Skull Session: The Game Shifts Ohio's Recruiting Landscape, Notre Dame Announces a Sellout for Ohio State Game and NFL Total Access Calls Paris Johnson Jr. “Pancake Paris”

By Chase Brown on June 30, 2023 at 5:00 am
Ryan Day / Jim Harbaugh
Joseph Maiorana / USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Skull Session.

It's the end of the work week. This is my mood:

Let's have a good Friday, shall we?

 SHIFTING THE LANDSCAPE. When the Buckeyes lose to the Wolverines, a piece of every Ohio State fan's soul splits like Voldemort when he makes Horcruxes in "Harry Potter." It makes sense. The Game means a lot to Buckeye Nation, mainly because it knows the kind of impact one loss to Michigan can have on their beloved program.

Not only can a loss to That Team Up North derail a season – as it did in 2021 and 2022, forcing Ohio State to watch as their bitter rival won back-to-back Big Ten championships and controlled its CFP destiny – but it can also derail the future.

The Athletic's Austin Meek, Ari Wasserman and Justin Williams released an article this week that examined the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry and its impact on Ohio's recruiting landscape as the tides have recently turned in the Wolverines' favor.

The "fifth-best state in the country in terms of recruiting talent behind Texas, Georgia, Florida and California," Meek, Wasserman and Williams wrote that Michigan has heavily recruited Ohio's top talent since it defeated Ohio State in 2021, claiming it offers that talent the best chance to succeed in the Big Ten and college football writ large. That's a stark contrast from the days of Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer (i.e., the times when the Buckeyes dominated the Wolverines for two decades).

As The Athletic article unfurls, and the writers weave in quotes from Meyer, Ohio high school coaches and other sources, it reaches its final section and asks the reader to consider what comes next in this landscape. A few recruiting battles here, a few there, but ultimately a battle in Ann Arbor on Nov. 25 – one Ohio State must win if it wishes to maintain control of its homegrown prospects.

Of the many sprawling storylines emanating from Ohio’s recruiting scene, Ohio State-Michigan is naturally the most notable. And as long as Michigan maintains a presence in the state, that will be the arc from which so many of the other subplots flow.

“Michigan is running at a really high level,” [2024 running back and Michigan commit] Jordan] Marshall said. “This class has an opportunity to do something special and help take that next step to winning a national championship. That’s the message we’re trying to push, that we’re right on the verge of doing something special that hasn’t happened in a long time.”

Perception is king, but it’s also volatile. Prior to the canceled matchup in 2020, Ohio State had won eight in a row and 15 of the last 16 against the Wolverines. It was a rivalry in name only. Then Michigan strung together a couple of strong seasons and started throwing its weight around in Ohio again. Suddenly the heat gets cranked up on the Buckeyes. It’s why the whims of a few 17-year-olds can whip hundreds of thousands of fans into a frenzy.

In a rivalry like this one, that’s enough to set the tone, at least for an offseason. But can Michigan consistently compete for blue-chip players in Ohio? Can it keep beating the Buckeyes by recruiting that next tier of Big Ten-caliber, in-state prospects?

Michigan being more present and assertive in Ohio forces the Buckeyes to be more diligent and vigilant, because the only thing worse than losing to Michigan is losing to them with a bunch of Ohio expats on the roster. If that’s the case for a third year in a row come Nov. 25, you can bet Michigan will be peddling it in living rooms and weight rooms throughout the state. But if Ohio State can knock off the Wolverines, silence the critics and swing the momentum back in its favor, the pitch that “the best players in Ohio go to Michigan” becomes harder to sell.

“You don’t want the Ohio kids going up to Michigan, having a great career, and beating you. That’s what it comes down to,” [Former Cincinnati Moeller head coach Mark] Elder said. “The most important way to appease your fan base is how you do on Saturday afternoons in the fall. All that (recruiting) stuff sounds good on the day the kid sends a message out on Twitter about where he’s going or on signing day, but in the end, no one gives a s—. If the kid can’t play, can’t win you games, it doesn’t matter.”

Just beat Michigan. Just beat Michigan. Just beat Michigan. For the sake of Ohio State football past, present and future – just beat Michigan. Late November can't come soon enough.

 ALL THEY SEE IS GREEN. The Notre Dame football program announced this week that its Week 4 matchup with Ohio State is sold out, which means all 77,622 seats inside Notre Dame Stadium will be taken when the Buckeyes and Irish face off in South Bend, Indiana, at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 23.

With the cheapest tickets for Ohio State-Notre Dame marked at around $285 each, and the more expensive tickets marked at about $2,000, that's a lot of green for the Irish football program and the school's athletic department.

Speaking of green, Notre Dame announced on St. Patrick's Day that the Irish will wear green uniforms when the Buckeyes come to town. The team's fans have also been asked to wear it as part of a "Green Out" at Notre Dame Stadium.

