Skull Session: Four Buckeyes Appear in ESPN's Top 75 Quarterbacks of the 2000s, PFF Thinks Marvin Harrison Jr. Could Start in the NFL Today and Pete Thamel Explains the Big Ten's TV Controversy

By Chase Brown on May 24, 2023 at 5:00 am
Justin Fields

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Garrett Wilson won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. Will he improve upon that or suffer from a sophomore slump? Ahhhh, who am I kidding? He'll be electric as always.

Let's have a good Wednesday, shall we?

 OHIO STATE LEGENDS. Ohio State football has had some excellent quarterbacks in the 21st century: Craig Krenzel, Troy Smith, Todd Boeckman, Terelle Pryor, Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett, Dwayne Haskins, Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud – 10 names that Dan Hope and Matt Gutridge ranked in January according to their respective careers.

This week, Bill Connelly of ESPN ranked Smith, Barrett, Fields and Stroud on a national scale, naming the four Buckeyes among college football's top 75 quarterbacks of the 2000s with Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, Auburn's Cam Newton, Texas' Vince Young, Florida's Tim Tebow, LSU's Joe Burrow and others.

Here is where Connelly ranked them and what he said about their Ohio State careers:

No. 66 - J.T. Barrett

Years: 2014-17
Stats: 9,434 passing yards, 64% completion rate, 104 TD, 30 INT, 3,263 rushing yards, 43 rushing TD

He broke the Big Ten record for most passing TDs and total TDs, won 38 games in 3.5 seasons as a starter, and, perhaps most importantly, went 4-0 against Michigan.

Notable names around Barrett: West Virginia's Geno Smith at No. 70, Alabama's A.J. McCarron at No. 67, Houston's Kevin Kolb at No. 65, TCU's Andy Dalton at No. 64, BYU's Zach Wilson at No. 63.

No. 33 - Troy Smith

Years: 2003-06
Stats: 5,720 passing yards, 63% completion rate, 54 TD, 13 INT, 1,168 rushing yards, 14 rushing TD

Ohio State went wire-to-wire in the 2006 regular season, and while Smith wasn't asked to do much in blowouts, he came through big-time when required and won the Heisman by more than 1,600 points.

Of course, this would have all mattered more had Smith and the Buckeyes not gotten absolutely humiliated by Florida in the national title game. That'll knock down your ranking a bit.

Notable names around Smith: Miami's Ken Dorsey at No. 36, Missouri's Chase Daniel at No. 35, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell at No. 34, Oklahoma's Jason White at No. 32 and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick at No. 31.

No. 29 - Justin Fields

Years: 2018-20
Stats: 5,701 passing yards, 68% completion rate, 67 TD, 9 INT, 1,133 rushing yards, 19 TD

Thanks to the abbreviated 2020 season, Fields was a collegiate starter for basically 1.5 years. But in that time he proved startlingly accurate and dynamic, leading Ohio State to two CFP bids, one national title game and only two losses.

Notable names around Fields: Florida's Rex Grossman at No. 30, Miami of Ohio's Ben Roethlisberger at No. 28, West Virginia's Pat White at No. 27, Wisconsin's Russell Wilson at No. 26 and Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts at No. 25.

No. 20 - C.J. Stroud

Years: 2020-22
Stats: 8,123 passing yards, 69% completion rate, 85 TD, 12 INT, 1 rushing TD

He didn't have the longest career, but in 25 career games he topped 300 yards 15 times, topped 400 yards five times, completed at least 70% of his passes 10 times and threw multiple INTs just twice. And he was the best player on the field in his final game, a CFP near upset of Georgia.

Notable names around Stroud: NC State's Phillip Rivers at No. 22, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa at No. 21, Alabama's Bryce Young at No. 19, Stanford's Andrew Luck at No. 18 and USC's Matt Leinart at No. 17.

