Three games is all it took for Ezekiel Elliott to transition from a solid backfield threat into a leading candidate for next season’s Heisman Trophy race.
Granted, Elliott’s performance in Ohio State’s postseason championship run was one of the most impressive stretches for a running back in all of 2014.
In the Big Ten Championship Game, Sugar Bowl and College Football Playoff title game, the Buckeyes’ back totaled 696 yards on 76 carries, scored eight touchdowns and had runs of 80-plus yards in two of the three contests. He averaged 232 yards per game and 9.16 yards per carry.
At the conclusion of the regular season, Elliott averaged 98.5 yards per contest. Not to mention this more than 130-yard per game improvement game against top defensive teams Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon.
With the 2015 season approaching and the growing interest in Elliott as a Heisman finalist in his junior season in Columbus, the numbers from his breakout postseason beg an important question.
If he was able to sustain similar output throughout the course of an entire season, what would Elliott’s stat line look like at the end of the year?
A 232-yard per game average over a 12-game season would land Elliott atop the single-season rushing record, ending with a total of 2,784 yards.
Currently that record is owned by Barry Sanders, who set the mark in 1987 with 2,628 yards.
Elliott would finish the year with 25 carries per game and would average 9.28 yards per carry, a mark that would rank fourth all-time for a single season rusher.
The junior’s touchdown total would be 32, good enough for third all-time for a single season. He’d fall behind Sanders’s record-setting 37 and Montee Ball’s 33.
Based on his longest run totals against the Badgers, Crimson Tide and Ducks, Elliott would have an average of a 66-yard run in each game of the season.
Those numbers would guarantee another Heisman Trophy in Ohio State’s congested football display case. Not to mention those totals are just for a regular 12-game slate.
If the Buckeyes were to make another championship run in 2015, the numbers are even more eye-popping.
With an additional three games added to the schedule, Elliott’s yardage total would improve to 3,480 yards on the ground and his touchdown appearances would increase to 40.
It’s highly unlikely that Elliott can replicate his postseason performance from last season, and the likelihood of sustaining that production throughout the course of the season is minimal. But it does put in to perspective just how impressive the final three games of Elliott’s sophomore season truly were.
Even without threatening the rushing record set by Barry Sanders, Elliott will be one of the Big Ten’s top running backs and is a legitimate threat to be the first running back since Mark Ingram to bring home the trophy handed to college football’s most dominant player.
But it would be a lot of fun if Elliott gave Sanders a run for his money and a nearly 30-year-old record came crashing down.