Skull Session: Marvin Harrison Jr. Primed to Shine at Ohio State's Pro Day, the Buckeyes Play for a Title in ESPN's 64-Team Playoff and John Hicks Was an Elite Football Player

By Chase Brown on March 22, 2023 at 5:00 am
Marvin Harrison Jr.
Adam Cairns / Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State's pro day is here.

Only a few more weeks until some Buckeyes have their lives changed forever.

Let's have a good Wednesday, shall we?

 MARVELOUS MARV. As Ryan Day's press conference ended on Tuesday, Eleven Warriors lead football writer Dan Hope asked the head coach a final question about the Buckeyes' pro day on Wednesday: Other than those expected to perform in the event, will any other current or former Ohio State players participate in the workouts?

His answer? Marvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Johnson, Jayden Ballard and Cade Stover are all expected to catch passes in C.J. Stroud's throwing session.

Day described Stroud's success in the exercise as an "important piece of the puzzle" toward Stroud becoming the first quarterback and player off the board at the 2023 NFL draft on April 27. That said, Stroud needs to surround himself with Jaxon Smith-Njigba and talented players like Harrison, who proved to be one of the best receivers in college football last season.

Ohio State’s pro day throwing session may still be more about Stroud this year, given his status as the betting favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL draft. But Harrison will undoubtedly generate palpable momentum for his own draft stock – albeit a year before he’s eligible – in the same manner that Stroud did while throwing to Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave at last year’s pro day.

I'll bet anyone that at least one NFL draft analyst tweets about Harrison as the best performer at the pro day on Wednesday. That tweet will look something like this:

Marvin Harrison Jr. impressed several NFL coaches, executives and scouts at Ohio State's pro day on Wednesday.

"He was the best player on the field wherever he was. If he were in this year's draft class, he'd be the first-overall pick. He's that good," one scout told me.

And yeah, that will probably be a true statement.

To me, Harrison feels like a lock to be a stud in the NFL. He exploded for three touchdowns in the Rose Bowl in his first start at Ohio State. He collected 77 catches for 1,263 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first full season. He'll win the Biletnikoff and contend for other awards in his second full season and likely his last in Columbus.

The bottom line is Harrison has improved each year since he arrived on campus in 2021. With his determination and work ethic, I don't expect that trend to change once he reaches the next level. That's what makes Harrison "Marvelous," "Super" or whatever else people call him. NFL teams will have a chance to see that talent on display Wednesday. Rest assured – they will not be disappointed.

 COOL IDEA, HORRIBLE OUTCOME. When March Madness started last week, ESPN senior writer Chris Low celebrated the chaotic men's basketball tournament with a 64-team bracket. However, that bracket was not for hoops; it was for college football.

Here was the format for the fictitious NCAA football tournament: "We've seeded the teams 1 through 64, and the seeds are based to some degree on ESPN's latest SP+ projections entering the 2023 season. The top four seeds are Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State and Alabama (yes, 17 playoff appearances among them). With the Crimson Tide being the fourth No. 1 seed, they will travel to the West Region."

Let's look at how Ohio State fared in the bracket:

First Round and Second Round

(1) Ohio State 48, (16) South Alabama 17: Kane Wommack has done a terrific job at South Alabama and leads the Jaguars to their second straight 10-win season. But they're no match for an Ohio State team that just seems to reload every year no matter how many players the Buckeyes lose to the NFL.

(1) Ohio State 44, (8) South Carolina 24: Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka take turns catching touchdown passes for the Buckeyes, and the Gamecocks simply can't keep up in a game that's close at halftime and gets away from them in the second half when Harrison hauls in a 57-yard touchdown pass on Ohio State's first possession.

Sweet 16

(1) Ohio State 40, (4) Texas A&M 31: Ohio State's defensive secondary play has received its share of heat the past couple of seasons, and the Buckeyes again give up too many big plays in the passing game. The Texas A&M combination of Conner Weigman-to-Ainias Smith is especially effective, and Smith does a lot of his damage after the catch. The Buckeyes are able to withstand the Aggies' offensive onslaught with a running game that wears down Texas A&M's defense with a rotation that goes four deep.

