Skull Session: Chris Holtmann’s Team Needs an Identity, C.J. Stroud is QB1 for the NFL Draft and Ohio State Will Be Loaded Next Season

By Chase Brown on January 20, 2023 at 5:00 am
Chris Holtmann

Ohio State women’s basketball just keeps on winning.

I like that about this team.

Let's have a good Friday, shall we?

 UHHH, CHRIS? Before Ohio State men's basketball began its streak of five-consecutive losses, the Buckeyes were the No. 1 team in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency. That was pretty good! But now, after a 40% shooting performance against Minnesota and back-to-back sub-40% performances at Rutgers and Nebraska, Chris Holtmann's squad has fallen to No. 11 in that same category. Yikes!

I'm sure one could point to several other areas where the Basketbucks have struggled amid this catastrophic skid, but the decline in offensive efficiency frustrated me the most. At first, I wasn't sure why. Then, I thought something that won't read as profound as it was to me at the moment: This team, despite having played 18 games this season, has yet to find its identity.

In 2017, Holtmann started his tenure in Columbus with a reputation as a defensive-minded coach. Ironically, his Ohio State teams haven't been stellar in that department for what feels like forever. Instead, that offense was what has shined under Holtmann.

But here we are, watching the Buckeyes endure a five-game losing streak, and “shine” is probably the last word that comes to mind when watching the current team's offense. I think “stagnant” is perhaps a better word to describe what it's like when Ohio State possesses the ball.

The five players on the court – it doesn't matter who they are – have struggled to get consistently clean looks out of plays, have looked lost and, on occasion, out of control whenever they are in the motion offense, four-around-one set. Those factors have led to Ohio State scoring 69, 73, 67, 64 and 60 points in its last five contests, which translates to only one giveaway of free McDonald’s fries, people! Let alone a free Big Mac!

Offense has always been the bread and butter for Ohio State under Holtmann, but it hasn't been easy to come by as of late, making the Buckeyes' defensive struggles even more noticeable than they have been in prior years. What kind of identity can you possibly have with no offense and no defense? The answer is no identity at all.

I'm unsure if I believe a team's identity can be found this late in the season. However, there's no greater test of a team's character, chemistry and strength than a five-game stretch of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan, with the battles against the Illini and Hoosiers on the road. If the Buckeyes are to have any calling card in 2022-23, they'll find it over the next two weeks. For the sanity of Buckeye Nation, let's hope they do.

 STROUD → QB1. According to draft analysts from many national sports news outlets, C.J. Stroud is expected to be one of three quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft, along with Alabama's Bryce Young and Kentucky's Will Levis.

Depending on which mock draft you look at, Stroud will either be the first, second or third quarterback taken among the three, as there is currently no consensus as to what order they should be selected when we reach late April.

Quite frankly, I find that ridiculous, and apparently, so does former Georgia quarterback and current SNAPS podcast co-host Aaron Murray. For Murray, Stroud is the clear-cut No. 1 choice for a team in need of a signal-caller over Young (and Levis, but he chose not to compare Stroud with Levis because, come on, folks) for several reasons:

  1.  Stroud's size (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) vs. Young's size (6-foot, 194 pounds)
  2.  Stroud's accuracy (career 69.% comp) vs. Young's accuracy (career 65.8% comp)
  3.  Stroud's performance against Georgia (23-34 for 348 yards and 4 TDs, 192.4 passer rate) vs. Young's performances against Georgia (61-101 for 790 yards, four TDs and two INTs, 138.3 passer rate)

I full-heartedly agree that Stroud is a better prospect than Young because of his size and accuracy. However, I will admit that Stroud's performance against Georgia in 2022 is not a one-to-one comparison with Young's outings against the Bulldogs in 2021, as they were different defenses because of their personnel (but still similar in talent, nonetheless).

Will Stroud be the first quarterback taken in the 2023 draft? I don't know. Probably not. But I think he will end us as the top signal-caller in this class when we look back on it next year and in five years, 10 years, 15 years and beyond.

