It's been brought up so much, it almost feels like the main purpose is to troll Mizzou fans. HEY TIGERS, REMEMBER WHEN NATIONAL CHAMPION AND HEISMAN FRONT-RUNNER EZEKIEL ELLIOTT ALMOST CHOSE YOUR SCHOOL?
ESPN's Tom Rinaldi even brought it up to Elliott himself right after Ohio State won the national title last year, and it came up yet again last night when ESPN's E:60 ran a feature on Elliott's "emotional decision." In early 2013, following a lengthy Ohio State commitment and a strong, late push by his home-state school, Elliott, a top-100 recruit, a product of Burroughs High in St. Louis, and the son of a former Mizzou starting linebacker, officially chose the Buckeyes.
I'm sure this will get brought up a few more times along the way -- at the Heisman ceremony, at next year's NFL Draft, etc. -- and it will be equally frustrating each time.
But while bringing this up feels like rubbing salt in Mizzou wounds, it shouldn't. Elliott made the right choice, and Mizzou has been just fine without him.
1. Elliott wouldn't be a Heisman favorite in 2015 at Mizzou. He'd be awesome, sure, and he'd have played a role in quite a few recent wins. But you have to be a national title contender to be a Heisman contender, especially if you're a running back. (That Melvin Gordon rushed for nearly 3,000 yards last year and finished miles behind Marcus Mariota last year is proof of that.) And with its receiver and defensive line youth, Mizzou wouldn't be a national title contender this year. Meanwhile, while Elliott would have won a ton of games over his first two years in a Mizzou uniform, he wouldn't have won a national title ring.
2. Elliott wouldn't have actually helped Mizzou win more games. Again, he would have been awesome in black and gold. But Mizzou has been just fine at running back regardless. In 2013, the trio of Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough, and Marcus Murphy combined to rush for 2,452 yards (6.5 per carry) and 29 touchdowns. In 2014, without Josey and without nearly as effective a passing game, Hansbrough and Murphy still rushed for 2,008 yards (5.3 per carry) and 14 scores. Would Elliott have improved those numbers? Almost certainly. Would he have made a difference in Mizzou's overall 23-5 record in 2013-14? Not much.
The one game I could have seen Elliott making a difference came in 2013. Josey, Murphy, and Hansbrough rushed 31 times for just 143 yards (4.6 per carry) in the overtime loss to South Carolina, as the Gamecocks' powerful defensive front rendered Mizzou inefficient. Having a beefier, stronger option in the backfield may have pushed Mizzou over the top, especially considering Mizzou was one play away from winning on a couple of different occasions in that game; Elliott could have helped Mizzou to milk more clock when holding a late lead, and he could have helped Mizzou to convert that second-overtime goal-to-go situation. (Unfortunately, he probably wouldn't have been able to help Mizzou cover Bruce Ellington.)
So maybe Mizzou goes 12-0 instead of 11-1 in the 2013 regular season; the Tigers still lose to Auburn in the SEC title game, likely end up in the Cotton Bowl, and likely beat Oklahoma State to finish third or fourth in the polls.
Elliott also wouldn't have helped Mizzou in 2014 losses to Georgia and Alabama. The Tigers lost those games by a combined 76-13. He might have helped against Indiana, but you have to remember that Russell Hansbrough rushed for 119 yards on 10 carries in that game; maybe Mizzou leans on the run more, and maybe the offensive line's strange struggles in that game wouldn't have mattered as much with the bullish Elliott dragging tacklers or something. Regardless, the best Mizzou finishes is 12-2; the Tigers still win the East, still lose to Alabama, and still finish in the top 15.
Technically Elliott would have helped. Of course; he's fantastic. But Mizzou's fortunes have only been slightly worse (at most) without him, and meanwhile, he's reached incredible heights at Ohio State. I'm not going to say his decision worked out best for both parties -- it worked out better for him and Ohio State than it did for Mizzou -- but the Tigers have been fine without him. Congrats to him on a good decision. Now shut up about it already, ESPN. Jeez.