Note: ESPN picked No. 4-seeded Notre Dame to knock off No. 1-seeded Michigan, 30-27, in the Sweet 16 round behind an elite performance from quarterback Sam Hartman.

Elite Eight

(1) Ohio State 37, (2) Tennessee 31: The Vols have come a long way in three years under Josh Heupel, and their offense is a daunting challenge for any defense to stop. The Buckeyes don't necessarily stop the Vols, but they're successful in limiting their possessions on offense. One of the ways they do that is by feeding the ball to running back Dallan Hayden, who runs for 131 yards and churns out one first down after another to keep drives alive. It's a big day for the entire Hayden family. Dallan's dad, Aaron Hayden, was a star running back for Tennessee in the early 1990s.

Final Four

(1) Ohio State 30, (2) LSU 28: The last time LSU won a national championship, it did so with a quarterback that started his career at Ohio State, a guy by the name of Joe Burrow. The Tigers again have a transfer quarterback. Jayden Daniels came to the Bayou by way of Arizona State, and he's up to the challenge against an Ohio State defense that rolls the dice with its pressure. The Buckeyes don't give up any big plays, but Daniels moves the chains with short passes and key conversion runs. Ohio State gets one last shot after a short LSU punt, and the Buckeyes' best player reminds everybody why he's the best receiver in college football. Marvin Harrison Jr. turns a slant route into a 56-yard touchdown, and Brutus Buckeye breathes a huge sigh of relief.

National Championship

(1) Alabama 35, (1) Ohio State: 28: We're down to two of the true powerhouses in college football, two programs that have defined excellence for a long time. Some of the names have changed, but new ones emerge at the most important time of the season. Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord takes the Alabama defense's best shot and just keeps getting back up and making plays. The list of great receivers who've come through Alabama over the past few seasons is staggering, but it's a junior college transfer, Malik Benson, who makes the play that changes this game. He gets behind the Ohio State secondary for a 72-yard touchdown, and Alabama ends its "lengthy drought" with its first national championship since the 2020 season. It's Saban's seventh national title at Alabama, and under his leadership, the Tide have never gone more than two seasons without a title.

I like this idea from ESPN but don't like the outcome. You think Ohio State beats four consecutive SEC opponents in South Carolina, Texas A&M, Tennessee and LSU, only to lose to Nick Saban and Alabama in the national championship? Nuh-uh. That's not how that would go down.

At that point, the Buckeyes would be "SEC tested," as those schools always love to claim, and there's no way Ohio State would fall short, especially after the program was embarrassed by Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and the rest of that NFL talent-filled Alabama team in 2020. I'd have to take Ryan Day and Co. if that were the matchup.

Overall, the idea of a 64-team college football tournament is ridiculous. Still, it's fun to predict in the middle of the offseason, especially when newsworthy items are limited and college football content feels like it's at an all-time low.

While I disagree that Ohio State would hypothetically lose in the national championship, I am proud of the hypothetical Buckeyes for almost running the table and hoisting a hypothetical trophy. I am confident they will come back and win it all next year.

 REMEMBERING JOHN HICKS. While I searched social media and the interwebs for Skull Session content on Tuesday, I stumbled across a tweet celebrating the birthday of the late John Hicks.

I immediately became fascinated with Hicks' résumé. I looked up his name on the ol' Google, and a link to his bio popped up on the Ohio State football website. Holy Toledo –this dude was elite. Here is an excerpt from that same bio:

John Hicks came within an eyelash of pulling off one of the biggest triple plays in college football history in 1973. That year Hicks, a 6-3, 258-pound offensive tackle, won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award as the nation’s best interior lineman and also finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting.

How close did Hicks come to becoming the first interior lineman ever to win the Heisman? Well, while he finished second that year, teammates Archie Griffin and Randy Gradishar were fifth and sixth, respectively, in the balloting. By combining Ohio State’s total votes, Hicks would have had enough votes to move ahead of winner John Cappelletti.

That is insane.

