Ezekiel Elliott, Darron Lee and Jalin Marshall are three of Ohio State’s best players. They’re also three guys who seemingly came out of nowhere last season — with little-to-no previous playing experience — to help guide the Buckeyes to the national title as winners of the first-ever College Football Playoff.
Last year, Ohio State was, for the most part, a really young football team. With such a young team, breakout stars should have probably been expected.
This season, though, things are a little bit different. The Buckeyes return 15 starters and are huge favorites to repeat as national champions. There’s a much smaller opportunity for new guys to step in and become breakout stars.
Still, Ohio State had plenty of talent still sitting on its bench during last season’s run and some of those players will get a chance to showcase what they can do on the field this year.
Here are three players who could have breakout seasons similar to Elliott, Lee and Marshall in 2015.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer sang Hubbard’s praises throughout all of last season as the talented freshman sat through a redshirt year in which the coaching staff tried to figure out his correct position for the Buckeyes.
After a bit of transformation, Hubbard finally found a home at defensive end. There’s plenty of playing time there for the taking, as well, at the spot opposite All-American Joey Bosa. Hubbard figures to be in a mix to rotate at defensive end with Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes, but the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Cincinnati native could be the most physically gifted of the bunch.
Hubbard has yet to play a snap in a game for Ohio State, but still has plenty of hype. If he lives up to that, he could be one of the stars of the Buckeyes’ loaded defense in just his first season.
During last season’s spring practice, Ohio State’s coaching staff and fellow players were raving about Lee at the outside linebacker position, even though he had never played it before. Turns out, they were right as Lee became one of the Buckeyes’ breakout defensive stars on their national title run in 2014.
If there was a player this spring who earned similar praise, it was wide receiver Noah Brown. Last year, as a true freshman, Brown saw a few snaps toward the end of the season at the H-back position, but wasn’t necessarily featured in the offense.
With the departures of Devin Smith and Evan Spencer at wide receiver, Brown has a chance to emerge as one of those go-to guys on the outside for whomever is taking snaps for the Buckeyes at quarterback this season.
It may seem like cheating to pick someone like Raekwon McMillan for this final spot, but truth be told, we didn’t see a ton of McMillan during his freshman season, especially down the stretch. He rotated with Curtis Grant for the majority of the season, but during Ohio State’s late-season run it was Grant who saw most of the snaps.
At the middle linebacker position, McMillan will be called on to lead the veteran linebackers playing beside him: Lee and Joshua Perry. But the 6-foot-2, 250-pound sophomore has an opportunity to make a name for himself and turn into an All-Big Ten performer.
When it comes to McMillan, a breakout season means he becomes a superstar on Ohio State's defense.