Comparing the Ohio State and Alabama RB Corps from Top-to-Bottom
Ohio State and Alabama have two of the best rushing games in the nation. So good, in fact, that on the strength of the run game we are going to see a resurgence of a great rivalry.
A few seasons ago, comparing the Big Ten and SEC was all the rage. Florida was atop the SEC, Ohio state was dominating the Big Ten, and Michigan wasn't far behind.
The general consensus was that there was not much separation between the two conferences.
The debate raged back and forth for a few years, but has recently settled into the obscure corner of football folklore reserved for debates that have been ended, as the SEC continued to assert its dominance, and the Big Ten has still only one BCS title to its name.
Moving into the 2013 season, the debate is going to be re-opened, because of the resurgence of the Urban Meyer-led Ohio State Buckeyes.
At the end of the season, when all the dust settles, there is a very real possibility that Ohio State will have completed its second straight perfect season. Whether that will be enough to earn them a BCS title game bid remains to be seen, as their schedule is about as strong as a wet noodle.
All that said, it's easy to see why Alabama from the SEC and Ohio State from the Big Ten sit atop just about every preseason ranking. The two teams are experienced, have excellent coaches and feature stout running games.
Going strictly off last season's yardage per game, OSU ranked 10th in the nation, with Alabama not far behind at 16th.
So given that both teams have a chance to run the table, and both feature strong rushing attacks, this list will compare the two units top to bottom, and declare an advantage at the end.
No word yet on whether the result of this comparison will be used in the BCS formula this season.
Surprisingly, Alabama and Ohio State were both near the middle of the pack when it came to protecting the ball in 2012.
Alabama especially has a history of protecting the ball, finishing second in the nation to Wisconsin in that category in 2011.
In 2012, the Tide finished 80th in the nation in that category, losing 12 fumbles on the season.
The Buckeyes were just slightly better, losing only 11 fumbles in 2012.
While the teams were about even in number of fumbles last season, T.J. Yeldon of Alabama fumbled the ball late in the Tide's only loss last season to Texas A&M.
He also had a crucial fumble against LSU in a game the Tide eventually won.
The fumbles at critical junctures in contests for Yeldon, the guy who will be featured for 'Bama this fall, leaves Ohio State with the advantage in this category.
This one is a bit confusing. Neither team uses running backs heavily as receivers, so the numbers for both teams are somewhat low.
Ohio State starter Carlos Hyde only caught eight passes all of 2012 for an average of 6.4 yards.
Yeldon, as a freshman splitting carries with Eddie Lacy, finished the season with 11 receptions, averaging over 11 yards per catch, and scored the game-winning touchdown on a passing play against LSU.
Moving down the depth charts, Rod Smith had only two receptions for OSU last season, while Kenyan Drake had none for 'Bama.
Derrick Henry is a stud, but he's a freshman for the Tide, and it remains to be seen how much he will contribute in the game at all. Ohio State third-stringer Bri'onte Dunn will enter his sophomore season this fall, and has still yet to catch a pass.
Yeldon's improved hands over the course of the season gives the Tide a boost, but as neither team features a strong use of running backs in the passing game, this one is even.
4. Rushing Yards
Ohio State finished 10th last season in rushing yards per game, posting a solid 242.25 average.
Alabama checked in at 16th, with 227.50 per contest.
But don't let this number throw you.
The Tide averaged almost six fewer attempts per game, leaving them with a better average, 5.59 yards per game.
With T. J. Yeldon returning, it's difficult to see that number going down, barring something catastrophic taking place.
The Buckeyes' numbers look even worse when you consider that quarterback Braxton Miller accounted for 1,271 of OSU's 2,907 yards on the ground.
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron produced only four yards on the ground.
So, while Ohio State running backs put up 1,636 yards last season, Alabama's posted 3,181.
I think we can all see who has the advantage heading into 2013, even with Eddie Lacy gone.
This one is interesting.
The Buckeyes and Tide were even last season in rushing touchdowns, each of them posting 37, though it took Alabama 14 games to do so to the Buckeyes' 12.
OSU's returning running backs accounted for 20 rushing touchdowns last season, while 'Bama's T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake accounted for 17.
Those numbers are bound to change, as OSU returns nearly the same unit it fielded last season, while Alabama's Yeldon will be in a featured role for the first time.
That said, based purely off the stats, Urban Meyer's team is slightly ahead of the Tide.
Alabama's returning running backs have participated in a combined 44 games between them, including the last two national title games.
The returning Ohio State backs have participated in 42 games.
If the Buckeyes had no postseason ban last season, this number would be at least tied, and possibly skewed the Buckeye's way.
But as it is, Alabama has the advantage, especially when considering the postseason experience players such as Yeldon have to fall back upon.
On the surface, it would appear that the Buckeyes have more depth, as Carlos Hyde, Warren Ball, Bri'onte Dunn and Rod Smith all return to the unit.
But Alabama's running backs are stacked heading into 2013.
Besides the aforementioned T.J.Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, the Tide return Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler from knee surgery, while freshman Derrick Henry is a beast who will earn playing time this fall.
So while both teams have an equal number of contributing running backs returning to the field, Alabama's several different styles earns them the nod in this category.
Fowler is a monster who can dominate in short yardage situations. Yeldon and Drake are both balanced guys with the ability to have an impact as slashers as well as pounding the ball. Hart is freaky fast.
From an objective viewpoint, the Tide just have the better talent heading to the field this fall.