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Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott Is Derrick Henry's Biggest Threat for 2015 Heisman

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterNovember 16, 2015

CHAMPAIGN, IL - NOVEMBER 14:  Ezekiel Elliott #15 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Champaign, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

COLUMBUS, Ohio — One month into the 2015 season, on the eve of the start of Big Ten play, Ezekiel Elliott found himself facing a familiar topic of conversation with the paparazzi-like throng of reporters surrounding him on the Woody Hayes Athletic Center practice field.

But as opposed to four weeks prior, when the Ohio State running back's name was at the center of the Heisman Trophy discussion, Elliott was now being asked for his thoughts on LSU's Leonard Fournette, Georgia's Nick Chubb and even Indiana's Jordan Howard.

"Man," a visibly annoyed Elliott said, searching for an OSU spokesperson to save him. "I'm done."

It's possible Elliott, who had rushed for 455 yards and five touchdowns in the Buckeyes' first four games of the season, was frustrated an interview session meant to preview his team's matchup with Indiana turned into his being asked to play the part of pundit while talking about running backs whose statistics seemingly dwarfed his. Or maybe the St. Louis native was upset his name was already left out of the way-too-early Heisman debate after he was anointed the front-runner following his run through the 2014 postseason.

Or perhaps Elliott just knew his best football was still ahead of him.

Eight weeks after abruptly ending his interview session, Elliott still isn't the front-runner for college football's most prestigious award—that honor now belongs to Alabama running back Derrick Henry—but the Buckeyes back is once again a part of the conversation. As of last week, Bovada (via OddsShark.com) listed the reigning College Football Playoff MVP with the third-best odds (7-1) to win the 2015 Heisman, trailing just Henry (3-2) and Fournette (6-1).

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After Elliott's 181-yard, two-touchdown performance against Illinois over the weekend, his Heisman hopes only grew, especially when coupled with Fournette's second consecutive game of having rushed for fewer than 100 yards.

"I know if I had my choice of any tailback in the country," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said in his postgame press conference following the Buckeyes' 28-3 win over the Fighting Illini, "I've got mine."

If he's going to make good on the preseason Heisman prognostications that made him a 6-1 favorite to win the award on the heels of his 696-yard, eight-touchdown stretch in Ohio State's three postseason games, Elliott still has some work to do. At the moment, Henry is the deserved favorite, having rushed for 1,458 yards and 19 touchdowns through the Crimson Tide's first 10 games of the season.

But while Henry has seen his Heisman campaign gain steam with back-to-back 200-plus-yard games against ranked opponents LSU and Mississippi State, Elliott now finds himself in prime position to do the same. The third-ranked Buckeyes will be on the national stage for the next two—or possibly three—weeks heading into the Dec. 12 Heisman Trophy presentation, thanks to games against AP Top 25 teams No. 9 Michigan State, No. 14 Michigan and potentially No. 6 Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Currently ranking third in the nation with 1,425 rushing yards—just 33 fewer than Henry—Elliott still has possibly three games left to eclipse his Alabama counterpart, who leads the nation with 19 rushing touchdowns compared to Elliott's 16.

Alabama running back Derrick Henry is the current Heisman front-runner.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry is the current Heisman front-runner.Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

If history has been any indication, look for Elliott to make the most of his opportunity.

After all, it was this time a year ago that the 6'1", 225-pounder burst onto the national scene, helping carry the Buckeyes to the first-ever College Football Playoff with 448 rushing yards in Ohio State's final three pre-playoff games. That proved to be the start of an ongoing stretch that has seen Elliott rush for at least 100 yards in 15 consecutive games, helping land the junior at third on the Buckeyes' all-time rushing list (3,565 yards), despite having been a starter for less than two full seasons.

"It's a blessing just to be compared to the great former running backs at Ohio State," Elliott said. "I just gotta give thanks to the O-line. I've basically had the same O-line since I started here. They make it easy for me, week in and week out."

This season hasn't seemed quite as easy as the end of last year did, with the eye-popping single-game totals for Elliott being further and fewer between. Elliott's lone 200-yard game of his 2015 campaign thus far came in a 274-yard, three-touchdown performance against Indiana that followed his aforementioned prematurely ended interview, and his 6.5 yards per carry are down from last year's average of 6.9.

Nov 14, 2015; Champaign, IL, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) sings toward the Ohio State fan section after the game at Memorial Stadium. Ohio State defats Illinois 28-3. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

But having rushed for at least 100 yards in each game this season, Elliott has provided a steadying force on a Buckeyes offense that has seen quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones rotate in and out of the lineup throughout the year. Neither Henry nor Fournette can claim that type of consistency this season, with both players having failed to reach triple-digit rushing totals on multiple occasions.

What's more is that Elliott appears to be putting together stronger efforts as the season progresses, as evidenced by last weekend's big game in Champaign. If Elliott can continue with similar showings against the Spartans this weekend, a Michigan defense that ranks second in the nation and potentially undefeated Iowa in what could very well be a play-in game to the playoff, he'll have as strong of a case as anyone when it comes to claiming the Heisman.

And unlike two months ago, that should give him plenty to talk about.

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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