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Which current Ohio State player is poised to have a breakout year in 2017?

Malik Hooker emerged from obscurity in 2016 to All-American status. Who will it be next season?

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

“We’re going to call that the Fragel award; (he) was a very below-average football player who turned out to be a very good football player for Ohio State University. Who’s going to be that guy that’s coming out of nowhere?”

-Urban Meyer, via Ben Axelrod, Land of 10

Reid Fragel began his Ohio State career as a mediocre tight end, remaining in that position for three years until moving to right tackle in Urban Meyer’s first year as head coach. Fragel went on to have such an impact that, just a year into swapping positions, Fragel was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft. His improvement and the addition of his skillset to the offensive line proved to be an important contributor to the 2012 team going undefeated. Meyer later commented that there would be a “Fragel award” for such players who showed significant improvement from one year to the next. While an actual award has yet to be presented, safety Malik Hooker would be the obvious choice for this year’s honoree, and linebacker Darron Lee the year before.

Moving into next year, there are a number of players poised to have breakout seasons--players who showed some spark this year but have an opportunity to move into a highly impactful role come 2017:

  • Eric Glover-Williams: Credited as being one of the fastest players on the team, Glover-Williams saw playing time primarily on special teams last year. Listed as a safety on the roster, he could see playing time on defense or, at the very least, an expanded special teams role.
  • Demario McCall: Used primarily in clean up duty this year, McCall showed flashes of potential at running back, but could also fit into an H back role in the future. With H back Curtis Samuel \yet to declaring for the NFL Draft, McCall would prove an obvious choice to succeed the All-American.
  • Malik Harrison: The true freshman linebacker saw playing time on special teams last season. While the lineup of linebackers would seem to be set for next season, Harrison’s play would bring versatility to the corps.
  • Malcolm Pridgeon: The JUCO transfer and former four-star recruit didn’t crack the starting lineup of the offensive line this year, but judging how right tackle Isaiah Prince struggled this season, that could change.
  • Erick Smith: The redshirt junior could be the most likely candidate to fill the void left by Malik Hooker come next season. Though sidelined for injuries for much of his career at Ohio State, Smith, a four-star recruit from Cleveland Glenville, can make an impact if he can stay healthy.

“Like when the ball is in the air, you’ve got to go attack, you’ve got to go get the ball. We need to make some plays downfield, catch the ball. But that’s going to come. We’ve just got to keep working to get better.”

-Ohio State wide receiver Binjimen Victor, via Tim May, The Columbus Dispatch

It didn’t take long for Urban Meyer to make clear his offseason priority for the Ohio State offense following a crushing 31-point loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl: “Oh, we will become a good passing team, next year.” Especially in the final three games of the season, deficiencies in the passing game became shockingly obvious. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was picked off twice and sacked three times against Clemson. Against Michigan, Barrett was sacked eight times. While this shortfall could initially be placed on the offensive line, the other apparent issue is that there are simply no receivers getting open for Barrett to throw to, leading to more time spent in the pocket and the resulting sacks.

No doubt, there would be problems finding a replacement for Michael Thomas, who led all rookie receivers in the NFL in catches, yards and touchdowns this season in his first year with the Saints. But it would have seemed that, given young receivers like Binjimen Victor and Parris Campbell alongside Noah Brown and Corey Smith, who have at least been in the system for several years, the Buckeyes would have at least gotten something going in the passing game by the end of the season. As it stood at the end of the season, H back Curtis Samuel led the team in receptions with 74--more than double Noah Brown, the No. 2 receiver on the team, who finished the year with 32 receptions.

Meyer’s action to fix these problems was swift, as he brought on quarterback coach Ryan Day from the San Francisco 49ers to replace Tim Beck, who departed Ohio State to join Tom Herman at Texas. Day has been working under Chip Kelly for the past two seasons, and will be a step forward in helping Barrett to reach the success he found in 2014 under Herman and Beck’s offensive scheme. Meyer has also reportedly hired former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson as offensive coordinator, who could provide the needed schemes to make the passing game effective once more.

Ohio State men’s hockey has officially cracked the top 10 of the latest USCHO poll. The Buckeyes are sitting at 10-4-4 on the season with a 2-2 conference mark. Headlining the team’s record are wins over now top-ranked Denver in Denver in Ohio State’s season opener. More recently, the Buckeyes split games with No. 4 Penn State in Columbus, including a 3-0 shutout Friday.

Ohio State forward Nick Schilkey leads the Big Ten with 15 goals on the season, including two in the Buckeyes’ losing effort versus the Nittany Lions yesterday. His goal mark is also good for third in the NCAA. Beyond Schilkey, the Buckeyes boast one of the most prolific scoring offenses in the country, and they are one of just three teams in the NCAA to average more than four goals per game.

The rest of the top 10 stands as:

  1. Denver
  2. Harvard
  3. Minnesota-Duluth
  4. Penn State
  5. Boston University
  6. Massachusetts-Lowell
  7. North Dakota
  8. Boston College
  9. Minnesota
  10. Ohio State

Full rankings can be found here.