Ohio State's offense has enjoyed the benefit of some of the best running backs in NCAA history over the years--Hopalong Cassidy, Archie Griffin, Keith Byars and Eddie George all come to mind. From 2000 to 2009, four Ohio State running backs finished six out of ten seasons with 1000-plus yards rushing. Which one of those running backs deserves a spot on the All-Decade Team?
The candidates are:
Jonathan Wells (1998-2001)
Wells played four years for the Buckeyes, and 2001, which was former head coach Jim Tressel's first season, and Wells' senior season, was by far his best. Finishing 2001 with 1,294 yards and 16 touchdowns, Wells is 12th in school history for career rushing yards. Wells is fondly remembered by Buckeye faithful for absolutely destroying That Team Up North, ranked 11th in the nation at the time, in 2001 with 129 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone, before leaving the game with an injury. It was Ohio State's first win in Ann Arbor since 1987, and Michigan's loss to Ohio State knocked the Wolverines out of Rose Bowl contention that season.
Maurice Clarett (2002)
Clarett's is a tale of what might have been. A truly stellar 2002 season on the field--1,237 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns – was wholly overshadowed by myriad off-the-field issues. He was suspended from the university for the 2003 athletic year for filing a false police report about items allegedly stolen from a rental car, which was not at all the first public scandal for the troubled running back, who is well-remembered for derisive public statements about the university, academic scandals, a drunk driving arrest with guns and a hatchet in the car that he was driving, and suing the NFL. Clarett was Ohio State's leading rusher in 2002 with 1,237 rushing yards, and is 17th in school history for most rushing yards in a season. Clarett has repaired his relationship with Ohio State, and when the 2002 national championship team was honored on the field at the Horseshoe after the first quarter of the game against Michigan in 2012, Clarett happily joined his teammates and former coach Jim Tressel.
Antonio Pittman (2004-2006)
PIttman was the team's leading rusher in 2005 and 2006, and turned Ohio State's rushing game around after weak performances in 2003 (826 yards) and 2004 (475 yards) from Lydell Ross. Pittman currently sits at 11th and 16th for all-time single season rushing yards with 1,331 and 1,233; he is ninth in school history for career rushing yards with 2,945. Pittman's career average of 84.1 rushing yards per game is good for sixth in school history. Pittman was selected for All-Big Ten first-team honors by league coaches, and was a second-team selection by the media in 2006.
Chris "Beanie" Wells (2006-2008)
As a backup, Wells rushed for 576 yards and seven touchdowns during his freshman year. Wells currently sits at fourth on the all-time career rushing yards list with 3,382 total yards. He is also listed at fourth, as well as 20th, for the most single-season rushing yards with 1,609 and 1,197, respectively. Wells also has the third-most career average rushing yards per game in school history with 93.9. Wells was named as an All-American and received first-team All-Big Ten honors following the 2007 season, and was also named Ohio State's MVP in 2007.
And the winner is...
Wells impressed as a true freshman in 2006, and played in all 13 games, complementing Antonio Pittman's efforts as the starter with 576 yards and seven touchdowns on 104 carries. He finished the "Game of the Century" against Michigan that season with 56 yards on five carries, 52 of which came from an impressive touchdown run to put the top-ranked Buckeyes up 14-3 early in the second quarter over That Team Up North, ranked second in the nation at the time.
Wells fought through injuries to play in every game in 2007, and he put up very impressive numbers, finishing second in the Big Ten for total rushing yards, and contributing greatly to Ohio State's 11-1 regular season and a BCS Championship bid against Louisiana State University. Who doesn't recall Wells' performance against That Team Up North in 2007? He scored both touchdowns in the 14-3 victory, and put up a career-best 222 rushing yards on Ohio State's most bitter rival. His second touchdown in that game was a memorable 62-yard run. That performance came just a few weeks after Wells managed 221 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries against Michigan State, tying him with the legendary Archie Griffin for the second-most career 200-yard rushing performances in school history, and second, behind Eddie George, for the most 200-yard games in a single season.
Wells entered the 2008 season as a Heisman favorite. He missed three games due to injury, and still managed to rush for 1,197 yards and eight touchdowns. His total rushing yards for the season put him third in the Big Ten, and helped Ohio State finish third in the conference in rushing yards that season. Against That Team Up North in 2008, Wells scored the first points of the day, a 59-yard rushing touchdown, his third 50-plus yard touchdown run on Michigan in his three-year Ohio State career.
With his rare combination of speed, size, strength and agility, and his significant contributions to Ohio State's success during his college career, Beanie Wells has earned his spot in the Ohio State football record books, and on the Land-Grant Holy Land's "2000s All-Decade Team".