The 2010s had no shortage of great seasons from great Ohio State players.
As Eleven Warriors’ Decade in Review recap of the 2010s winds down later this week, we took a look back to pick out the 10 most dominant individual seasons over 10 years. Naturally, that left plenty of tremendous performances on the outside of the top 10.
Cameron Heyward’s 2010, John Simon’s 2012, Braxton Miller’s 2012, Bradley Roby’s 2013, Ryan Shazier’s 2013, Carlos Hyde’s 2013, Darron Lee’s 2014, Vonn Bell’s 2014, Taylor Decker’s 2014, Devin Smith’s 2014, Raekwon McMillan’s 2016, Gareon Conley’s 2016, Marshon Lattimore’s 2016, Pat Elflein’s 2016, Tyquan Lewis’ 2016, Denzel Ward’s 2017, Nick Bosa’s 2017, Billy Price’s 2017, Dre’Mont Jones’ 2018, Parris Campbell’s 2018 and Jeff Okudah’s 2019.
Despite their excellence, those campaigns were all left out. Our top 10 begins in the middle of the 2010s with one of only two players with a pair of seasons on this list.
10. Ezekiel Elliott in 2015
What Ezekiel Elliott did en route to a national title in 2014 will go down in history, but it sometimes overshadows his fantastic 2015 season – partially due to what happened in the unforgettable loss to Michigan State.
Elliott returned for his junior year at Ohio State and put up nearly identical numbers to those he had the year before, reaching 1,821 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry. Despite an offense loaded with talent all over the place, the Buckeyes rarely found much of a rhythm, leaving Elliott as one of the sole consistently productive pieces.
In all but one game, he reached 100 rushing yards, also catching 27 passes for 206 yards. The following spring, Elliott became the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
9. Braxton Miller in 2013
As the most electrifying quarterback of the decade, Braxton Miller had to find his way onto the list, and he does for what he accomplished in 2013, his final season as a quarterback.
The junior set career highs in every major passing category – including completion percentage (63.5), yards (2,094) and passing touchdowns (24) – while continuing to usher in the Urban Meyer era. On the ground, Miller did what he does so well, running 171 times for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Buckeyes fell short of an undefeated season, losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. But with Miller at the helm, they had plenty of memorable moments, with the 42-41 featured among them.
8. Justin Fields in 2019
Admittedly, this might even be a little bit low for what Justin Fields accomplished in his first season as a starter. But because of the talent surrounding him on both sides of the ball, he wasn’t forced to dominate games quite as frequently as others in the 2010s.
Either way, Fields was as efficient as anybody could imagine in 2019. He completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,273 yards with 41 touchdowns compared to only three interceptions. He only threw a single pick in the first 13 games of the season combined.
At the forefront of a team that ran the table in the regular season, decimated Michigan, won the Big Ten championship and appeared in the College Football Playoff, Fields exceeded already high expectations in 2019 to become one of Ohio State’s two Heisman Trophy finalists.
Fields, an early 2020 Heisman frontrunner, could make a run at a spot on next decade’s list in the fall.
7. Curtis Samuel in 2016
On an Ohio State team bereft of offensive playmakers, Curtis Samuel stood out in a major way.
The Brooklynite impacted the game in just about every way the coaches could figure out for him. Samuel had 97 rushes for 771 yards and eight touchdowns, leading the team with 7.9 yards per carry. He also caught 74 passes for 865 yards, both of which more than doubled the totals of every other Ohio State player. He snagged a team-high seven touchdown passes, too.
Ending the regular season against Michigan, Samuel had the game for which many will remember him.
His numbers – seven carries, 54 yards, one rushing touchdown and four catches for 32 yards – don’t immediately stand out. But his end-of-game plays will go down in Ohio State lore. In the first overtime, his 18-yard rush set up a touchdown from J.T. Barrett.
Then in the second overtime, he ran just about every direction on the field to pick up eight yards on 3rd-and-9, setting up Barrett to convert a 4th-and-1 run followed by a 15-yard scamper from Samuel affectionately known as the Brooklyn Dagger.
6. Joey Bosa in 2014
Early into Joey Bosa’s first year at Ohio State, which ended with him earning freshman All-American honors, it became clear he’d turn into a star before leaving Columbus for the NFL. Nobody had to wait too long.
The next year, it happened.
Bosa turned in a unanimous All-American season as Ohio State’s star defensive player on its national championship team. Then a sophomore, he racked up 55 tackles, including 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Bosa also forced four fumbles, including one versus Michigan that Darron Lee picked up and returned for a touchdown.
And don’t forget that time he recorded the game-winning sack against Penn State by pushing running back Akeel Lynch into Christian Hackenberg.
5. J.K. Dobbins in 2019
J.K. Dobbins set an Ohio State single-season record 2,003 rushing yards and scored 21 rushing touchdowns in 2019, and he did so without carrying the ball in the entire second half of victories against Cincinnati, Miami (Ohio), Maryland and Rutgers and in the fourth quarter against Indiana, Nebraska and Northwestern.
