Skull Session: J.T. Barrett's First Semifinal, Deshaun Watson's Interceptions, and Luke Fickell's Vision for Cincinnati

By D.J. Byrnes on December 21, 2016 at 4:59 am
Ohio State's Greg Schiano brought two phones (one for the plug, one for the load) for the December 21st Skull Session

It's already Wednesday. I thought this week was cruising until Whitney told me, after today, she doesn't have to work again until Jan. 3.

I'd be in a coma by Fiesta Bowl kicked off if I had that much paid free time.

 BARRETT TO THE SEMIS. J.T. Barrett will play in his first semifinals on New Year's Eve. We all remember the last one he missed.

But he also missed a semifinal as a senior at Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas. He tore his ACL earlier in that season but to this day swears he could've played.


His mind was as torn as the ligaments in his knee. He knew the scholarship to Ohio State and his future in football weren’t worth risking. In his heart, though, he believed he could play out the rest of his senior season at Rider. Barrett was convinced his ACL was sturdy enough to carry him and the rest of his team to a championship.

“I thought I could’ve played. I still feel that way,” he said last week on a bone-chilling day in Columbus, where the Buckeyes are getting ready for No. 2 Clemson and what they hope will be a national championship bid.

Finally, for the first time in his football-playing career, Barrett is on the field preparing to play with his teammates in a semifinal matchup. After watching his high school career end on crutches and two years later watching Ohio State win a national championship while on the sidelines on a scooter with a broken ankle, he has a different appreciation for the opportunity in front of him. And he's not taking it lightly.

Thank you to Father Barrett, who kept his son on the sidelines where his injured ass belonged. As much as I enjoy Texas high school titles, I've come to better appreciate the hopsy bitterness of undisputed collegiate football titles.

And not that he needs it, but props to Barrett on his durability. I wouldn't have gambled on him staying healthy for the first of three years starting. There's more football to play, but at least he gets a shot to lead his team to postseason glory. He earned that a long time ago.

 THE OL' GUNSLINGER. Barrett holds the ball too long sometimes, a product of Urban Meyer drilling ball protection into his skull. Meyer's QBs don't take chances, and if they do, they won't be Meyer's QB for long.

Deshaun Watson and Dabo Swinney have a different relationship. Watson finished second in Heisman voting with 4,443 yards of total offense and 43 touchdowns, but he also threw 15 interceptions.


There’s one hitch in Watson’s stats this year, though. The 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns are great, as is the 154 efficiency rating. What’s less great are Watson’s 15 interceptions in 13 games. He tossed three in Clemson’s lone loss, at home against Pitt in November, and has been picked at least once in all but four games.

No other Playoff QB has more than nine. Watson throws more than the other three, but he’s also thrown one pick for every 32.5 attempts, worse than Alabama QB Jalen Hurts’ 37.4, Washington QB Jake Browning’s 50.4, or Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett’s 69.2.

Greg Schiano, at last Thursday's media day, said he watched every Watson interception this year (you can too by clicking that link) and attributed some to the QB's supreme confidence in himself.

In a game that could be decided by a game-breaking play or a turnover, it will make for an interesting case study between the two schools of thought.

 FICKELL READYING TO LEAVE THE NEST. Fickell spent 20+ years at Ohio State and learned from Jim Tressel, Mark Dantonio, and Urban Meyer. Those three are legendary in their own ways, and if Fickell can mix their best attributes, Cincinnati will win a title by 2022.


Fickell changed agents, met with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and put the word out through influential Buckeyes in the media world like Kirk Herbstreit, Joey Galloway and Chris Spielman. Smith called Fickel “non-promotional,” a great quality to have in a top assistant. Fickell had to act counter to his instincts and put himself out there.


Fickell hopes to combine the strengths of Tressel and Meyer with his own twist, much like Dantonio did at Cincinnati and Michigan State. He pinpointed Tressel’s people skills and consistency as traits he’d like to emulate, noting Tressel’s penchant for remembering names, connecting with people and being compassionate. Fickell brought up Meyer’s “aggressive leadership,” which focuses on taking staff and players out of their comfort zones to force them to grow. He paused for a second and then said, “The ability to combine those things would be crazy.”

Those who know Fickell best say his defining trait as an assistant coach is the strength of his relationships with the players. The depth of those relationships hasn’t gone unnoticed. “He’s going to be one hell of a dude,” said Ted Ginn Sr., the legendary coach at Glenville High School in Cleveland. “He’s going to be a good asset to Cincinnati because I know what he stands for. I know that he’s strictly for the kids.”

The amount of fans not high on Fickell to Cincy perplexes me. He spent too much time under too many great people, works too hard, and has too much of an eye for talent to fail.

Which makes me wonder: What kind of odds could you get on Fickell being Ohio State's head coach in 2019 when Cincinnati comes to Columbus?  

 HOLY SHIT, RUTGERS. Can't wait for the live sports cable bubble to burst so the Big Ten can pawn Rutgers to the Atlantic 10.

It turns out Kyle Flood cheated to go 27-24 at Rutgers.


In a scathing 17-report obtained by NJ Advance Media on Tuesday, the NCAA accused the Rutgers athletics department of being asleep at the wheel while former head coach Kyle Flood and others committed a string of violations that included recruiting infractions, leaning on a professor for a better grade for a player and burying a slew of positive drug tests.

In addition, the NCAA alleges that women in the football team's "ambassador" program freelanced with recruits and their families, operating against the rules with no supervision.

The NCAA has issued a formal letter -- called a Notice of Allegations -- to Rutgers following an 18-month investigation into the football program and the athletics department. The letter details seven allegations of varying severity.

I wouldn't have figured Rutgers had institution of which to lose control. Chris Ash must check his bank account every morning to make sure those two commas are there.

 BAN THE #TEEN VIRUS. Glad to see Ohio State researching the important things like the threat of #teens, who are prone to violence and run in packs like chimps.


Researchers found that adolescents were up to 183 percent more likely to carry out some acts of violence if one of their friends had also committed the same act.

But the spread of violence doesn’t just stop at friends – results suggest the contagion extends by up to four degrees of separation – from one person to a friend, to the friend’s friend and two more friends beyond.

“This study shows just how contagious violence can be,” said Robert Bond, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

People may call that bigotry, but it looks like science, facts, and logic to me.

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