Skull Session: Ohio State is No. 1 in ESPN's Preseason FPI Rankings, the Buckeyes Have Had Gut-Wrenching Losses and Thrilling Wins and TreVeyon Henderson is Back

By Chase Brown on April 19, 2023 at 5:00 am
Ryan Day

At Ohio State, the spring game matters more.

That's why 75,000 people showed up in The House That Harley Built to watch the Buckeyes compete in an intrasquad scrimmage.

Let's have a good Wednesday, shall we?

 HE WAS NUMBER ONE! No offense to Smitty Werbenjagermanjensen, but Ohio State – and only Ohio State – can be No. 1, at least as far as ESPN's preseason FPI rankings for the 2023 season are concerned.

2 ALABAMA 28.2
3 GEORGIA 27.4
4 LSU 22.1
5 TEXAS 21.9
7 USC 19.9
8 CLEMSON 19.4
10 PENN STATE 17.5

What is FPI? It's short for Football Power Index, a computer algorithm ESPN created to predict a team's record and chance to win its conference, reach the College Football Playoff, make the national championship and hoist the CFP trophy.

"In the preseason, it relies on past performance on offense and defense, returning and transfer production and past recruiting data for players on the roster to form a rating," ESPN analytics writer Seth Walder wrote Tuesday in the preseason FPI rankings for 2023, an article that featured Ohio State as the top-ranked team in America ahead of 2023.

Ohio State checked in at No. 1 with an FPI rating of 31.5 – a number 3.3 points higher than second-ranked Alabama and 4.1 points higher than third-ranked Georgia. LSU (22.1) and Texas (21.9) round out the top-five spots.

But what makes the Buckeyes better than the Crimson Tide, the Bulldogs or any other team in college football as of April 2023? Walder wrote:

So what makes the Buckeyes so dangerous in 2023, even relative to SEC powerhouses Alabama and Georgia? For starters, the best non-QB offensive returning production in the nation. That's most notable in the receiving game, where the Buckeyes return Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka – who recorded 1,263 and 1,151 receiving yards in 2022, respectively – along with tight end Cade Stover.

The model ranks Ohio State No. 1 in offensive performance in recent seasons (it ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency in 2022) and second in offensive talent (based on cumulative recruiting ranks on that side of the ball). Quarterback aside, we can see why FPI makes the Buckeyes the best offense in the nation by a decent margin. Defensively, the Buckeyes rank third – they don't quite boast the talent levels that FPI sees in Georgia or Alabama – but the margin is smaller and thus the Buckeyes are the best team overall. Georgia's defense ranks No. 1 in FPI rating, driven more by the historical performance of the unit than anything else.

Ohio State also has an 82% chance of reaching the College Football Playoff in 2023, according to the model. That ranks ahead of Georgia (63%), Alabama (62%), Texas (34%) and Michigan (26%) in terms of the best odds.

Even more, the Buckeyes have a 37% chance of winning the national championship, with the Crimson Tide second (20%) and the Bulldogs third (19%). The odds then drop dramatically, as the Longhorns rank fourth (6%) and the Wolverines rank fifth (4%).

In other words: It's a crystal-clear top tier [of Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia]. And what's somewhat amazing is this is happening in a year when none of the three are returning their starting quarterbacks. C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young and Stetson Bennett are all NFL-bound, and yet the model still has confidence in these squads.

It means that the model has less confidence in each of their QBs than it does for, say, USC with Caleb Williams. Though in the case of Ohio State, for example, the fact that Kyle McCord (the most likely starter, in the model's mind) had an 87 grade as a recruit provides the model some confidence in him despite the lack of track record.

Buckle up, folks. It's only April, but Ohio State could be in store for a special year this fall. If the Buckeyes can keep that competitive edge for the entire season – the one Ryan Day has preached all offseason – the men in the scarlet and gray could very well be the team to beat in 2023 and the favorites to win the whole f––––– thing.

 "WE ALL MOURN IN DIFFERENT WAYS." A Reddit user named Iverdow1 created a thread on r/OhioStateFootball on Monday with the caption, "We all mourn in different ways from different developmental stages and times of our lives. We can't deny it. Each loss was the worst in different ways, but what are your top-five Ohio State losses that upset you?"

That's a good Q.

Here were the user's answers:

  • 5. 2022 Peach Bowl vs. Georgia
  • 4. 2022 The Game
  • 3. 2015 regular season vs. Michigan State
  • 2. 2006 BCS National Championship vs. Florida
  • 1. 2019 Fiesta Bowl vs. Clemson
  • Honorable Mentions: 2008 regular season vs. USC, "an embarrassing loss"; 2008 Fiesta Bowl vs. Texas, "a dagger to the heart"; 2016 Fiesta Bowl loss vs. Clemson

All valid rankings from Iverdow. Many commenters quickly added Ohio State's losses to Michigan in the ’90s and Michigan State in 1998. Others mentioned Oklahoma and Iowa in 2017, Purdue in 2018 and the 2020 national championship loss to Alabama.

Ohio State has had some hard-to-swallow losses in its history.

... but the Buckeyes have had some memorable wins, too.

I think of the 2002 national championship vs. Miami, 2006 vs. Michigan, 2014 vs. Alabama (that one is my favorite) and Oregon to claim the first-ever College Football Playoff title, 2016 vs. Michigan, 2017 vs. Penn State, 2018 vs. Michigan and 2020 vs. Clemson.

I'm sure I missed some – there are plenty more, and that's just in my lifetime. Others may point to the historic wins that came before me, and I would welcome anyone to direct me to stats and videos from those victories.

Overall, I come away from Iverdow's exercise with one prevailing thought: Sports are funny. Think about how crushing some of those Ohio State losses were, but then how exhilarating some of those victories were. Only sports – the competition, the investment, the passion –can bring us to our knees and make us jump joyfully. That's why we love them, right?

 TREVEYON HENDERSON IS (ALMOST) BACK. TreVeyon Henderson was one of the best players in college football in 2021, leading Ohio State's running back room with 1,560 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns.

Poised to build upon his breakout freshman season with another solid effort in 2022, Henderson missed five contests and was limited in other appearances due to torn tendons in his foot. In December, Henderson had a procedure done to repair those tendons, which forced him to miss the Peach Bowl and be listed as a limited participant for winter workouts and spring practices.

Four months later, Henderson has been fully cleared for a return to all football-related activities. The Hopewell, Virginia, native made the announcement via a tweet on Sunday.

 OLYMPIC VILLAGE. I understand there exists a large contingent of Ohio State wrestling fans at Eleven Warriors, including many who faithfully read the Skull Session (thank you). This final section may only attract that audience, but I believe it could also be a hit for those unfamiliar with the winning ways of the Wrestlebucks.

In 2023, FloWrestling released weekly episodes of a featured show called "Young Bucks: A Season With Ohio State" that follows several Ohio State wrestlers in their journeys as Buckeyes. The first episode, which was released to FloWrestling's website on April 12, followed top freshmen Jesse Mendez, Nic Bouzakis and Nick Feldman as they traveled from their hometowns to Columbus.

I found the episode to be well-produced and insightful toward the life of a wrestler on Ohio State's campus. It shows what head coach Tom Ryan and his staff expect of each competitor, even at 18 years old, and how athletes must invest in themselves and others to become champions at the highest level.

With a 24-minute runtime, you may not have time to watch the video when you read the Skull Session, and I understand that. But make sure to come back at some point and take it in. I promise you it is well worth your time.

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Unchained Melody" by Righteous Brothers.

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