Enough said? Probably. But let’s delve a little bit deeper.
Memorably, he called his sophomore season – during which he had 1,053 yards – a “failure” in August. Then he went out and proved himself correct by thoroughly gashing every defense he faced.
In 13 of 14 games, he scored at least once. In eight games, he topped 150 rushing yards. In three games, he both reached 150 rushing yards and scored multiple touchdowns. Only two opponents held him below five yards per carry, and he reached at least four yards per rush in every game.
At the end of the year, he had an Elliott-esque stretch, running for more than 150 yards on 30-plus carries versus Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin before his 18-rush, 174-yard Fiesta Bowl performance against Clemson.
4. Ezekiel Elliott in 2014
Nobody on a stacked national championship team, which included Joey Bosa, Michael Thomas, Devin Smith, J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones, Eli Apple, Doran Grant, Cardale Jones, Curtis Samuel, Taylor Decker, Billy Price, Adolphus Washington, Pat Elflein, Darron Lee and Vonn Bell, consistently dominated games during the title run quite like Ezekiel Elliott.
Affectionately known as Zeke, he took 273 carries for 1,878 yards, an average of 6.9 yards per rush, and scored 18 touchdowns.
Elliott doesn’t earn the top spot among running backs on this list for what he did at the beginning of the season, but rather for how he ended it. He had already topped 1,100 rushing yards in the regular season when the Buckeyes turned to him for an even greater boost.
In each of the three games following J.T. Barrett’s season-ending ankle injury against Michigan, Elliott rushed for at least 220 yards and two touchdowns.
- Against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship: 20 carries, 220 yards, two touchdowns
- Against Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals: 20 carries, 230 yards, two touchdowns
- Against Oregon in the College Football Playoff championship: 36 carries, 246 yards, four touchdowns
It went down in history as one of Ohio State’s best end-of-year stretches, ending a remarkable season on the highest of highs both individually and as a team.
3. Dwayne Haskins in 2018
In his only season as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, Dwayne Haskins rewrote the record book.
Urban Meyer and Ryan Day altered the offense to fit his pocket-passing style and pinpoint accuracy, and he repaid them with a season for the ages. Despite playing with the worst defense of the Meyer era, Haskins led the Buckeyes to a 13-1 record, featuring a win against Michigan, Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory.
During a year in which he threw for 4,831 yards, he topped 300 passing yards in nine games and reached the 400-yard mark in five of them.
Haskins broke the Big Ten records for most passing yards in a season (4,831), most passing touchdowns in a season (50) and most Offensive Player of the Week awards in a season (6). He set Ohio State records for single-season completion percentage (70), single-game passing yards (499 against Northwestern), single-season passing attempts (533) and single-season passing completions (373).
This will be remembered as arguably the best pure passing season by a quarterback in program history.
2. Malik Hooker in 2016
Malik Hooker’s out-of-nowhere breakout 2016 performance went down as arguably the best season by a safety in Ohio State history.
Though he eventually became known across the country as a ball hawk, Hooker had essentially no track record before his third year as a Buckeye. He entered the program as a three-star recruit from New Castle, Pennsylvania, and didn’t play a snap as a freshman, taking a redshirt. The following season, he played mostly special teams, recording 10 tackles.
Hooker’s opportunity finally came in 2016 when Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell had left for the NFL, freeing up two starting safety spots. He won one of them, making his first play in front of public eyes in the spring game that year when he snagged a pair of interceptions, including an 82-yard pick six.
Those plays portended the greatness that followed in the fall.
Hooker intercepted seven passes, taking three of them back for touchdowns. The pick and subsequent 16-yard return for a score against Michigan gave the Buckeyes their only first-half points. Passing offenses feared Hooker, who also recorded 74 tackles, the most among the team’s defensive backs, and had 5.5 tackles for loss and four pass breakups.
1. Chase Young in 2019
There’s no use worrying about recency bias when appreciating what Chase Young did in 2019.
In his final year as a Buckeye, Young had the most dominant season by an Ohio State defensive player of this decade, and quite possibly of all-time. He set what seemed to be a high bar for himself with 10.5 sacks as a sophomore. But in his junior year, he reached that mark by the eighth game of the season.
Young totalled a nation-high 16.5 sacks, crushing Vernon Gholston’s previously held program record of 14, which he topped by the ninth game of the season. He tied the single-game Ohio State record with four sacks against Wisconsin, then recorded three sacks in an 11-point win against Penn State a week later. The Buckeyes led the country with 54 sacks, yet no Ohio State player other than Young had more than six sacks. He single-handedly changed each opponent’s game plan.
Along with his sacks, Young had 46 tackles, including 21 tackles for loss, along with six forced fumbles, three pass breakups and a blocked kick.
The only blemish of Young’s 2019 campaign came in the form of a late-fall two-game suspension for an NCAA violation. Still, that didn’t stop him from earning just about every possible award.
Young, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award, won the Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Ted Hendricks Award and Chicago Tribune Silver Football, he and was named both Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Next up? Becoming a top-three pick in the NFL draft.