Lost Civilization

By Ramzy Nasrallah on January 18, 2023 at 1:15 pm
Sep 24, 2005; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes #7 Ted Ginn Jr returns a punt in the second quarter against Iowa Hawkeyes. Buckeyes beat the Hawkeyes 31-6. Mandatory Credit: Photo By Matthew Emmons- USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew Emmons USA TODAY NETWORK

Where does Emeka Egbuka's 2022 season rank among Ohio State's all-time WR greats?

Chew on that question for a few paragraphs. You'll come up with a number somewhere between the best in program history and oh, somewhere in the top 100ish. Congrats, you're right.

The Buckeyes have completed 133 football seasons but barely threw the ball for the first couple dozen of them. As we enter 2023, Ohio State's offense has completely detached itself from its history.

This is not a take from 13 years ago about Urban Meyer's hiring and the pending installation of a spread offense, rendering Buckeye football as we know it unrecognizable. Meyer ended up ushering in the modernization of Ohio State's rushing attack. It's a shirt we still sell.

But what we're talking about now is detachment which has taken place entirely within the past few seasons, and it can be quantified and measured. Ohio State's offense entering 2023 is nothing like anything that ever existed on a consistent level. Anything that might have resembled what the Buckeyes trot out every season now is a glitch.

It starts with the QB, whose importance and visibility to the unit remains unchanged, and that dates back several decades. But it's how the Buckeyes use QBs and the reverberations from this philosophical shift that are so conspicuous.

Ohio State's five full-time starting QBs since Meyer's arrival in 2012 - Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, Dwayne Haskins, Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud - all finished among the top five in Heisman voting at least once. That's more Heisman-contending QBs than every other era combined. In a decade.

the most worth-it taunting penalty in the history of taunting penalties
David Boston (1996-98) is arguably the most prolific wide receiver in Ohio State football history.

Kyle McCord - one of two backups competing to take over for Stroud this season - has top-10 Heisman odds already. Putting that in Ohio State Heisman history context, McCord is about where Jim Parker finished in the 1956 voting. Jim Otis in 1969. Chris Spielman in 1986. He does not have the starting job yet. Those other three guys are in multiple Halls of Fame.

Troy Smith owns Ohio State's most recent Heisman in 2006, which he won as a senior. Do you remember which Buckeye got Heisman votes his junior season? That would be linebacker A.J. Hawk. No other Jim Tressel-era player garnered Heisman consideration that decade.

Joe Germaine finished ninth in 1998. Art Schlichter was fifth in 1981. Earle Bruce had as many linebackers as quarterbacks in the Heisman conversation, while Orlando Pace had as many top-five finishes as all of John Cooper's quarterbacks combined. Rex Kern and Tom Matte were Woody's two Heisman-adjacent quarterbacks over his 27 seasons in charge.

Only six receivers have ever had more prolific seasons catching the ball THAN EMEKA EGBUKA in PROGRAM history, and three of them were by his teammates.

So Ohio State has become more quarterback-centric than any other era in its history, and by a significant, measurable margin. But the effect this has had on wide receiver production was not realized until Ryan Day and Brian Hartline joined Meyer's coaching staff in 2017.

So now we can return to our Egbuka question - where does his 2022 rank historically?

To eliminate recency bias and historical anti-bias, we'll coalesce around receptions per game over the course of a whole season - this is simple, elegant and aids legendary old timers who played shorter seasons in rush-heavy offenses from being overwhelmed statistically.

You may be thinking of Garrett Wilson, Cris Carter, Joey Galloway, Doug Donley, Terry Glenn, Ted Ginn Jr., Santonio Holmes, Michael Jenkins, Paul Warfield, Michael Thomas, Dane Sanzenbacher, David Boston - you know this list. You've made this list more than once. It is the stuff offseason smelling salts are made of on this site.

Here is how our list looks now. The only bias recency has in this debate is toward production.

1 JAXON SMITH-NJIGBA 7.3 95 1,606 16.9 9 13 2021
2 CHRIS OLAVE 7.1 50 729 14.6 7 7 2020
2 DAVID BOSTON 7.1 85 1,435 16.9 13 12 1998
4 PARRIS CAMPBELL 6.4 90 1,063 11.8 12 14 2018
5 BILLY RAY ANDERS 6.1 55 671 12.2 2 9 1966
6 MARVIN HARRISON JR. 5.9 77 1,263 16.4 14 13 2022
7 EMEKA EGBUKA 5.7 74 1,151 15.6 10 13 2022
8 David Boston 5.6 73 970 13.3 14 13 1997
9 Chris Olave 5.4 65 936 14.4 13 12 2021
10 terry glenn 5.3 64 1,411 22.0 17 12 1995

Seventh. That's the answer to our Egbuka question. Only six Ohio State receivers have ever had more prolific seasons catching the ball in history, and three of them were by his teammates.

Let's call out a few things here -

  • Four sophomore seasons, four junior seasons and two senior seasons comprise the top ten.
  • Pop passes and bubble screens are still passes, hashtag Parris Campbell.
  • Curtis Samuel was an H-back and is excluded. His 2016 stats would tie Boston at no.8.
    • He nearly had as many receptions in OSU's final season pre-Hartline as the next three WRs combined.
  • Our bias mechanism not only helped old timers, it gave an assist to pandemic-shortened season participants.
  • Billy Ray Anders never played football until he tried out for the Buckeyes in 1965 (!) as an Ohio State student.
    • His sophomore and senior seasons in Woody's offense barely resembled his junior campaign in 1966.
    • That makes Anders an outlier within another outlier, wrapped in a third outlier.
  • Every player but Anders, David Boston and Terry Glenn played or still plays for Day and Hartline.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who owns Ohio State's most prolific single-season production of all time played alongside two of the NFL's current rookie of the year finalists. He should have been on the field with the two guys who ended up sixth and seventh during his final, injury-shortened season.

And Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. got many catches that would have gone in JSN's direction. But the word generational loses its meaning when we use it every season, and that is the case as Day and Hartline have entrenched their influence on the football program.

They're going to make and break new offensive records every year. As Wilson (just outside the top 10) Olave, Harrison and Egbuka have proven - there are more than enough passes to go around coming from whoever wins the starting job, which will be Ohio State's next Heisman candidate.

Legends like Carter, Galloway, Glenn, Jenkins, Ginn and Holmes will continue their descent from the statistical records, replaced annually by Ohio State's top two receivers of the moment for as long as Day and Hartline are directing the offense.

And if this continues much longer, we'll look back on Ohio State's offense prior to Day and Hartline as primitive statistical units from a bygone era, as Egbuka and his contemporaries rewrite history.

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