Players can breakout at any time in college football.
And few schools understand that better than Ohio State.
Last season alone, OSU saw Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore, Mike Weber and others rise from obscurity only to become some of the most important Buckeyes on the team.
So you can be rest assured that there’ll be more like Hooker and Co. to come this year.
Prior to the start of the 2016 season, I predicted Hooker, Weber, Noah Brown, Sam Hubbard, and Chris Worley would breakout. Brown fell off a bit after his four touchdown performance against Oklahoma, but the rest panned out nicely.
Here again are five breakout candidates to keep an eye on as we inch closer to the Buckeyes season opener.
No. 5: Dante Booker
We’ve been hearing for the past three seasons just how great Dante Booker can be. While he hasn’t lived up to the hype yet, it’s not for lack of trying.
Booker had a chance to step in as one of the Buckeyes starting outside linebackers in 2016, but a Week 1 injury derailed his promising debut campaign. Entering his senior season, a healthy Booker is primed to become OSU’s latest one-year wonder.
New linebackers coach Billy Davis said as much in the spring.
“I’m excited about Dante,” Davis said. “Dante is a special athlete and we’ve got him out in space because he’s got a lot of speed, quickness and ability to change directions.”
“We’re excited to see how Book grows out there.”
If the Silver Bullets want to meet expectations, Booker has to maintain good health alongside Worley and Jerome Baker.
No. 4: Nick Bosa
I don’t want to hear about how Nick Bosa already had his breakout season as a freshman in 2016.
It’s just not true. Five sacks and 29 tackles – no matter the team – is not breaking out.
While the younger Bosa exceeded expectations and put up some nice numbers on a stacked defensive line, a legitimate breakout year has yet to come. His time to shine is on the horizon, though, based on the path Nick’s older brother Joey took at OSU.
A Scarlet and Gray all-timer, Joey Bosa broke out as a sophomore, compiling 13.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles for a loss, and four forced fumbles. He absolutely wrecked opposing offenses and I wouldn’t be surprised if his 6-foot-4, 270-pound sibling followed suit this year.
Now, Nick Bosa won’t start the season, but he should see an expanded role on an opportunistic defense.
No. 3: Demario McCall
Only one other Buckeye on this list has been hyped up more than Demario McCall, and even then it’s close.
Fresh off a year of seasoning, McCall is set to be OSU’s next big thing at running back. The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder is a speed-demon and is as explosive a runner as we’ve seen in recent memory in Columbus.
Garbage time or not, McCall made the most of his 53 offensive touches in 2016, tallying 354 yards and four touchdowns.
Regardless of where he lines up, McCall’s a homerun threat and a potential X-Factor for the Buckeyes.
No. 2: Denzel Ward
After watching Hooker, Lattimore and Gareon Conley – former teammates in the Buckeye secondary – all get selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Denzel Ward figures to be next in line.
Ward’s a strong cover man and is every bit as athletic as Lattimore and Conley. He was also just as valuable to OSU’s defense last season, logging 468 total snaps.
Our very own Christopher Jason summed up Ward’s quietly dominant 2016 campaign.
“Per CFB Film Room, Ward was targeted the second most on the team (42) behind Conley (43) and only allowed 15 receptions on the season. They had him charted for nine first downs allowed and he let up zero touchdowns on the season. Not too bad for your third corner.”
Don’t be the fan that gets caught off guard by Ward’s play when Week 1 hits.
No. 1: Binjimen Victor
Hype and Binijimen Victor have become synonymous with each other.
Victor saw little of the field in 2016, but that definitely won’t be the case this year. The lanky wideout is a sharp route-runner, can win any 50-50 ball, and has the athletic ability to really take over games.
He’s also a legit No. 1 receiver and a reliable go-to target for J.T. Barrett, who struggled with accuracy issues for much of last season. It was obvious in the spring game that Victor had made significant progress towards being OSU’s top pass-catcher.
Binjimen Victor looking a bit speedy here on the screen. pic.twitter.com/u1i9jicdk8— Ozone Communications (@theOzonedotnet) April 15, 2017
It’ll be fun to see what Victor can do in the Buckeyes revamped Kevin Wilson-led unit.
If he can consistently create separation and prove his value as a downfield threat, there’s no telling how good their offense can be.