Of all the recent achievements by Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, it would be easy to overlook the fact the standout put together two of the top five rushing performances this postseason.
However, in yet another sign of college football’s entry into the playoff world, that’s exactly what the remarkable Buckeyes sophomore did — finishing with the fourth- and fifth-best single-game rushing totals of the 39 bowl games.
Elliott’s late-season surge was more than enough to carry Ohio State to the inaugural College Football Playoff championship.
His 36-carry, 246-yard rushing performance against Oregon, the fourth-best of the postseason, was also enough to lift the 6-foot, 225-pound running back to a third-place rushing finish overall in major college football this season.
Elliott, who closed the season with 696 yards rushing in his final three games — including the Big Ten championship game, Sugar Bowl and Monday night’s championship win over the Ducks — finished the season with 1,878 yards on the ground. He trailed only a pair of fellow Big Ten running backs in Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman.
Not bad for a relative unknown to start the season, one who had only 141 yards rushing after three games before setting career highs in each of the Buckeyes final three while kicking off his 2015 Heisman Trophy campaign with a full offseason to spare.
Some other notable statistical performances from the bowl season:
BADGER EXCLAMATION: Gordon, who has already said he’s leaving Wisconsin for the NFL draft, didn’t disappoint in his final college game — rushing for 251 yards on 34 carries in a 34-31 win over Auburn. The junior finished the season with 2,587 yards rushing, second on the all-time single-season list behind Barry Sanders’ 2,628 yards in 1988.
ROCKET HUNT: While some of the biggest names in college football dominated the ground game during the bowl season, it was Toledo’s Kareem Hunt who topped them all — finishing with a GoDaddy Bowl record 271 yards and five touchdowns on 32 carries. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound sophomore narrowly eclipsed his previous career best (265 yards) in Toledo’s 63-44 Toledo win over Arkansas State, which proved the highest-scoring bowl game this season.
DEFENSIVE RAZORBACKS: Not to leave the defensive side of the ball out of the statistical fun, no team shut down its opponent during the bowl season quite like Arkansas did in a 31-7 rout of former Southwest Conference rival Texas in the Texas Bowl. The Razorbacks, who improved from 76th in total defense last season to 10th this season under first-year defensive coordinator Robb Smith, held the Longhorns to a grand total of 59 yards of offense — including only two yards rushing on 18 carries.
MARVELOUS MARSHALL: Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler ended their record-setting careers where they began, with the Marshall duo playing key roles in a Boca Raton Bowl win over Northern Illinois. Cato and Shuler played together in high school in Miami, and they enjoyed their homecoming — with Cato tying the NCAA all-division record by throwing a touchdown pass in his 46th consecutive game. Also, Shuler had 18 catches for 185 yards in the 52-23 win, breaking the Conference USA record for career catches with 322.
PASSING HAPPY: Baylor’s Bryce Petty had the most passing yards in a bowl game, throwing for a career-best 550 yards in a 42-41 loss to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty, however, had the most passing yards in a win — finishing 31-of-42 passing for 486 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-48 Bahamas Bowl win over Central Michigan. Doughty finished the season second in the nation with an average of 371.5 yards passing per game.