Skull Session: Ohio State’s Returning Production Takes a Dip, Dawand Jones Gets Snubbed on a Two-Round Mock Draft and the Buckeyes Let Georgia Off the Hook in the CFP

By Chase Brown on February 8, 2023 at 5:00 am
Marvin Harrison Jr.
Joseph Maiorana / USA TODAY Sports

I think it’s safe to say that, yes, we are all witnesses.

In a moment that will not soon be forgotten, LeBron James broke the NBA’s all-time scoring record previously held by the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Tuesday.

Should that be talked about in an article on an Ohio State website? No, probably not. But did I open with that for my Skull Session? Yes, because I can.

Say what you want about the man, but LeBron is the GOAT in my book. And what he accomplished on Tuesday is the latest achievement in a long line of accolades that, to me, make that title for LeBron crystal clear.

Let's have a good Wednesday, shall we?

 SHINY NEW FACES. Oh, what a difference a year makes. After entering 2022 ranked No. 24 in the FBS in Bill Connelly's SP+ returning production metric – the most of any national championship contender from the year prior – Connelly's updated formula for 2023 has Ohio State regressing in that category.

The Buckeyes check in at No. 48 among the 133 FBS teams with two-thirds of its production returning next fall, as the 2023 iteration of Ohio State will have 57% of last season's output offensively (97th in FBS) and 77% defensively (20th).

On offense, Ohio State had key departures in C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and three offensive linemen. However, Ryan Day and Brian Hartline will still have plenty of talent, including Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, TreVeyon Henderson and others. Therefore, don't let the numbers fool you. If the coaches choose the right quarterback, the Buckeyes will continue being one of the most dangerous offenses in college football.

The defense also had a handful of players move on from the program. Still, several Silver Bullets will be back in 2023, including last season's leading tackler Tommy Eichenberg, Steele Chambers, Lathan Ransom, JT Tuimoloau and more. The calls for Jim Knowles' removal will be really, really loud if he finds a way to keep this talented unit from being one of the best in the NCAA next season.

At No. 48 on the list, Ohio State finds itself in the middle of the pack with many other top programs, such as Notre Dame (No. 44), Michigan State (No. 45), Oregon (No. 54) and Penn State (No. 56). The Buckeyes are also "worse off" than teams like Florida State (No. 1) and Michigan (No. 5) but "better off" than Georgia (No. 80) and Alabama (No. 125).

To say Michigan is in a better spot than Ohio State in anything is enough to make one's stomach sink. Still, Connelly singled out the Wolverines as a team he expects to improve in 2023 based on its returning production (i.e., many of the same players who helped Michigan win back-to-back Big Ten Championships and consecutive CFP appearances).

It's pretty jarring to see a team that made the CFP one year also rank in the top five in returning production the next. The Wolverines are projected to return quarterback J.J. McCarthy, running back and Heisman hopeful Blake Corum and nine of their 12 defenders with 400-plus snaps. Plus, Jim Harbaugh made deft use of the portal, adding reinforcements to both the linebacking corps and an already-awesome offensive line. Both Ohio State and Penn State enter 2023 with hopes of preventing a third straight Big Ten title for Michigan, but they'll have to clear a really high bar.

While Ohio State's three goals under Day have always been beat Michigan, win the Big Ten Championship and win a national championship, I think the three goals for this season should be: Beat Michigan, beat Michigan and beat Michigan.

The Game is 290 days away.

 MORE TO PROVE (KIND OF). Matt Miller released ESPN's latest two-round mock draft earlier this week. He included four Buckeyes among his projections for the first 63 picks.

No. 9 - C.J. Stroud to the Carolina Panthers

Re-signing Sam Darnold as a bridge quarterback and drafting Stroud to work with new coach Frank Reich is a smart team-building move. The Ohio State quarterback has awesome accuracy to all levels of the field and showed in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Georgia what he can do as a runner and mover in the pocket.

Stroud's 85 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions over his college career is impressive, and he finished second in QBR in 2022 (88.9). And although Stroud might need time to adjust to an NFL scheme, he has the passing ability to become the franchise quarterback this team so badly needs.

No. 13 - Paris Johnson Jr. to the New York Jets

The Jets need a left tackle, and Johnson was very good for Ohio State holding down that spot. The junior didn't allow a sack until the Michigan game and surrendered just two on the season. A starter at right guard before this year, Johnson has the agility, balance and size (6-6, 310 pounds) to be a true Day 1 left tackle in the NFL. He'll need to get a little stronger at the point of attack, but his frame will support that. For the Jets, with so much up in the air offensively, finding a long-term left tackle is key in this draft.

