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Outland Trophy: The case for Ohio State's Pat Elflein

Senior center Pat Elflein was a veteran presence on Ohio State's otherwise-youthful offensive line. AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File

There is still some hardware left to claim, and the Big Ten is well represented as the red carpet is rolled out to honor the best individual performances of the season.

The league has a handful of strong contenders vying for trophies, and ahead of The Home Depot College Football Awards on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, our reporters are examining the players' chances of emerging from the groups of talented finalists.

Here’s the breakdown of Ohio State center Pat Elflein and his Outland Trophy case.

Award: Outland Trophy for the nation’s top interior lineman

Finalists: Elflein, Washington State junior Cody O'Connell and Alabama junior Cam Robinson.

The case for Elflein: The spotlight certainly shines brighter elsewhere on the Ohio State offense, with quarterback J.T. Barrett breaking records and H-back Curtis Samuel racking up touchdowns. But neither would likely be in position to accomplish what they did this season and the Buckeyes probably wouldn’t be heading back to the College Football Playoff without their indispensable leader anchoring a young offensive line and starting every play at center.

After deciding to put off the NFL to return to Ohio State and move over from guard for his final year in college, Elflein was installed as a captain in January and set the tone for teammates in offseason workouts by diving into his transition to a new position. With three new starters alongside him on the offensive line, Elflein’s leadership was arguably every bit as important as his largely error-free snapping, powerful blocking and ability to make adjustments up front for the Buckeyes.

Quite simply, there might not have been a more valuable player on Ohio State’s road back to contention for a national title. That started the moment Elflein elected to stick around for another season, and the Buckeyes have reaped the benefits every day since then.