Had Archie Griffin and Randy Grandishar not been as talented as they were, Hicks may have been the first offensive lineman to win the Heisman Trophy in 1973. And with how Heisman votes have trended for the past few decades, with quarterbacks seemingly being the only players to win the award anymore, he'd likely be the only lineman to win to this day.

And that's no fault to Griffin and Grandishar, by the way. A large part of Ohio State's success in the 70s is because of how those players performed – Griffin as a running back for the offense and Grandishar as a linebacker for the defense – and both players are still present in the program's record book. Hicks' name is not in that same book, but he would be if he won the Heisman. It's a shame he didn't.

Still, Hicks seems to be remembered fondly in Buckeye Nation.

A fiery, emotional leader and a fan favorite, Hicks was a first-round draft choice of the New York Giants following the 1973 campaign. His promising career was cut short by injury, however, and he returned to Columbus to enter private business. Hicks was selected in April 2001 to the College Football Hall of Fame.

I never thought a tweet about a late Ohio State player would lead me down such a rabbit hole, but it did, and I am thankful for it. The Buckeye football program has an incredible depth of elite players that surpasses the usual suspects like Griffin, Grandishar, Eddie George, Troy Smith, etc. I think that's cool. Let's talk about the Hicks of Ohio State football more. Cool? Cool.

 LAND-ON A CURE. Ohio State women's basketball has a special fan. His name is Landon McChesney, a 6-year-old boy that's become a players' pal in recent weeks. In a recent Ohio State Alumni Magazine article, Chris DeVille wrote about McChesney's relationship with the team.

McChesney attended a showdown between Ohio State and Illinois at Value City Arena in late January. Several players stopped by to greet him and his family, with many of them wearing "LandOn a Cure" shirts as they smiled, waved and spent time with him.

Ohio State has thrown its support behind McChesney, who has a rare disorder that causes a mutation in his protein-coding TBCD gene – "a condition completely unknown before 2016, with only a few dozen cases documented worldwide since then." McChesney cannot walk, and he struggles to talk. His doctors predicted he wouldn’t live past age 4. But he’ll turn 7 in April. His parents, Mike and Jaren McChesney, are pursuing multiple treatment options.

From DeVille's article:

In 2021, they learned of Rarebase, a company that works to repurpose drugs for new treatments. To participate, the McChesneys had a month to raise $50,000. With the Ohio State-Michigan football game approaching, Mike drove to Ann Arbor with a sign soliciting donations. He maneuvered his poster behind Kirk Herbstreit during ESPN’s “College GameDay,” and the campaign went viral.

That brought Landon’s case to the attention of Dr. Allison Bradbury, an assistant professor in Ohio State’s Department of Pediatrics and a principal investigator in the Center for Gene Therapy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Her lab is exploring a gene therapy approach to treatment. Fundraising through the McChesneys’ LandOn A Cure nonprofit persists, and the Buckeyes are faithful supporters. Coach Kevin McGuff met Landon’s grandfather via a friend of the program and invited the family to a practice in September. The bond between Landon and the players was immediate.

“It was really amazing to watch how authentically they engaged with a kid with special needs,” Jaren McChesney says. “Some people might shy away from interactions, not sure what to say or do. They just jumped right in. Hugs. Passing the basketball. It was just a beautiful moment to watch him be so included and loved.”

The family has attended games and practices, and the team turned out for the LandOn A Cure Foundation’s inaugural Roll-A-Thon fundraiser in October. “We’re excited to continue to be a part of everything they’re trying to do in terms of raising awareness,” McGuff says.

This rocks.

Ohio State's athletic programs never fail to amaze me with their awareness and compassion. Even in the middle of one of women's basketball's most successful seasons in recent memory, the Buckeyes still have the wherewithal to invest time into something that will change the lives of the entire McChesney family. Cheers to them for that.

A side note (which will also be the final note): Ohio State will play UConn on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Sweet 16. If the Buckeyes win, they will advance to their first Elite Eight since the 1992-93 season, which means it's time for the team to make history.

Another quick note: No. 15 Ohio State men's volleyball took down top-ranked Penn State on the road in a five-set thriller. Pretty cool stuff!

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Musta Been a Ghost" by Próxima Parada.

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