While I am pleased that Connelly ranked Barrett, Smith, Fields and Stroud in his top 75, I wonder if Connelly would have Haskins or Miller featured if the list were extended to 100 or more, and if so, where would he have him?

In his lone season as a starter in 2018, Haskins completed 70% of his passes for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns. First, that's insane, and second, that's worthy of a spot in the top 75 in my mind, so it's a miss from Connelly that Simba is not ranked. As for Miller, Connelly ranked Michigan's Denard Robinson at No. 50, but Miller had similar statistics and was a more successful player overall. That's also a miss.

Besides that, Connelly created a good list. Ohio State is well-represented with or without Haskins in the order. As Ryan Day continues to pump out first-round quarterbacks at an incredible rate, I would expect more Buckeyes to be featured in the future.

 AHEAD OF HIS TIME. Pro Football Focus has loved Marvin Harrison Jr. this offseason. To be fair, after a season in which he collected 77 receptions for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns and earned unanimous All-American honors, who hasn't marveled at the 6-foot-4, 205-pound wide receiver?

This week, PFF continued its Harrison-themed summer as college football writer Trevor Sikemma claimed the Ohio State pass-catcher could start for an NFL team in 2023. Sikemma also named USC quarterback Caleb Williams, Penn State offensive lineman Olu Fashanu, Notre Dame offensive tackle Joe Alt and Georgia tight end Brock Bowers as players he believes are pro-ready ahead of this fall.

Here is what Sikemma wrote about Harrison:

As a true sophomore in 2022, Harrison was one of the best receivers in college football, posting an elite 90.7 receiving grade [in PFF's metrics]. In an offense that had plenty of playmakers, he commanded a 29.7% wide receiver usage rate and posted a very impressive 137.1 quarterback rating when targeted. He already showed so much polish and playmaking ability well beyond his years. If he can continue to dominate with a quarterback change in Columbus, there won’t be many knocks on his scouting report.

When it comes to how high we’ve seen receivers get drafted in recent years, Ja’Marr Chase and Corey Davis went No. 5 overall in their respective drafts in 2021 and 2017. Amari Cooper, Sammy Watkins and A.J. Green went No. 4 overall in 2015, 2014 and 2011. We haven’t seen a wide receiver get drafted in the top three since Calvin Johnson was selected No. 2 overall in 2007. Harrison has the hype to threaten that streak. 

Harrison will have to acclimate to life without Stroud in 2023, like every other receiver at Ohio State. However, unlike every other receiver at Ohio State, save for maybe Emeka Egbuka, Harrison has the athleticism and catch radius to make a play on any pass thrown in his general direction. That said, Harrison will be one of the best receivers in college football next season should he remain healthy (*knocks on wood*).

Stay healthy. Make plays. Receive awards. Win a championship. Get drafted. That's the mission for Harrison this season. For the sake of Buckeye Nation, hopefully, it's a successful one.

 THE DEVIL'S IN THE DETAILS. On Sunday, ESPN's Pete Thamel reported Tony Petitti has been tested since he was introduced as Big Ten commissioner last month. Why? He must clean up a mess left behind by his predecessor Kevin Warren, who stepped down as commissioner to become president and CEO of the Chicago Bears in January.

On Monday, Thamel appeared on The Paul Finebaum Show to breakdown complications Petitti may face in the coming weeks, including "horse trading" between media companies and schools, handling unhappy coaches, athletic directors and television executives and a litany of other challenges that need to be addressed before the college football season starts in three months.

Here are some of Thamel's comments on the show:

"There’s certainly, on the campus level between coaches and numerous athletic directors, some discontent in the loose ends that Kevin Warren did not tie up before he left. There are some large bills that have surprised some of these schools and some details with the NBC deal that were not ironed out. ... Most of the discontent comes from athletic directors who’ve been surprised and their CFOs that there are somewhat large bills. Now is it large compared to $7 billion? No. But if you create a bottom line and suddenly find out you have $5 million more that you have to find in a year, that’s a lot of money. It’s a muddled situation and certainly there are multiple people who told us on the record they’re not pleased with how things were left.

