"Ezekiel Elliott left large cleats to fill, and not just because he ran for 3,699 yards, 41 TDs and 12 multiple-TD games in his past two seasons. He was also valued as a blocker."
Ohio State's running backs have been at or near the top of the priority list this offseason for the Buckeyes in determining who will get the starting nod between Bri'onte Dunn, Mike Weber, and Curtis Samuel. Replacing one of the best running backs in the country last season is never an easy task, but the coaching staff certainly has talent to work with as well. In addition to the senior Dunn and freshman Weber, the potential list of backs includes the aforementioned Samuel (who played at wide receiver for a good chunk of last season), Dontre Wilson, and early enrollee Antonio Williams.
All reports up to this point seem to be leaning towards Weber's way, but it'd be wrong to count Dunn out of the running. The fifth-year senior has shown flashes at times of what he's capable of but has been in and out of Urban's doghouse for the better part of his career in the scarlet and gray, including some fumbling troubles at times. Weber showcased his skill set during the spring game and definitely proved he's more than capable of being the starter. Samuel is sort of the wild card, as the staff will likely want to use him in a variety of ways this season to give J.T. Barrett enough options. Samuel has good hands but also is a strong runner in the backfield when given the carries.
"Barrett is a good runner in OSU's spread option system; more than that, he has savvy pocket presence. He's as good as any recent Buckeye quarterback."
J.T. Barrett will be the lone Ohio State starter at quarterback for the first time since his freshman season in 2014. That year, Barrett led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 record and a spot in the Big Ten conference championship, before injuring his knee against Michigan. After last season's up and down performance splitting time with Cardale Jones, Barrett is ready to saddle up for another breakout year. The junior quarterback lit up record books as a freshman and did plenty of damage on the field as a sophomore, but now looks for a complete performance to add to his personal achievements. The Buckeyes will likely go as far as Barrett can take them after losing much of its talented depth to the NFL draft.
But as head coach Urban Meyer has spoke about in the past, the quarterback position at Ohio State needs to be a Heisman contender. That shouldn't seem as difficult to Barrett, who finished fifth in the balloting back in 2014, after two seasons in Columbus under his belt. In the piece linked above, Barrett is listed as the best quarterback that Nebraska will face this season - and for good reason. None of the other Big Ten quarterbacks really meet the level of play that Barrett has had in the past two seasons.
In addition to J.T. Barrett making the Maxwell Award watch list and Raekwon McMillan making the Bednarik Award watch list, there's a third Buckeye to make the cut. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis was listed on the Bednarik Award watch list for the upcoming season after coming off a 2015 campaign that saw him rack up eight sacks over the course of the season. Playing opposite of Joey Bosa and Sam Hubbard, Lewis still shone brightly on a defense full of defensive stars. Having played in 28 games for the Buckeyes, Lewis is no doubt considered a veteran on the team as a junior and will be looked to as one of the leaders on the defensive line.
The Bednarik Award itself has been presented to the college level Defensive Player of the Year since 1995. No one from Ohio State has won the award since its introduction, but Lewis and McMillan both are hoping to make a case for it in 2016. The Maxwell Award has been given annually to America's College Player of the Year since 1937. Ohio State has had four Maxwell Award winners including Howard Cassady, Bob Ferguson, Archie Griffin, and most recently, Eddie George in 1995.