According to Tyler Horka of On3, Notre Dame has fared well in green uniforms over the past 40 seasons, collecting a 10-6 record and wins in five consecutive contests dating back to a 45-21 road win over Maryland in 2011. The Irish most recently donned green jerseys in a home matchup with California last season and squeaked out a narrow 24-17 victory. It was the first time the program wore the alternates since the 2018 season.

Notre Dame’s History in Green Jerseys (Past 40 Years)
Season Opponent Site W/L Final Score
1983 USC South Bend, Indiana W 27-6
1985 USC South Bend, Indiana W 37-3
1991 Florida New Orleans W 39-28
1994 Colorado Tempe, Arizona L 41-24
1998 Georgia Tech Jacksonville, Florida L 35-28
2002 Boston College South Bend, Indiana L 14-7
2005 USC South Bend, Indiana L 34-31
2006 Army South Bend, Indiana W 41-9
2007 USC South Bend, Indiana L 38-0
2010 Army New York W 27-3
2011 Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan L 35-31
2011 Maryland Washington D.C. W 45-21
2015 Boston College Boston W 19-16
2016 Army San Antonio, Texas W 44-6
2018 Florida State South Bend, Indiana W 42-13
2022 California South Bend, Indiana W 24-17

The most memorable time Notre Dame wore green was in 1977 when then-head coach Dan Devine special ordered the alternate jerseys for a matchup with USC. In what is now known as "The Green Jersey Game" at Notre Dame, future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana's four-touchdown performance led the No. 11 Irish to a 49-19 upset win over the No. 5 Trojans.

Current head coach Marcus Freeman, new quarterback Sam Hartman and Notre Dame will look to accomplish a similar feat against Ohio State in 2023 and extend its win streak in green to six. However, the Men in Scarlet and Gray will have other plans.

The Buckeyes hold a 5-2 advantage in the all-time series, with the Irish's two victories coming over 80 years ago in the 1930s. Ohio State has played in South Bend only twice before – a 7-2 loss in 1936 and a 29-16 win in 1996.

 THE NEW PANCAKE MAN? Amid back-to-back unanimous All-American seasons in which he was also a two-time Lombardi Award winner and Heisman Trophy finalist, Orlando Pace was called "The Pancake Man." The nickname came from the insane number of "pancake blocks" Pace collected as he crashed into opposing defensive linemen and linebackers and drove them into the turf with no remorse.

Last fall, Pace explained how the nickname started to Eli Manning in an episode of Eli's Places on ESPN+.

Almost 20 years after Pace became known as "The Pancake Man," NFL Network's Total Access and analyst Brian Baldinger have workshopped a similar nickname for another former Ohio State offensive lineman, Paris Johnson Jr.: Pancake Paris.

When I look back on Johnson's Ohio State career, I don't recall many pancakes. However, I remember many instances where Johnson stood up defensive ends to protect C.J. Stroud or created wide-open lanes for TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson allowed one sack in 31 appearances and 26 starts at Ohio State. That's unfathomable, but it's precisely why his career ended with All-Big Ten accolades and consensus All-American honors.

With all that in mind, I think "Pancake Paris" is a good idea, but it doesn't necessarily encapsulate who Johnson was for Ohio State. He was a brick wall, not a bulldozer. Plus, if we were to entertain a variation of Pace's "Pancake Man" nickname for Johnson, we would have to work in "Crepe" at some point...

Paris Johnson. Paris, France. Pancakes. Crepes. Get it?

I'll see myself out.

 OLYMPIC VILLAGE. Kevin McGuff is on fire as Ohio State women’s basketball added its third commitment in June on Tuesday, earning a verbal pledge from 6-foot-6 center Elsa Lemmilä of Finland.


A post shared by elsa lemmila (@elsalemmila)

Lemmilä is a key contributor for Tapiolan Honka, a basketball club in Espoo, Finland, and averaged 15.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.4 blocks per contest in 2022-23. She also recorded 16 double-doubles in 27 appearances for the team. Last summer, Lemmilä represented Finland in the U18 European Championship, averaging 12.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks across six games.

Lemmilä is the third commitment in recent weeks for Ohio State's class of 2024, along with No. 83 overall prospect Ella Hobbs, a 6-foot-3 forward, and No. 47 overall recruit Ava Watson, a 5-foot-8 guard. The Buckeyes also have a commitment in the class from Cincinnati forward Seini Hicks.

In other words, McGuff and his staff have been on one and are building a Big Ten powerhouse – a program that isn't satisfied with one Elite Eight appearance in 30 years. And personally, I am here for it. In McGuff we trust.

 SONG OF THE DAY. “In the Meantime” by Spacehog.

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