COLUMBUS: Ohio State's top back the past two seasons, Dan Herron, graduated. His heir apparent, Jordan Hall, is still recuperating after a quirky midsummer mishap.
With the days dwindling until the 18th-ranked Buckeyes' opener against Miami (Ohio), coach Urban Meyer is hoping that he has a worthy replacement ready.
"I think Carlos Hyde is (the) guy," Meyer said of the 235-pound junior. "He had a Wednesday practice in the spring where he was a legitimate tailback. Unfortunately he didn't have a Monday, Friday, Saturday to follow up the Wednesday practice. (But) he's really solid."
If that sounds like faint praise, it parallels the reaction Ohio State coaches had a year ago to Hyde.
Hyde started fast in the early games last year but then saw his playing time wilt away to nothing. He rushed for 93 and 76 yards in the first two games, scoring two touchdowns. His best game was 104 yards on 13 carries and two scores in a loss against Nebraska in week six. Outside of gaining 105 yards in a rout of Indiana, he had just 16 attempts for 61 yards in the other six games coming down the stretch.
"Last year was like a roller coaster," said the native Floridian. "It was just sometimes, I'm out there and I'd have good games, and next game I wouldn't get in at all."
A week after what was a breakthrough game for him against No. 14 Nebraska, he got the ball just three times and gained 8 yards against Illinois. A week later, he didn't play at all in the big showdown against 12th-ranked Wisconsin.
It's not a coincidence that Hyde disappeared the same time Herron rejoined the team after being suspended for the first six games for trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos (five games) and accepting too much money for too little work at a summer job (one game). Herron was almost exclusively the first option of the offense once the conference season got going.
Hyde, who remained the team's leading rusher well into November, became an afterthought.
"I got down about it in the Illinois game, but a couple older guys just told me to be patient, your time's going to come," he said. "So I just sat back, and I was patient. I had another chance against Indiana, and had a good game against them. I was patient the rest of the year after that and was just waiting for my turn."
With size that Woody Hayes would have loved, now Hyde will be carrying a lot more than the ball. On his shoulders will rest the fate of Meyer's spread offense and the hopes of thousands of Buckeyes fans expecting big things in a fresh start after 18 months of bad news.
Mind you, Hyde isn't exactly a Meyer prototype. He's big, has decent cruising speed and can catch the ball as well as run (10 receptions in 2011), but is hardly the make-'em-miss hybrid receiver/rusher that makes Meyer's offense churn out yards.
Still, Meyer calls him one of the most improved players on the roster.
Hall was more in line with the scatback Meyer was seeking at the H back, but then the senior who followed fellow Jeannette, Pa., teammate Terrelle Pryor to Columbus four years ago decided to follow his dog outside in June. Hall stepped on a piece of glass that resulted in surgery which will likely sideline him through at least the first two games.
The backups behind Hyde are largely unproven candidates Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn. Smith got limited playing time in into 10 games during Ohio State's dismal 6-7 campaign a year ago, while Dunn has made headlines for being arrested not far from his home in Northeastern Ohio. What began as alleged possession of marijuana and a pipe transformed into minor traffic violations and eventually resulted in all charges being dropped last Friday.
Hyde does not plan on giving up the job right away, whether it's to Hall, Smith or Dunn.
"I'm not trying to be cocky, but I feel like I can play any position you put me in," he said. "If I can learn it, I think I can execute at that position."
Things certainly have to improve offensively for the Buckeyes. Last season they could not pass (115th in the nation) and weren't exactly a juggernaut on the ground (fourth-best in the Big Ten).
In Meyer's new attack, Braxton Miller will again take the snaps and set the ball in motion. From there, it's up to the Buckeyes to make good decisions and move forward instead of backward.
Meyer says Miller is vastly improved throwing the ball, although the jury is still out on the receiving corps.
Being able to run the ball would make things easier for everybody.
"I feel we will be a very good balanced offense, to be honest," wide receiver Evan Spencer said. "We have awesome running backs and awesome quarterbacks. You have to be able to do both."
Hyde is ready to accept the lion's share of responsibility for moving the chains.
Asked what fans might expect this season, he smiled and said, "A lot of points. Way more. Just a lot of more points and more exciting big plays. Long plays. Just those big plays that people want to see, those plays you see on ESPN's Top Ten list. Expect that."