twice in two contests and have only allow 220 yards of offensive per game. It starts up front, where Young and the defensive line have held opposing teams to 91 yards on the ground.
J.K. Dobbins, Running Back
Speaking of the ground game, it’s always been a long held belief that the run opens up the pass. If the defense is boxing in the run, that opens up the field for the playmakers on the outside to have more room to make those plays. Ohio State doesn’t just have great quarterback play, but they also have one of the more dominant runners in the nation, J.K. Dobbins. Dobbins has rushed for 1,100 yards on 153 carries, finding the end zone 9 times this season. While it’s easy to overlook his stats in favor of Fields, Dobbins has put up a string of impressive games over the season.
Take for instance that game against Wisconsin. While Jonathon Taylor was struggling to get anything going, Dobbins led the Buckeyes offense to the tune of 163 yards and two scores, averaging 8 yards a carry in the process. It was his fourth consecutive 100 yard game, and his fourth game with at least 150 yards. His elusiveness in the open field has allowed him to break off three 60+ yard runs this year. His dynamic playmaking ability makes it hard for opposing offenses to pinpoint exactly how this team is going to beat you.
Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliot believes Dobbins should get a Heisman nod and he would know, considering he is also a former Buckeye. But even he didn’t do what Dobbins did; only needing 53 yards to reach 1,000 total on the year, Dobbins easily reach that against Wisconsin and became the first Ohio State player to accomplish such a feat in his first three seasons. He currently ranks 5th all time in school rushing yards and by the year’s end could be as high as 2nd on that list if he continues at his current pace.
This Ohio State team can beat you on both sides of the ball and trying to pick which player is the best is like trying to decide which of your kids you like the most. It’s hard, and I’m sure there’s one that you like more on certain days, but you love each of them the same. That might hurt their chances of bringing home the hardware to Columbus — the last Buckeye to win the award was QB Troy Smith in 2006 — but it shouldn’t disqualify them from a nomination. They ball like a team, they should go together as a team. Either way, you’re going to be hearing these names a lot in the coming years.
Dec 8, 2019; Grapevine, TX, USA; College football playoff selection committee chairman Rob Mullens speaks to the media during selection Sunday at the Gaylord Texan hotel. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports