Skull Session: Mark Pantoni Talks Recruiting, Lathan Ransom Praises Jeff Hafley, and Michigan Picked to Win the Big Ten

By Kevin Harrish on July 18, 2019 at 4:59 am
It's Big Ten Media Days time in today's Skull Session.

Today, we have one of the surest signs that football is nearly upon us: Big Ten media days, baby!

My esteemed coworkers Dan Hope, Colin Hass-Hill and Taylor Lehman – all of whom are objectively better than me at most aspects of life – are all in Chicago to provide you with the best of coverage. Be sure to follow them on Twitter dot com.

Zach Smith got fired at this shindig last year setting up the most insane few months of Buckeye football news I've ever experienced. I'm usually the guy doing a rain dance for #content, but I'm praying for as uneventful as possible.


Word of the Day: Canard.

 THE MAN BEHIND THE CLASS. Ryan Day's going to haul in a top-3 class and arguably the best offensive class of all time in his recruiting class as a head coach.

That's insane and better than anyone could have reasonably expected, but he didn't do it alone. He's got the best the best director of player personnel in the country – Mark Pantoni – running point on the whole process.

My good pal Jeremy Birmingham of Lettermen Row sat down with the Teen Whisperer himself to talk about, as you might guess, recruiting in major college football.

The full interview is worth your time, but here are some of the highlights:

  • "As far as (recruiting) rankings, we pay very little attention to it," Pantoni said. "If anything, we just use them as a starting point."
  • Pantoni explains the move from the Friday Night Lights camp to the Buckeye Bash & Barbecue was.
  • He said it was an "easy decision" to remain at Ohio State and work under Ryan Day and that he knew it was going to be a "seamless transition" from Urban Meyer to Day.
  • Pantoni explains that they actually have to fight against the "football factory" label on the recruiting trail because they put so many players in the NFL.
  • He says he would like to see a rule change that would allow coaches to attend camps like The Opening or high school All-American games to be able to evaluate players competing against the nation's top talent.
  • He said the one recruit he signed that he never thought he had a chance to sign was J.K. Dobbins. He hadn't even visited Ohio State when he committed and lived right down the street from the University of Texas right when Tom Herman got there.
  • Mark Pantoni is of the opinion that fans – though well intentioned – can sometimes hurt recruiting efforts.

I go back and forth about whether Pantoni or Mickey Marotti are the most important staff retentions Ryan Day made because they're both just so damn good at their jobs I can't pick.

Maybe the answer really is both. Pantoni is the king of recruiting, and Marotti is the king of derecruiting.

 RANSOM SPEAKS. Lathan Ranson is a Buckeye, and he took to the local newspaper to tell the world why.

From Lathan Ransom for the Arizona Daily Star:

I’ve watched Denzel Ward, Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore play at OSU and in the NFL, and seeing those guys gets me eager to be a Buckeye because I want to be a part of something great and be a reason why football fanatics refer to Ohio State as “Defensive Back University” or DBU .

Another reason why I’m committing to Ohio State is the amazing coaching staff. I FaceTimed my future head coach Ryan Day at 1 a.m. and he still answered. When I told him the news, he was ecstatic and pumped that I was joining his team. I believe in Coach Day and what he’s building at Ohio State.

Competing for a national championship every year? Shoot, don’t ask me twice. Another coach that attracted me to OSU was secondaries coach Jeff Hafley. I was impressed with how much the defensive backs improved between my two visits. If he can do that in three weeks, imagine what he could do with me in three years.

Everything about Ohio State just feels right.

I'm sorry, did he say he saw noticeable improvement after three weeks? This is high level college football, that really shouldn't be possible, but I totally believe it.

I've been ready to crown Hafley co-head coach since about 3 minutes into his introductory press conference and the dude hasn't even coached – much less coordinated – at the college level since 2012.

He has the silveriest of tongues and as as charismatic as they come (as you can tell by the prospects he's pulling in), but I'm glad to see he's also apparently one of the most effective coaches in the country as well. Cause at the end of the day, he's gotta have a good defense.

 HAIL TO THE VICTORS? The media has declared it. This is it. This is the year of Jim Harbaugh.

From Doug Lesmerises of

This is Jim Harbaugh’s year. At least, that’s what 34 writers from around the Big Ten predicted in voting conducted by

Michigan was selected as the preseason Big Ten football favorite in a tight race with Ohio State, as 17 writers predicted the Wolverines as the 2019 conference champions, 14 chose the Buckeyes, two picked Nebraska and one picked Northwestern.

This is the ninth year that has organized voting from league writers, ever since the Big Ten did away with the official preseason predictions that nearly every other conference handles. Into the breech stepped our poll, which has been predicting Big Ten champs, mostly unsuccessfully, since 2011. Big Ten media days will take place Thursday and Friday in Chicago, where the league will unveil a watch list of players, but no actual predictions.

The thing is, this prediction is actually closer to a kiss of death than it is indicative of success this season because these folks, bless 'em, have been just astoundingly terrible at picking a Big Ten Champion.

Over the last eight seasons, they're batting .250, which isn't even a good number in baseball.

2018: Pick, Ohio State. Actual, Ohio State.

2017: Pick, Ohio State. Actual, Ohio State.

2016: Pick, Ohio State. Actual, Penn State.

2015: Pick, Ohio State. Actual, Michigan State.

2014: Pick, Michigan State. Actual, Ohio State.

2013: Pick, Ohio State. Actual, Michigan State.

2012: Pick, Michigan. Actual, Wisconsin.

2011: Pick, Nebraska. Actual, Wisconsin.

I have absolutely no idea what folks continue to see in Michigan other than "I think Ohio State will be worse without the best quarterback in program history and a Hall of Fame coach," but I'm sure we'll get to that at a later date.

In the meantime, I'll allow the Harbaugh Hype Train to roll with reckless abandon while I bet my life on the "under" for Michigan's win total.

 RUNNING IT BACK AGAIN. The TBT Team Formerly Known as Scarlet & Gray is back in action this weekend for their opening round games and the roster is looking quite a bit different from last year, or even this year's from a few months ago.

For starters, Jared Sullinger does not appear to be with the team, but he hasn't been on a single roster up to this point so that's not really a surprise.

But this roster gives us a sort of good news, bad news situation.

The bad news is, Deshaun Thomas is not on the roster for the first weekend as previously planned. But the good news is, there's a surprise addition of a player I'd almost forgotten about completely: LaQuintin Ross!

Hell yeah. The last I'd heard of Ross, he was involved in a shoeless scuffle with a band of hooligans outside an Israeli nightclub with one of his overseas teammates at his side. As incredible as that situation was, I'm stoked to see him play basketball again.

I have no idea how good this team is going to be this year, especially without Sullinger, but I do know they have my attention and I will be tuning the hell in.

 TWO KICKERS KICKING. It looks like the most veteran Buckeye kicker still kicking as well as the freshest Buckeye kicker on the kicking market are both staying frosty together.

I hope both of them end up NFL rosters, if only to ensure I have options for my all-Buckeye fantasy team, which will be returning now that I don't have to start an inactive quarterback every week.

 NOT STICKING TO SPORTS. An Iowa official is asked to resign due to his Tupac obsession... Inside the fake Ferrari factory that sold "Shamborghinis" for $45,000... The best dinosaur fossil ever discovered... 50 reasons why Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin never should have walked on the moon... A new book imagines Bill Walton as a detective solving a kidnapping between announcing college basketball games... The oral history of the Blair Witch Project...

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