Ohio State Football: 3 Buckeyes Primed for Breakout Seasons

David Regimbal@davidreg412Featured ColumnistJuly 22, 2015

Ohio State running back Curtis Samuel plays against Kent State during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

The Ohio State Buckeyes have more star power on their roster than any other team in college football, but head coach Urban Meyer has a trio of players in Raekwon McMillan, Curtis Samuel and Tyquan Lewis who are ready to break out in 2015.

Fresh off their improbable run through the first College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes are set to enter the season as the top-ranked team. They'll have 15 starters back for their title defense—in addition to three championship-caliber signal-callers—and they're expected to dominate, as early lines out of Las Vegas have them as at least 14-point favorites over every opponent on their schedule, per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com.

But these three players have a great chance to break out and shine alongside Ohio State's bevy of superstars.

Raekwon McMillan, Middle Linebacker

Jan 12, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) runs the ball against  Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Raekwon McMillan (2) during the second quarter in the 2015 CFP National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The middle linebacker position was a big problem for Meyer when he took over at Ohio State. 

During his first year in Columbus in 2012, the Buckeyes had to convert fullback Zach Boren to defense midway through the season because of a lack of production from the position. In 2013, the linebacker unit developed into Meyer's biggest concern as the season wore on, and the group collapsed in season-ending losses to Michigan State and Clemson.

But 2014 was different, in part because of a simplified defensive schemebut mainly because of improved depth. Darron Lee became the best-kept secret in college football, developing into a nightmare pass-rusher and an exceptional all-around defender.

But McMillan's presence was another big part of the turnaround. Sharing time with senior Curtis Grant, McMillan shined, totaling 54 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and an interception that he returned 24 yards for a touchdown.

With McMillan taking over as the primary middle linebacker, those numbers could (and should) easily double. He has outstanding instincts and finds the ball effectively, and with Lee and Joshua Perry lining up on either side of him, he'll have plenty of opportunities to make plays.

How good can McMillan be in 2015? The true sophomore was named to the 2015 Butkus Award watch list before even making his first start for the Buckeyes.

Curtis Samuel, H-Back

PAUL VERNON/Associated Press

It didn't take long for Samuel to show how dangerous he could be in Meyer's offense.

As a true freshman and early enrollee last year, Samuel flashed his playmaking ability during spring practice, just a few months into his collegiate career. In one of his first practices with the team, he ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run that caught Meyer's attention.

That helped him earn some time in the running back rotation last year, and by the end of the season, he was Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup. He ran for 383 yards and six touchdowns and added 95 receiving yards during his first season with the Buckeyes.

But with Elliott back and expected to carry the load at running back this fall, Meyer moved Samuel to the perimeter this spring in an effort to get his best playmakers on the field.

"The days of Curtis Samuel playing 10 plays are over," Meyer said, according to Ari Wasserman of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. "It's our job to get him on the field for 40 or 50 plays."

That effort will put Samuel in more of a hybrid role, so he'll be able to make plays out of the backfield, running the ball, and down the field in the passing game. And when his athleticism and playmaking ability combine with Meyer's creativeness on offense, it could mean big things for the sophomore.

Tyquan Lewis, Weak-Side Defensive End

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 6: Tyquan Lewis #59 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in action against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 6, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ohio State defeated Wisconsin 59-0. (Phot
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Joey Bosa is getting a ton of attention this offseasonand deservedly so. The strong-side defensive end was phenomenal during his sophomore season, ranking fifth nationally in total sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (21).

But that attention could be the main cause for optimism with Lewis, the Buckeyes' emerging weak-side defensive end.

That position wasn't as strong for Ohio State last season after it lost rising junior Noah Spence to a season-long suspension. Seniors Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier filled in admirably, but neither packed the punch that Spence brought to the other side of the line as a complement to Bosa.

But Lewis has the potential to provide that punch this fall.

After playing sparingly as a reserve last season, Lewis was one of the lone bright spots in spring practice. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson chimed in, per Tim Moody of the Lantern:

Tyquan is having a great spring, really great spring. ... It’s clicked in his mind, the kind of player he has to be. He’s playing much faster than he played last year. And I think he understands the defensive concept much more than he did last year. But he’s had a really outstanding spring.

Will that outstanding spring translate to a breakout fall?

With Bosa demanding so much attention on the other side, and with Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt forming a formidable interior, Lewis will have all the opportunities in the world to thrive this season.

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.


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