College Football 2011: 5 Ohio State Buckeyes Who Will Have Breakout Seasons

jim beamContributor IIIJune 22, 2011

College Football 2011: 5 Ohio State Buckeyes Who Will Have Breakout Seasons

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    This season Ohio State will be replacing 11 players in its starting lineup—and 14 starters total for at least the first five games. While that high turnover likely means a rebuilding year for the Buckeyes, it also gives several younger players chances to settle into their new roles and emerge as the future stars of the team.

    Here are five Buckeyes poised for breakout seasons.

Etienne Sabino: Middle Linebacker

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    When Etienne Sabino came to OSU from North Miami Beach, Florida, in 2008, most experts didn't think he would have to wait until his fourth year to become a full-time starter. But that's what happened after Andrew Sweat beat him out for the third linebacker spot last year, leaving Sabino to redshirt in 2010.

    But things are different heading into the summer of 2011.

    Sabino has had an excellent offseason, highlighted by his performance in the spring game when he recorded six tackles. He will be in a position to make most of the plays for the Buckeye linebackers at the middle spot vacated by Ross Homan.

Rod Smith: Running Back

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    With the exception of Braxton Miller, nobody on the Buckeye offense has higher expectations than redshirt freshman Rod Smith.

    Smith's performance during Sugar Bowl practices drew praise from his teammates, and many believe he has potential to become one of the all-time great running backs in OSU history.

    The crowded backfield from 2010 will be less congested after the departure of Brandon Saine and likely position change for Jordan Hall. Smith will make his bid for the starting spot while Boom Herron is suspended for the first five games.

    Interim head coach Luke Fickell will want to run the ball to take pressure off of OSU's unproven passing game, so Smith will get plenty of chances to show what he can do. And if he's as good as his teammates said he was in December, it could be the start to one of the great careers for a Buckeye running back.

Jake Stoneburner: Tight End

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    Tight ends haven't racked up big numbers for the Buckeye offense in recent history, but that could change in 2011. With DeVier Posey suspended for five games and an unproven receiving corps, sophomore Jake Stoneburner should continue to develop into a solid option for the passing game.

    As a freshman he had 21 receptions in 2010, the most by an OSU tight end since Ben Hartsock in 2003. The 6'5" Stoneburner has the combination of size and speed that create match-up problems for covering linebackers. Expect him to improve from last year and become a reliable, mid-range target for whoever is playing quarterback.

Jordan Hall: Receiver/Running Back

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    With a crowded backfield and an inexperienced receiving corps, the word is that junior Jordan Hall will be moved to receiver. But Hall will get the football in more ways than just catching passes.

    A running back during his first two years at OSU, Hall displayed his talents as a kick returner in 2010 and also ran some trick plays from the wildcat offense. As perhaps the most versatile player on the offense, Hall is a threat out of the backfield (he had 4.4 yards per carry in 2010 and 5.2 in 2009) and in open spaces.

    Look for him to become one of the go-to guys for the Buckeyes this season.

Johnathan Hankins: Defensive Tackle

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    The 6'3", 335-pound Johnathan Hankins is the heaviest Buckeye on the roster, and his impact on the defense could be equally huge. He will replace Dexter Larimore on the inside while defensive tackle John Simon will also see time at the defensive end spot opposite of Nate Williams.

    Hankins will be a force on size alone, and he should make a bigger impact stopping the running game with more playing time as a sophomore. His greatest contribution won't be with any recorded stats, but rather how he will draw blockers away from the other players on the defensive line.