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Superstars elevating Buckeyes, building three Heisman Trophy cases

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Ohio State backfield mates Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins are both worthy Heisman candidates. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Superstars elevating Buckeyes, building three Heisman Trophy cases

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and take a spin on the Ohio State Heisman Trophy Wheel.

Welcome to the Big House, where legends are made, candidates for the sport’s biggest prize make their cases in a high-stakes rivalry — and the Buckeyes seemingly win every time they visit.

So, what’s it going to be? Give it a spin and see which of the Buckeyes will take a turn helping carry the nation’s top-ranked team and then spend the next week soaking up votes in the latest stiff-arm statue straw polls.

Maybe it will be the dual-threat quarterback, seemingly impervious to pain and capable of popping out of a medical tent to deliver pinpoint touchdown. Perhaps it will land on the best tailback in the country, pinballing through defenses with reckless abandon on the way to the end zone. Or for a little variety, there’s also a defensive end who leads the country in sacks and requires triple-team blocks to keep him out of the box score.

Really, there’s no way to lose that game for the Buckeyes. Which is exactly why top-ranked Ohio State won The Game yet again in a 56-27 beating of No. 13 Michigan on Saturday afternoon.

“I’ll say this, all three of them played great today,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I will say that all three of them deserve to be in New York, and I’ll let everybody make the decision about who they think.

“You know, Justin Fields, the way he played today was unbelievable. The way that J.K. Dobbins ran and how talented and dominant Chase Young is, all three of them deserve a trip to New York in my opinion.”

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Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields threw for four touchdowns in the win at Michigan. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

There might not be room for all of those Buckeyes at the Heisman ceremony. And it’s getting more difficult every week to figure out which one represents the best chance to head there and compete with LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the presumptive favorite heading into championship week and the final chance to impress voters.

It’s easy to make cases for all of them, though. And as the old coaching adage goes about big-time players elevating their game in the critical moments, that trio has lived up to the superstar billing when Ohio State has needed them the most.

Fields shook off a re-aggravation of a sprained left-knee ligament, emerging from the medical tent that doubled as Superman’s phone booth with a new knee brace serving as his cape. Fresh off the bench after missing seven snaps and to the surprise of an offensive line that didn’t even know he had returned, Fields went off script with an improvisational rollout and dazzling 30-yard touchdown as part of a 302-yard, four-score passing performances.

“Just [the praise] coming from Coach Day, I think he was really happy with how tough I played this game,” Fields said. “Just how I came back, I give all the credit to God. … It’s just hard work that the whole team puts in for the whole week, it pays off.

“The weight room, training room, off the field, all of that stuff combines and goes into that game.”

Right beside Fields in the backfield for every game is a dynamic tailback with a chip on his shoulder that matches his outsized ability. And after spending most of the season on the bench in the second half with Ohio State blowing out virtually every opponent, Dobbins appears to have both saved up his energy for the stretch run and accumulated a lot of frustration to unleash against even the best rush defenses in the Big Ten.

Dobbins set the tone right from the start for the Buckeyes, finishing with four touchdowns of his own on the ground to go with 211 yards rushing and two receptions for 49 yards to spark the attack early.

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Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins finished with four rushing touchdowns against Michigan. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“I’m not satisfied,” Dobbins said. “I’m not even close to being satisfied. I just feel like there is so much more I can prove with my God-given talents. I feel like a lot of people are overlooking it.”

That hasn’t really been the problem for Young, who has been impossible to ignore as he’s shattered the school record for sacks and forced opponents every week to account for his pass-rushing excellence on every snap.

Michigan had the most success of anybody so far, and Young finishing without a tackle while only getting credited with two quarterback hurries might be a blow to his candidacy. But that still ignores the way he changed the game with the Wolverines needing to devote extra blockers to slow him down for the entire game, eventually limiting their offense the deeper the game went while also helping force Shea Patterson into a disastrous second-half passing performance as the Buckeyes pulled away.

That’s the hard part of making history on defense where the statistics are tougher to come by every week. And that challenge is magnified when the Buckeyes have two other guys on the same team touching the football on almost every play and posting eye-popping numbers.

The Heisman Trophy tends to favor quarterbacks anyway. And on top of his ridiculous stats, Fields now has the kind of unforgettable play that will stick in the minds of voters.

“I thought was a magical moment,” Day said. “I thought it was a Heisman moment. For him to go down, take that injury, puts the brace on and then comes back out and makes a throw that we didn’t design that way … for him to ad-lib, make that play, make that throw going to his left, that’s about as good of a throw as I’ve seen in a long time. He put it right in the back of the end zone, and that just goes to show you what’s inside of him.

“His heart, his character and his competitive toughness is as good as I’ve ever been around, and I can’t say enough about the way he played today.”

Ohio State could have given similar stump speeches for Dobbins after arguably the most impressive game of his decorated career. The Buckeyes could do the same next week by pointing out the impact Young makes even when he doesn’t make a sack. And at this point, Fields has seemingly done enough just with his play to punch a ticket to New York.

All three of them are going to get votes. Any of them would be worthy winners, although the fact that individually they’re competing against each other might split the ballot and hurt their chances.

In the end, it surely won’t bother any of those Buckeyes. The superstars just added some Gold Pants hardware against Michigan, and if they can duplicate those outings a few more times, they’ll wind up with a national-championship trophy and some really big rings instead.

Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.