Why? Because Stroud has the accuracy, durability and size to stick around in the league for a long, long time, which makes me excited to see what he can do at the next level playing for whoever is blessed enough to have his services in the future.

 OHIO STATE IS LOADED. Despite sending an experienced and talented draft class to the pros after this past season, Ohio State will return plenty of skilled players to its roster in 2023, including several Buckeyes that will be at the top of NFL draft boards in 2024.

On Thursday, ESPN's Matt Miller released his early look at 2024 NFL draft prospects, and – real shocker here – the Ohio State logo was all over the list at several different positions. Here is who Miller has his eye on as Ryan Day's future squad takes form this spring, into fall camp and into the season:

TreVeyon Henderson 

A right leg injury slowed Henderson's sophomore season, but over the past two years, he has rushed for over 1,800 yards and added 26 total touchdowns. At 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds, he has the traits to be a starter in the NFL. Henderson led all Power 5 backs with 6.8 yards per carry when healthy in 2021, and with truly elite speed in the open field, there are some Jamaal Charles vibes here.

Marvin Harrison Jr.

The son of an NFL legend, Marvin Harrison Jr. is creating his own legacy in Columbus. As a true sophomore, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound receiver caught 77 passes for more than 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns while looking like a 2022 version of Randy Moss. Harrison has elite size and body control, but his best trait are his hands. He's as sure-handed as they come, with power and concentration that resulted in zero drops in 2022. He will likely be WR1 in the 2024 draft.

Emeka Egbuka

In its quest to earn the WRU label, Ohio State has another receiver expected to carry a Round 1 grade -- and Egbuka would be the top receiver at most colleges thanks to his route running and burst off the line of scrimmage. His speed and acceleration have him ranked as the best deep threat in the 2024 class. Egbuka had 74 catches, 1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2022 despite being the Buckeyes' second option.

Cade Stover

One of my favorite all-around football players in the 2024 class, Stover doesn't catch a ton of passes but stands out as a blocker down the field and as a receiver when called upon. He collected 36 receptions for 406 yards and five touchdowns in 2022. At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, he looks like an instant starter in the pros.

Miller also listed Matt Jones, JT Tuimoloau and Lathan Ransom as players that scouts will likely have massive circles around on their whiteboards for the next 16 months. Surprisingly, there was no mention of Tommy “Two Thumbs” Eichenberg, which is strange. Maybe a Big Ten Linebacker of the Year and a Butkus Award for Eichenberg in 2023 will get him on Miller’s radar.

 OLYMPIC VILLAGE. Ohio State women's ice hockey won its first national championship in 2021-22. As we transition into the new year, I look to the team's title as one of the best moments in Buckeye sports from last year (behind only synchronized swimming's 33rd championship, of course).

It appears the folks over at the Big Ten Network have also been doing some reflecting this January, as they released a feature about how head coach Nadine Muzerall has transformed the women's ice hockey program in her short tenure with the team, with the national championship acting as proof of the positive future of what is to come for the Buckeyes with Muzerall as Ohio State's leader.

This season, Ohio State is the No. 1 team in the USCHO Poll (receiving all 20 first-place votes) with a 20-2-2 record through the first 24 games. Led by former Patty Kazmaier Award finalist Sophie Jaques, veteran forwards Jennifer Gardiner and Emma Maltais and goaltender Amanda Thiele, the Buckeyes are on a mission to win another championship this season.

With only 10 games and five regular-season opponents left to face – St. Cloud State, Minnesota State, Minnesota, St. Thomas and Wisconsin – Ohio State is nearing the final stages of that mission. It will need mental and physical toughness to endure that stretch, and the stretch of the NCAA Tournament, if it is to accomplish it.

Luckily, that's what Muzzerall brings out most in her players. Time to go back-to-back?

 SONG OF THE DAY. “Hey Ya!” by Outkast.

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