The guy leaving: Dan Herron
His credentials: Herron worked his way up the food chain at Ohio State and deserved everything he earned, including first-team All-Big Ten honors, by the time he was done.
He pledged to Ohio State as a member of the class of 2007, back when he was a four-star running back at Warren (Ohio) Harding. Rated the No. 27 back in the class, he came to Ohio State with one-time Buckeye State Mr. Football Brandon Saine.
Saine saw the field in 2007 but Herron took a redshirt year, which he clearly used wisely as he was ready to play when the '08 season came around. As starter Chris Wells fought injury, Herron showcased his hard running throughout the year, finishing with 439 yards and six touchdowns despite missing more than two games with a concussion. His first career score came in game two against Ohio, he crossed the goal line twice in a blowout win against Michigan and then had the would-be game-winning TD run late in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas.
With Wells having left for the NFL draft after that season, Herron came into 2009 expected to carry more of the load, and he did so. "Boom" finished the season with 633 yards in 10 games, scoring a touchdown in eight straight contests at one point and earning three OSU offensive player of the week honors. He finished strong, as well, going for 97 yards and a TD in the Rose Bowl-clinching win vs. Iowa and adding 96 yards and a touchdown catch a week later against Michigan.
2010 was truly Herron's breakout year, though, as he was named a first-team all-conference choice after finishing with 1,155 yards. He was at his best near the end of the season for a team that went on to capture a share of the league title and reach the Sugar Bowl. Herron first topped the 100-yard mark in his career with 114 yards on 17 carries vs. Minnesota, then he had three consecutive huge weeks – 190 yards vs. Penn State, the game-winning touchdown vs. Iowa and 175 yards on the ground against Michigan.
After the season, however, he was caught up in the scandal that cost OSU head coach Jim Tressel and Herron the first six games of his senior season. He still made an impact, though, rushing for 678 yards in seven games with three touchdowns. Herron carried the mail upon his return from suspension, posting 114 yards in an upset at Illinois, rushing for 160 in another upset vs. Wisconsin and then posting 141 against Indiana.
At the end of the season, Herron was named a team captain as well as its 2011 most valuable player.
Carlos Hyde, Jr., 6-0, 238
The Case For: Hyde returns as OSU's leading rusher at the running back spot after posting 106 attempts, 566 yards, six scores and a team-high 5.3 yards per carry. He boasts excellent size, a powerful running style and can outrun opponents in the open field. Head coach Urban Meyer hasn't had many huge backs in his system, but he did make things work with 5-11, 238-pound DeShawn Wynn, the team's starter in the run to the 2006 national title.
The Case Against: Despite being a solid all-around back, Hyde doesn't quite have the elusiveness that seems to be a big part of Meyer's spread offense ideal of getting players into space. Hyde got better at finding holes throughout the 2012 year but still doesn't have the vision inside the tackles of someone like Herron, either.
Jordan Hall, Sr., 5-9, 195
The Case For: For years, Ohio State fans have heard Hall possesses the stature and quickness to excel in a role like that bestowed upon speedsters Percy Harvin, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey under Meyer at Florida. Now, he'll have the coach that made those players into household names, and Hall has always possessed excellent vision. He's an adept pass-catcher as well.
The Case Against: Hall is more quick than fast, so the comparisons to Harvin and Demps, a former NCAA sprinting champion, aren't quite equal. After providing a spark to the OSU offense in the early going of 2012, he seemed to fade late in the season and averaged 4.1 yards per carry for the year. Whether he can take to a slot or hybrid role remains unclear as it hasn't quite happened yet.
Rod Smith, So., 6-3, 230
The Case For: Word has been for years that Smith boasts the talent to be an all-conference back given his performances in practice. There's no doubt he has great burst to go with his excellent size. He's had some adversity at Ohio State but there's no doubt he can make plays.
The Case Against: Smith had a rough 2011, including losing fumbles in each of OSU's first two games of the season. Early playing time petered out, and he even had a cameo at linebacker midway through the season. He also has to battle a similarly sized player in Hyde for touches.
Brionte Dunn, Fr., 6-1, 220
The Case For: Dunn was simply one of the best running backs in the country as a high school senior in 2011. Scout's No. 7-rated tailback and a five-star prospect in the class of 2011, Dunn did everything for Canton GlenOak including running for 17 touchdowns as a senior and gutting through injury. He has excellent size and good instincts running the ball between the tackles, and Dunn has enrolled early to get an edge on things at OSU.
The Case Against: There's always the question of inexperience; OSU's last two five-star backs, Chris Wells and Maurice Wells, weren't exactly standouts as freshmen, and Beanie had a penchant for putting the ball on the ground. Dunn will have to battle those above him, and his skill-set doesn't quite match those of Harvin, Rainey or Demps.
Warren Ball, Fr., 6-1, 215
The Case For: Ball didn't quite have the high school accolades of Dunn but was pretty good, earning four stars from Scout and being ranked as the No. 21 back in the country. Ball finished with 29 touchdowns as a senior, showing his ability to get into the end zone from close range. He's also mature beyond his years.
The Case Against: The same caveat about freshmen applies here, and Ball didn't quite put up the eye-popping single-game numbers that Dunn had during his senior season. He still needs to work on his inside running and elusiveness. Other prep knocks included durability and an upright running style.
The likely outcome: This is a hard spot to forecast. A year ago, people thought Ohio State had five backs ready to break out and have excellent years; instead, OSU didn't get consistent production from the running game and no stars jumped forward. Each player in the running here brings something different to the table, and each should get their shot. It wouldn't be a surprise, though, if Hall does move into a hybrid role while Hyde serves as a between-the-tackles basher in the red zone. Smith is certainly a wild card, as well. It will be up to the freshmen to impress upon arrival.