Dobbins vs. Taylor: A Rivalry Since 2017 & Beyond

Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The weekends are always a welcomed sight. You wake up early and work hard all week to get to that Saturday morning where the alarm clock can take a day off and you can ease into a relaxing day. If you're a college football fan, the schedule usually is conducive to such a lifestyle. You roll out of bed mid-morning, flip on College Gameday and check out which games you can't miss. Usually those are reserved for the 3:30 and night time slots, so when Gameday ends, the noon slate works as a warm up to get the juices flowing so you can be primed and ready to go when the good games come around.

This week you better accelerate that Saturday routine, because I'm here to tell you that one of the best game this week kicks off at high noon, as Ohio State hosts Wisconsin at 12:00 p.m. ET.

The No. 3 ranked Buckeyes could honestly be ranked No. 1, and Wisconsin is likely the only true test they'll face until College Football Playoff time. On the flip side, Wisconsin is coming off a very disappointing loss to Illinois, so all their focus and revenge should be ready to go.

There are a handful of matchups that could make this game an interesting one, but the one I'm most looking forward to is one where the two players don't even take the field at the same time.

I'm talking about the ever-growing rivalry between running backs J.K. Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor.

On the Buckeyes side, Dobbins has been contributing to the program since his true freshman season, but for anyone who followed him during his recruitment process, this was expected. Dobbins was a consensus 4-star recruit, was listed as the No. 2 all purpose back in the 2017 class, and was ranked No. 46 nationally among all positions. Dobbins became only the sixth true freshman in Ohio State history to start on opening day. As the season would play out, Dobbins would rush for over 1,400 yards on less than 200 carries.

Taylor, like Dobbins, was the day one starter for Wisconsin, but looking at him in such a manner wasn't always as easy to see. As a 3-star recruit, Taylor was ranked as the 24th best back in the 2017 class, and was ranked 371st nationally among all positions. But when he arrived on campus -- as coaches will tell you -- those stars and rankings didn't mean a thing. In his first season, with nearly 300 carries, Taylor rushed for 1,977. The following season, he eclipsed that with 2,194.

According to Phil Steele, a long-time college football and NFL Draft analyst, Taylor and Dobbins are “clearly” the top two running backs for the 2020 NFL Draft.

Here's what our own Joe Marino wrote about Taylor going into 2019.

Impressive blend of size, power and speed. Love how he always runs square and behind his pads. Terrific power throughout his frame which leads to consistent output after contact. Always falls forward and finishes his runs. Has more big play potential than expected for a 220-pound runner. Smooth, easy accelerator that is capable of running away from defensive backs. Impressive amount of elusiveness, twitch and shiftiness for his size. Love his blend of patience and decisiveness as a runner, allowing blocks to take form and working off them. Vision is generally sound and he does a good job of feeling cutback lanes and manipulating the second level. - Joe Marino

And here's what our own Kyle Crabbs wrote about Dobbins preseason.

Dobbins is built dense, he'll provide ample hitting power and contact balance courtesy of how low he's built to the ground and how effective his center of gravity serves him. Dobbins is a pretty surprising athlete as a ball carrier, he's very fluid despite his build and shows little issues putting dynamic cuts, sudden start/stop ability and jukes onto the field of play to break pursuit angles. Dobbins, of course, does work with the benefit of elite talent around him and the scheme at Ohio State has created a lot of favorable looks and light boxes for him to process -- but there are encouraging signs as he keys and reads the point of attack that his vision won't present significant issues. He's picked up cut back lanes and lateral bounce cuts effectively in the backfield. A natural receiver, too...Ohio State used Dobbins some in the screen game and also implemented him effectively as a flat receiver, showing natural ball skills and comfort addressing the football before flipping eyes back up the field and looking to progress for YAC. - Kyle Crabbs

These two backs have had their names on the up for a long time, and in someways they've been competing against one another, even before that 2017 recruiting cycle came to an end. They've dueled each other once thus far in their college careers. In the Big Ten Championship Game 2017, Taylor rushed for just 41 yards on 15 carries, the lowest single-game yardage total of his career. On the other hand, Dobbins rushed for 174 yards on 17 carries, the fifth-most for him in a single game. Ohio State ended the game victorious.

That was then and this is now. Though the teams have chanced, their willingness to lean on their talented backs has not. As it stands right now, Taylor is ranked third in the country with 957 rushing yards, and as it happens to fit so well, Dobbins is right behind him at fourth, just 10 yards shy of Taylor at 947. This Saturday you'll be watching two of the best ball carriers in the country, and two guys who could go Top 50 this April.

Taylor and Dobbins came into college football at the same time in the 2017 recruiting class. Because of how good they are, they'll likely leave it at the same time, too, in the 2020 NFL Draft.

We certainly hope this isn't the last time we see them face off, though. We hope it's all just the beginning.