Believe it or not, a year after losing Tevin Coleman to the NFL, the Indiana Hoosiers have college football's best running back.
Through four weeks, UAB-transfer Jordan Howard leads the nation with 675 rushing yards, picking up right where Coleman left off after the now-Atlanta Falcon rushed for 2,036 yards last season, one of the 20 best rushing seasons in college football history.
Howard is just one cog in an Indiana offense that is tops in the Big Ten right now, an offense that will be tested incredibly this weekend against No. 1 Ohio State.
Both the Hoosiers and Buckeyes are undefeated, but there's still a massive gap between the two teams. Ohio State is the defending national champion and expected by many to repeat. Indiana has won four games over Southern Illinois, Florida International, Western Kentucky and Wake Forest.
If the Hoosiers are going to stage an upset, though, on Saturday — and come within one win of their first bowl trip since 2007 and just their second since 1993 — they'll be doing it behind Howard.
Indiana's explosive offense wouldn't seem to be too much of a problem for Ohio State, which boasts the nation's No. 6-ranked defense, allowing just 253.3 total offensive yards to opponents each week. But look closer, and you'll see those numbers are driven by a terrific pass defense. The Buckeyes' quartet of defensive backs — cornerbacks Eli Apple and Gareon Conley and safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell — have been suffocatingly good against opposing passing attacks, holding foes to just 131.5 pass yards per game, another top-10 mark in the country and the the No. 2 mark in the Big Ten.
Against the run, however, opposing teams have been a hair more successful when compared to the rest of the defenses in college football. You have to go down to No. 36 in the national rankings — and a surprising ninth in the Big Ten rankings — to find Ohio State's 121.8 rushing yards allowed per week. Now, it's not like the Buckeyes are letting opposing backs run all over them, with no ball-carrier going over 100 yards rushing against Ohio State during the non-conference season. But the success on the ground for Ohio State opponents has been increasing, with Western Michigan's Jamauri Bogan rushing for 93 yards as part of a 169-yard rushing day for the Broncos last weekend.
It all means that if Indiana is going to breach an Ohio State defense that has been close to unbreachable so far this season, it's going to do it on the ground. Howard has been terrific and was going to be a big part of the plan anyway. After all, he's rushed for at least 145 yards in all four games. But a Hoosiers offense that's been pass-happy in the past and is helmed by the conference's second-best passer, Nate Sudfeld, should focus more on getting Howard through the Ohio State front seven than trying to get the ball past Apple, Conley, Bell and Powell.
Because that might not be possible.
The best vs. best matchups are always fun ones. We'll see if the country's No. 1 rusher vs. the country's No. 6 defense can live up to the hype.