With Ohio State and Alabama the odds-on favorites for the No. 1 and No. 2 slots in the preseason polls, it’s prudent to stack the two teams against one another to see how the two might match up head-to-head.
And if you’re looking for a really significant way to compare the two favorites for 2013, look no further than the running back position which often drives the bus in championship runs.
Don’t think so?
Well, did you know that since 2007 no BCS title team has finished the season with a national ranking lower than No. 16 in rushing yards per game?
The dubious honor of that relatively low rating went to Alabama’s ground attacks in both 2011 and 2012 while the champs from 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 all finished in the top 11 in this category.
With this stat serving as our driving force, the following slideshow stacks up the running back corps for the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide starting from the bottom and reaching all the way to the top.
Though many of us will be thrilled by the stylings of the passing game this fall, these guys may be the athletes—offensively speaking—who will make the difference in a run for the crystal pigskin.
Indeed, these may be the unsung cogs in the magical machine that takes championship dreams and morphs them into title rings.
Alabama's Dee Hart
Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott came to Columbus via the highly touted class of 2013 as a 4-star prospect out of the John Burroughs School in St. Louis, Mo.
Elliott will be a true freshman in 2013 and, as he was not an early enrollee, he didn’t have the advantage of participating in this year’s spring practice.
Elliott did it all in high school where he rushed for over 2,000 yards as a senior, tacked on 400 yards as a receiver and added over 500 additional yards as a return man.
All in all, Elliott reached the end zone 50 times in his senior season; 40 as a rusher, four as a receiver and six via returns.
Though we have Elliott at the bottom of the Bucks depth list, he’s multi-talented enough to rise through the RB ranks quickly, or more likely to find his way to a starting role as an H-Back.
For the Tide at No. 5 we have Dee Hart, who was the No. 5 rusher in 2012 pumping out 88 yards on 21 attempts as a freshman last season before going down with a knee injury in the game vs. Ole Miss.
Hart was a highly touted 5-star guy from Orlando, Fla. with the class of 2011 and is expected to be healthy enough to return as a scat-back in 2013.
The big question mark for Hart and his place on the Tide’s depth chart this season is whether or not he’s recovered enough to be back at full speed.
Ohio State's Bri'onte Dunn
Ohio State’s Bri’onte Dunn was the Buckeye’s No. 5 RB as a freshman in 2012 rushing for 133 yards and two scores on 25 attempts.
Originally brought in with the class of 2012 as a 4-star recruit, Dunn hails from Glenoak High School in Canton, Ohio.
Dunn is big guy who is similar enough in size and strength to both Rod Smith and Carlos Hyde that he’ll likely have to earn his keep with less touches than he needs to really make a name for himself as a sophomore.
Alabama’s Jalston Fowler was the Tide’s No. 6 back in 2012 as a junior, contributing 85 yards on 11 carries before going down with a knee injury in the second game of the season vs. Western Kentucky.
Fowler’s most productive season during his career at Alabama thus far was his sophomore year when he rushed for 385 yards and four scores on 56 attempts.
Fowler came to Tuscaloosa as a 4-star rated recruit in 2010 from Vigor High School in Prichard, Ala.
For 2013, Fowler is expected to be healthy enough to play but it’s a total unknown as to whether or not he’s fully recovered and if he can rise back up an already stacked depth chart.
Alabama's Derrick Henry
Ohio State’s Warren Ball came to Columbus as a 4-star recruit from local St. Francis DeSales High School with the class of 2012 and missed his entire freshman season with a foot injury.
Ball received a medical redshirt for his troubles and participated in this year’s spring practice and is expected to be ready to play this fall.
Though Ball is likely to be found lower in other depth charts, his traditional running style and his potential to explode—given the opportunity—earns him the No. 3 slot in our analysis.
At No. 3 for the Tide we have Derrick Henry, who also has never played a down in college ball coming to Alabama as an early enrollee with the class of 2013.
Henry was a 4-star rated recruit from Yulee, Fla. who was the No. 5 rated RB nationally with the class of 2013.
Henry is the only one of the four highly-touted RBs with this last class who hit campus early, giving him the edge to actually see the field this season and perhaps begin his campaign to be the next great back at Alabama.
Ohio State's Rod Smith
Rod Smith was the Buckeye’s No. 3 most productive back in 2012 as a sophomore pumping out 215 yards and two scores on 32 touches.
Smith was a 4-star recruit with the Class of 2010 hailing from Fort Wayne, Ind. and redshirted as a freshman before rushing for 116 yards and one TD in his debut season in 2011.
Smith is a versatile back who has a skill set that has proved he can be threat as both a receiver and a return guy as well as a power runner.
Buckeye fans may remember Smith as the guy with a tendency to fumble the ball early in his career, an inclination that seems to have cleared up as he has matured at the collegiate level.
Smith led the team with 6.72 yards per carry in 2012.
Alabama’s Kenyan Drake was the Tide’s third most productive back last season adding 281 yards and five scores on 42 touches as a freshman to the No. 16 ranked rushing offense in the country.
Drake was a 4-star recruit with the class of 2011 where he hailed from Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, Ga.
In 2013, Drake should be a solid backup to T.J. Yeldon and though he’s explosive, his smaller size (6’1”, 204 pounds) means he’s not going to pound away at teams inside or be a premier blocker.
Alabama's T.J. Yeldon
Second to only QB Braxton Miller in terms of rushing production in 2012, Carlos Hyde racked up 970 yards and a team high 16 TDs on 185 carries as a junior last season.
Hyde came to Ohio State as a 4-star recruit from Naples, Fla. with the class of 2009 and redshirted as a freshman before slowly rising to the top of the pack as a Buckeye rusher from 2010 to 2012.
Hyde is a powerful runner who compliments Miller well and should be the main feature back in 2013 despite the competition by Rod Smith, who shares his bulky size and strength as well as a similar running style.
The heir apparent to the Crimson Tide rushing throne, T.J. Yeldon is set to take over as Alabama’s top back in 2013.
Yeldon racked up 1,108 yards and 12 scores on 175 carries as a freshman in 2013 making him second only to Eddie Lacy who registered 1,322 yards and 17 TDs on 204 carries.
Yeldon came to Alabama from Daphne, Ala. with the class of 2012 where he was highly touted 5-star recruit and the No. 2 ranked back in the nation.