Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Ezekiel Elliott has raced out to a lead in the Buckeyes' running back race.
Replacing Carlos Hyde will be no easy task after the now-San Francisco 49er rushed for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns en route to being named the Big Ten's Running Back of the Year in 2013. But the Buckeyes could benefit from one of their deeper backfields in recent memory, which features no shortage of former blue-chip prospects.
The first back who will get a chance at succeeding the bruising Hyde will be sophomore Ezekiel Elliott, who showed flashes of greatness in his freshman campaign. Appearing in seven games as a running back, the St. Louis, Mo. native rushed for 262 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, including a 162-yard, two-touchdown performance against Florida A&M.
Elliott has yet to lock up a starting spot heading into his sophomore campaign, but Meyer has already mentioned him as a breakout player for the coming season. Thanks to his blend of size and speed, Elliott is considered by most to be the front-runner in Ohio State's running back race.
Nipping at Elliott's heels, however, is perhaps the player on the Buckeyes roster who most resembles Hyde. At 6'0" and 216 pounds, Bri'onte Dunn runs with a violent style that is reminiscent of the former OSU running back, which could bode well for the Canton, Ohio native in 2014.
A former 4-star prospect (per 247 Sports), Dunn was considered to be one of the cornerstones of the Buckeyes' highly touted 2012 class. He even took home a Big Ten Freshman of the Week award two seasons ago, but Meyer opted to redshirt him in 2013 in order to preserve an extra season of eligibility.
Elliott has the edge right now, but Dunn has the talent to push him for more than just reps this fall. With his career not having gotten off to the start that many imagined it would, the third-year sophomore now has the opportunity to turn it around in the coming weeks.
While this may not be Dunn's last chance to snag a starting spot in Columbus, the same can't be said for fifth-year senior Rod Smith. The 6'3", 231-pounder has also shown spurts of the power that has been so effective in Meyer's spread offense, but off-field troubles have made him a mainstay in Meyer's doghouse. At this point, it's hard to consider Smith anything more than a dark horse in Ohio State's running back race.
The same goes for redshirt sophomore Warren Ball, who rushed for 76 yards on 13 carries in his first season of action a year ago. Unlike Smith, Ball has been praised for his positive influence in the Buckeyes' running back room, but a talent gap could make him the odd man out at the position this fall.