Everyone knows the background of many of the stars on the Ohio State football team. Names like Braxton Miller, John Simon, and Jordan Hall have Buckeye fans excited for what is widely expected to be a fantastic year. These Buckeyes have a proven track record that shows they can perform at the highest level, and accordingly expectations continue to rise for some of these key players after quite a bit of hype following spring camp.
However, often during a season, fans will find a few players that come seemingly out of nowhere that contribute to the team and eventually join the ranks of some of those a-listers. In 2006, lesser-known wide receiver Brian Robiskie caught a pass against Penn State that just may have clinched his quarterback, Troy Smith, the Heisman Trophy. Robiskie, from that point on, was leveraged frequently in the offense and wound up becoming a go-to target for both Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor before moving on to the NFL.
You can also find a surprise star in 2010 team MVP Dane Sanzenbacher. The Great Dane came into his own following a breakout year in 2008 after a respectable 2007 campaign. Since exploding onto the scene his sophomore season, Sanzenbacher improved every aspect of his game and could always be counted upon to step up and make the necessary plays, even late in games.
With a few recent position changes under Urban Meyer along with a new offensive system that can utilize players' versatility, there may be a couple of surprise names that break out in 2012. We take a look at which players might be able to be the next surprise stars for the Ohio State football team.
Zach Boren, Fullback
You might be a little taken aback to see Boren headlining this group. Don't be. Boren is one of the better blocking fullbacks in the entire country.
A starter from virtually the first day he stepped onto the practice field for Ohio State, Boren started five times in 2009, 10 times in 2010, and 12 times last year in 2011. With almost three seasons of workload to his name, Boren has provided the kind of selfless leadership that a still evolving offense like Ohio State's needs. Lead-blocking for power backs is no easy task and nearly after every game, running backs would praise Boren for his relentless blocking ability.
Expect the same attitude from Boren this year, with a couple of twists. Don't be shocked to see Boren have some serious rushing stats to go along with his receiving statistics this season as Coach Urban Meyer's Ohio State spread offense finds ways to get playmakers in space. That list includes Boren, who according to coach Meyer himself, "can run with and catch the football" with the best of them.
In Boren's last year as a Buckeye, he should have the chance to build upon a solid year in 2011 and become a name you hear more often than not as Ohio State moves the ball down the field against opposing defenses.
Christian Bryant, Safety
Christian Bryant came onto the field memorably in the 2010 Sugar Bowl in relief of then injured cornerback Chimdi Chekwa. Showing some struggles in that game as a true freshman was understandable but Bryant built on that experience moving on into the next season. In 2011, Bryant displayed a large amount of improvement in reading the quarterback as well as being able to track down the ball and subsequently impact plays.
Last year, Bryant recorded eight pass break ups, which was good enough to tie for 3rd in the Big Ten. Along the same lines, Bryant (somewhat surprisingly) was also third in tackles on the team with 68. There's still room for Bryant, who's entering his junior year as a Buckeye, to even further improve on those statistics.
A tad undersized at 5'10", Bryant can find himself in mismatches but always uses his physical-style of play to make up for it. We don't have any doubt that Bryant can have a breakout year in 2012, which could set him up to be one of the real leaders in the secondary in 2013.
Jeff Heuerman/Nick Vannett, Tight End
The Heuerman/Vannett experiment is now fully underway. After it was recently announced that senior tight end Jake Stoneburner had officially been moved to wide receiver, a window of opportunity blew wide open for the two former backups. Heuerman is a rising sophomore, while Vannett enters the picture as a redshirt freshman.
Nick Vannett was a member of the 2011 Ohio State recruiting class and redshirted the 2011 season while a true freshman. This spring he caught four passes in the spring game to cap the quarter and entered fall camp listed as a backup at the tight end position.
Jeff Heuerman lettered last season as a true freshman after playing in 11 games but was mostly featured as a blocking tight end in relief of Stoneburner. He made his first collegiate catch in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, in which he recorded one reception for a 25-yard gain.
Both tight ends have similar builds and should both be able to fill a variety of roles in relief of Stoneburner. This doesn't mean that Stoneburner won't be playing tight end at all, however. He can still be used in certain packages, but with his apparent move to receiver, it's very telling what coach Meyer thinks of Heuerman and Vannett alike.
Heuerman and Vannett have the ability to make their mark on the storied tight end history at Ohio State and it all starts now.
Who do you think might be a "surprise star" for the Buckeyes in 2012?