No. 20 - Jaxon Smith-Njigba to the Seattle Seahawks

Smith-Njigba entered the year as my top-ranked receiver and still holds that title despite missing all but three games because of a hamstring injury. Rewatch his record-setting Rose Bowl performance against Utah from the 2021 season for a reminder of what he can do on the field. JSN went off for 15 catches, 347 yards and three touchdowns that night to cap a 95-catch, 1,606-yard season. Yes, scouts are concerned about his hamstring injury, but multiple NFL evaluators have noted that, if healthy, Smith-Njigba is the best receiver in the class.

No. 53 - Zach Harrison to the Chicago Bears

The Bears' defense needs a 3-technique, and it got one in Round 1 with Jalen Carter. But it also needs a big, powerful edge rusher and finds that player in Round 2 with a former five-star recruit. Harrison, who is 6-6, 272 pounds, had his best season in 2022 with 3.5 sacks and 25 pressures. He's an easy projection to defensive end next to Carter after the Bears finished last in the NFL in sacks (20).

And that's it. That's all the Buckeyes Miller listed in his two-round mock draft.

Like with the many mock drafts I consume this time of year – a chronic habit I can thank the Cleveland Browns for –  I'd typically look at the mock like this and say, "Hey, cool, four Buckeyes! That's great," before moving on with more important things in my life. However, I am puzzled by a distinct lack of Dawand Jones in Miller's two-round mock draft.

Did Miller not see Jones' performance at the Senior Bowl? Did he call in sick for the event, or did he take a cleanse from social media all of last week?

Jones, who checked in at 6-foot-8, 375 pounds with an 89.5-inch wingspan at the Senior Bowl, dominated NFL prospects in one-on-ones and team drills. Simply put, it was BBQ chicken for the former Ohio State tackle. Granted, he only ate up for one day, as Jones did not participate for the whole week due to a reported, undisclosed injury.

Those measurements and that performance have led some, such as CBS Sports' Josh Edwards, to place Jones as the No. 11 pick in his mock draft and other analysts to put Big Thanos in the first round of their mocks. And I don't blame them.

Jones allowed ZERO sacks this past season. He is also the largest human in the draft class. That combination will continue to make scouts and general managers salivate, especially in late April. Perhaps Miller will notice that soon and adjust accordingly whenever his subsequent mock releases.

 “FAT AND LAZY, UNDEFEATED.” Speaking of Jones and his time at the Senior Bowl, the Indianapolis native spent some time conducting interviews with the media amid the week of competitions and practices.

During one of Jones' sessions, he was asked about Ohio State's feelings toward drawing Georgia in the first round of the playoff rather than TCU, considering how the national championship played between those teams. Jones' answer was that the Buckeyes were excited to face the Bulldogs, even if it meant a more difficult matchup.

From Mike Griffith of

“We felt like they were a little bit fat and lazy, undefeated,” Jones said. “So that was one of our major things to focus on, they were ripe (to be upset).”

For the first three quarters of the Peach Bowl, the perception Jones and his teammates had of Georgia appeared to be spot on, as the Buckeyes held a 38-24 lead over the Bulldogs heading into the final frame.

Then the wheels on Ohio State's wagon fell off.

Stetson Bennett and the Bulldogs outscored the Buckeyes 18-3 and held a 42-41 advantage late in the fourth quarter. A last-second field goal attempt from Noah Ruggles missed wide left, sending Georgia to the national championship game, where they beat TCU by a record-breaking 58-point margin, 65-7.

Ohio State had Georgia – the team they thought was “fat and lazy” – right on the ropes, boxed in the corner, and let the Bulldogs escape and land a knockout punch like Hugh Jackman and Atom in Reel Steel. That blows, and I don't want to talk about it anymore.

 OLYMPIC VILLAGE. Taylor Mikesell was recognized for her efforts as a leader for The Ohio State University women's basketball team when she was named to the Naismith Women's Player of the Year Midseason Team and selected as a top-10 finalist for the Ann Meyers-Drysdale Award on Tuesday.

This season, Mikesell leads Ohio State with an average of 17.6 points (on 43.2% shooting), 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals in the team's 24 games. She has also surpassed several individual milestones in her second year in Columbus, including scoring her 2,000th career point against Indiana on Jan. 26 and her 1,000th point as a Buckeye against Wisconsin on Feb. 1.

Losers in four of their previous five games after a record-breaking 19-0 start to the regular season, it's no secret Ohio State has been in quite the funk as of late. Still, the Buckeyes still have five games left before the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, which is plenty of time to get things back on track.

If that is to happen, though, Mikesell will need to be the Naismith Player of the Year candidate the selection committees believe she can be. Of the five games remaining, three will be against ranked opponents. The first will be a home battle with No. 2 Indiana, the second a road contest against No. 12 Michigan and another home matchup with No. 8 Maryland that will close out the season. Talk about tough.

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Chamber of Reflection" by Mac DeMarco.

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