"It’s left Tony Petitti, who enters as the new Big Ten commissioner as one of the most powerful people in college sports, sort of sprinting to get things done and resolved because we kick off football in three months. ... My understanding from talking to people in the television landscape is that it’s extremely rare for longform deal to not be done three months before kickoff. These deals were obviously announced to much celebration over the summer. So there were details left unsettled that need to get settled in order for these contracts to get finalized and for the games to be televised here in September.

"I don’t think anything is untenable. But there’s ‘horse trading’ was the term a bunch of sources used. The ‘horse trading' involves schools playing games that they might not normally want to play. Schools playing games that they weren’t informed that they had to play that were scheduled in short weeks and different things like that. Competitive advantages getting mixed up. There was a lot of salute in the Big Ten to places like Michigan State, places like Penn State, places like Ohio State, to play games they weren’t expecting to play in order to make this deal work."

Once September arrives and the college football season is here, I expect none of this will matter to the casual college football fan. However, for those who work for the Big Ten or the football programs at the conference's 14 (and soon-to-be 16) schools, the reality that they must pay for others' mistakes will still be front of mind.

It's a cold world we live in.

 JUSTIN, JUSTIN, HE'S OUR MAN. Before Justin Fields' second season with the Chicago Bears in 2022, the franchise parted ways with GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy and hired Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus as their replacements. Both immediately fell in love with the former Ohio State quarterback.

In a recent article for The Athletic, Adam Jahns and Kevin Fishbain detailed Poles and Eberflus' relationship with Fields and explored the expectations surrounding Fields as he enters his third year in the Windy City after a breakout sophomore season.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

The meetings became known as “The Breakfast Club.”

In Matt Eberflus’ first season as Bears coach, the workday started with special teams. For the quarterbacks, that meant an extra 40 minutes with their coaches. Second-year starter Justin Fields was there in Chicago’s QB room with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko and the rest of the team’s QBs.

Plus the new head coach.

Spending extra time with Fields was a goal from the start. The No. 11 pick in the 2021 draft didn’t have to win over his new coach in their first season together, but he could solidify some beliefs Eberflus held from his own research, a process that started when the former Colts defensive coordinator emerged as a head-coaching candidate.

“I fell in love with Justin’s skill set, I really did,” Eberflus told The Athletic before his first season as Bears coach concluded. “I fell in love with what I learned about it from other people, other quarterback coaches in the NFL, their evaluations through the draft, and then guys that I talked to that either played against him or that knew him.”

He heard about Fields’ deep ball, grit and toughness. There were stories about his work ethic and “ability to really stand up and be a leader” at Ohio State. After he was hired by Chicago, Eberflus’ first phone call went to Fields. The two met before the Bears officially introduced Eberflus as head coach.

“We have to be able to lead the football team, quarterback and head football coach,” Eberflus recalled saying. “Our relationship is going to matter because everybody’s going to be able to see that we’re on the same page.”

Despite a 3-14 season for the Bears, Eberflus and Fields are, as Eberflus put it, on the same page. He is the quarterback of the future. The team's direction  – its trajectory – will be determined by Fields' success and his ability to lead an offense catered to his dual-threat capabilities. Why? Because he earned it.

Last year, Fields embodied all of the intangibles Eberflus values in a player: hard work, trust, honesty and handling adversity. Eberflus calls Fields a "doer." Though far from perfect, Fields is a competitor. He wins. For a franchise looking to rebuild from the ashes, that's the ideal player to lead the charge.

I recommend reading more of what Jahns and Fishbain wrote about the Bears and Fields. It's an excellent read. Fields certainly has his fair share of supporters in Columbus. This fall, he will look to continue expanding his fanbase to Chicago and beyond.

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Only The Good Die Young" by Billy Joel.

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