Selecting top-five running backs in storied Buckeyes history

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Archie Griffin
Archie Griffin is the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner in college football history. (Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

The summer offseason is in full swing, and Lettermen Row is trying to survive it with our annual Position Week breakdowns. By the time all nine units at Ohio State have been covered, training camp and media days will nearly have arrived — and the return of football in the Horseshoe will be just around the corner. Let’s roll right along by turning the attention to the running backs for the Buckeyes.


COLUMBUS — Ohio State’s had some of the best running backs in college football history.

Four have won the Heisman Trophy. Some have the talent to break huge runs in between the tackles. Others shouldn’t be given a slice of space on the outside; they’ll be headed to the end zone a few steps later.

Trying to narrow done the most talent-rich position in Ohio State history isn’t easy. But it wasn’t impossible, either. Rushing yards and touchdowns matter, along with players’ contributions to their team.

Above all, however, their lasting impact has to be considered. The reason why Archie Griffin is still so recognizable is because he’s the only player in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy twice.

So in honor of Running Backs Week at Lettermen Row, here are the five best backs in Buckeyes history:

Eddie George-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Eddie George is the last Ohio State running back to win the Heisman Trophy. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Eddie George, 1992 to 1995

The last running back to win the Heisman Trophy at Ohio State, Eddie George’s career really took off when he was a senior. After fumbling the ball twice against Illinois as a freshman, he only turned the ball over six times in the remainder of his career. He rushed for a school-record 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns in his final season in Columbus, averaging 148.23 yards per game. His contribution in the pass game is sometimes forgotten; he caught 47 passes for 417 yards and another score. George had three 200-yard games in 1995, capped off by his 207-yard performance against Notre Dame. His 314 yards and three touchdowns in Ohio State’ victory over Illinois was a school record until Trey Sermon rushed for 331 yards in the Big Ten Championship Game this past season. A Walter Camp, Maxwell and Doak Walker award winner, he was unanimous All-American and his No. 27 is retired.

Archie Griffin, 1972 to 1975

The only two-time Heisman Trophy winner in college football history, Archie Griffin is and will always be one of the top running backs in Ohio State history. He earned the starting job as a rookie in 1972 and immediately showed off his skills against North Carolina in the second game of the season, setting a school single-game rushing record of 239 yards. After rushing for 867 yards as a freshman, he reeled off three-consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Griffin was the only running back in Big Ten history to lead the conference for three-straight seasons until Jonathan Taylor did from 2017-2029. During his time in Columbus, Ohio State went 40-5-1 as he also won the Walter Camp Award, was named an All-American selection and took the Buckeyes to four-straight Rose Bowls. He compiled 5,589 rushing yards on 924 carries across his four seasons with the Buckeyes, which was the NCAA record at the time and still the most in Ohio State history.

Ohio State-J.K. Dobbins-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

J.K. Dobbins holds the record for most rushing yards by a freshman at Ohio State. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

J.K. Dobbins, 2017 to 2019

A top-50 recruit coming of La Grange (Texas), J.K. Dobbins arrived at Ohio State and immediately started rewriting the record books. The tailback set the program record for rushing yards in a season by a freshman with 1,403 yards as he broke the 100-yard mark six times. His stock just continued to rise, splitting time with Mike Weber as a sophomore, but he still cracked the 1000-yard barrier. He was the top back as a junior, however, rushing for over 100 yards in 10 games. Dobbins went out on top, becoming the only Ohio State player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season. His four-touchdown performance against Michigan will always be remembered. A first-team All-American and Big Ten selection after his final season, he left Ohio State with the second-most rushing yards in program history.

Beanie Wells, 2006 to 2008

He didn’t see many carries in his first year in Columbus behind Antonio Pittman, but Beanie Wells built his lasting legacy against Michigan. The tailback ripped off a 52-yard run for a touchdown in the 2006 edition of The Game, sealing the Buckeyes’ victory over Michigan. With Pittman gone in 2007 Wells took over as the chief ball-carrier, starting every game that season. He finished with 1,609 yards on 274 rushes for 15 touchdowns. For a second-straight year, he made a mark against Michigan with 222 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carriers; he was a first-team All-Big Ten selection. Even though he missed three games as a junior, Wells crossed the 1000-yard mark and had a handful of memorable moments. He had 33-yard and 54-yard runs against Wisconsin and against Illinois he lept over a defender. Wells only spent three seasons in Columbus, but his big-play abilities haven’t been forgotten.

Ezekiel Elliott-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Ezekiel Elliott and Ohio State handed Oregon a loss in the 2015 national title game. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Ezekiel Elliott, 2013 to 2015

Arguably the most talented running back to ever play in Columbus, his name is all over Ohio State’s record books. His 2014 and 2015 seasons rank third and fourth, respectively, in Buckeyes history. His 85-yard run in the 2014 College Football Semifinals sealed the Buckeyes win over Alabama, sending them to the national championship game. Elliott didn’t slow down, rushing for 246 yards on 36 carries and scoring four touchdowns against Oregon in the CFP finals, delivering Ohio State its first national title since 2002. Entering his junior season as a Heisman favorite, the tailback rushed for over 100 yards in 10-straight wins. But in the Buckeyes loss to Michigan State, Elliott only got 11 carries and in the postgame press conference announced he was heading to the NFL after the season. He finished the season rushing for 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns while catching 27 passes for 206 yards, good enough to earn Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors.