In 2012, the Ohio State running game could be described as Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, and then everyone else. MIller's legs kept him in the Heisman conversation longer than he probably should have, but that's how explosive he is with his legs.
And in 2013, Ohio State's fortunes will still rise and fall, in large part, on how well Miller can run Urban Meyer's read option offense. And although we've already discussed the importance of the receiving corps to step up their game, a running back will also have to emerge besides Hyde and Miller.
On the surface, it seems that running back is the one position that the Buckeyes don't have any question marks about. Miller ran for over 1200 yards, and Carlos Hyde had 960, mostly between the tackles. It seems like a great combination – the speed and elusiveness of Miller mixed with the power of Hyde gives the Buckeyes one of the most diverse running games in the country. And it is a great combination, but it's also one injury away from potentially becoming remarkably pedestrian.
Keeping Miller and Hyde healthy will be a priority, and to do that, somebody in the backfield will need to step up and provide that quickness and elusiveness.
It would seem that the position would be in good hands with Jordan Hall, but Hall's role will be more of an H-back one. Accordingly, he can't in fairness be considered as someone who will be in the primary rotation. Would it be possible to move him back into the role of running back, and make whoever the #2 H-back guy is move up into the #1 spot? Sure, but that could make two positions weaker, in a sense. If Hall turns out to be as good as advertised, you'll take away a big part of his game and OSU's offense. And now you'll bump up a freshman, more than likely, into one of the most important positions on the offense outside the quarterback.
Even though our Eric Schieve makes a strong case for Hall in his "Exploring The Depths" piece (and really, if you want to know everything there is to know about Ohio State strengths and weaknesses, read this series), I think Rod Smith or Bri'onte Dunn will figure prominently in the event injuries hit the backfield.
Smith is an intriguing guy, and Eric's description of him as an x-factor is spot on. He had less carries than an injured Jordan Hall had, but averaged almost 7 yards a carry, and also had a 51 yard touchdown catch against Illinois. He's not the fastest back, and he's not the most powerful, but Smith might be the best combination of the two.
Dunn is another guy that should have a bigger role. After a drama filled recruitment that almost saw him flip to Michigan until he re-committed to newly hired Urban Meyer, Dunn saw time almost exclusively in a mop-up role last year. Still, he averaged over 5 yards a carry and showed flashes of speed and power that should get him on the field more in 2013.
Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson are incoming freshmen that might make an impact as well. Both Elliiott and Wilson add much needed depth, along with redshirt freshman Warren Ball, and whoever makes the most of their opportunities will get a chance to make an impact. Wilson projects more as a backup to Hall in the H-back slot, and of these three he might have the biggest chance to make an impact.
Losing Miller to injury would be devastating, obviously, but the amount of depth at the running back situation is a lot better than it was a year ago. Granted, outside of Hyde and Miller, there isn't a lot of experience, (I'm considering Hall an H-back) but the amount of natural talent and potential is as deep as it has been since probably 2006, when Antonio Pittman and Beanie Wells were on the roster.
But potential is one thing, and results are another thing entirely. How the potential translates to results will be the key.