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The Game Changer – Ezekiel Elliott and Ohio State Ahead of Schedule

With his shirt rolled up, it’d be easy to mistake Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott for (insert popular 80s running back here). Swap in a dripping wet perm and hike up the hip pads, and Elliott would look like he was dressing up for Halloween, though you might not want to go mistaking him for a kid in a costume.

Because Zeke Elliott is a man.

Part track star (100-meter, 200-meter, 110-meter high hurdle and 300-meter hurdle state champion in Missouri as a senior) and part Humvee, he burst into the national consciousness with a 246-yard, four-touchdown performance against Oregon in Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship. However, Elliott has been on college football’s mind for six weeks now.

A former four-star prospect rated as one of the Top 100 players in the country by the 247Sports Composite Rankings, Elliott was highly recruited out of high school and ultimately settled on Urban Meyer and Ohio State despite ties (his parents are graduates) to the University of Missouri. As a freshman, he played sparingly, showing flashes of the legendary explosiveness that made him a football and track star back in St. Louis at the John Burroughs School.

With Carlos Hyde set to graduate at the end of the season, Zeke made the most of his 30 totes in the 2013 season, running for 8.7 yards per carry and earning an opportunity to compete to carry the load in 2014. Flash forward to Dec. 2014.

Ezekiel Elliott is already one of the best running backs in the Big Ten, but in a conference championship matchup with Wisconsin and its eventual Doak Walker Award-winning back Melvin Gordon, Elliott is an afterthought. But, with quarterback J.T. Barrett injured the previous week against Michigan and the Buckeyes down to their third-stringer in Cardale Jones, Elliott figures to be a major part of the gameplan.

He takes his 20 touches and rus with them, to the tune of 220 yards, two touchdowns and a 59-0 romp over the favored Badgers. An identity is born.

A month later, as a massive underdog against Alabama, the gameplan was the same.

The Buckeyes turned to Elliott and he didn’t disappoint. Working in Jones’ hip pocket out of the gun, Elliott took 20 more carries, this time rattling off 230 yards and another couple of scores. His 85-yard romp with under four minutes to play would seal Alabama’s fate as Ohio State earned a championship berth in the first machination of the CFP.

Despite doing what he did against the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide defense in front of nearly 29 million television viewers, Ezekiel Elliott truly became a water-cooler name with his performance on Monday night. Facing off against an opportunistic defense and needing to keep pace with the nation’s most efficient offense, Zeke wasn’t just a focal part of the Ohio State offense, he simply was the offense.

Elliott’s explosiveness and his power behind an offensive line that dominated the line of scrimmage allowed Ohio State to attack the Oregon secondary down the field. He gashed the Oregon front, always falling forward to consistently put the Buckeyes in favorable down and distances even in instances where it seemed like the Ducks did an admirable job of bottling him up.

NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 12 College Football Playoff National Championship - Oregon v Ohio State

Ezekiel Elliott celebrates the National Championship, but he and the Buckeyes aren’t going away anytime soon.

In the second half, Elliott’s persistent grinding broke Oregon. With the Ducks trying to play catch up, it was clear early in the fourth quarter that Oregon would never get there because they’d never stop him.

And the scary thing is, this story doesn’t just end in a trophy being hoisted. Because of Ezekiel Elliott and an offensive line that found their identity at the perfect time, the Ohio State Buckeyes are national champions ahead of schedule. They could be even better in 2015.

Despite the fact that he’d likely be a first-round selection right now, Zeke Elliott doesn’t become eligible for the NFL Draft until 2016. In addition to Zeke, the Buckeyes will return four starters on the offensive line, three incredibly talented quarterbacks with legitimate Heisman aspirations provided that they ever settle on just one and 14 starters back as a whole.

Currently, Ohio State also has the No. 7 recruiting class in the country and Urban Meyer has proven that he won’t hesitate to throw those talented young freshman into the rotation and see what they’re made from.

Ezekiel Elliott will be back in 2015 and that should be a scary thought for anyone on their schedule. Because with Urban Meyer at the helm, you knew it’d only be a matter of time before Ohio State’s talent began to show through, but what makes them truly unique is the way they found themselves late in the season.

Behind Elliott, Ohio State has become this big, supremely physical team and they’re not likely to forget that this offseason.

They should get better.

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