Skull Session: Justin Fields Among Top Transfers Since 2019, Ohio State's Defense Ranks Fourth in Stop Rate and the Buckeyes' CFP Chances Hinge on Weekend Results

By Chase Brown on December 1, 2023 at 5:00 am
Justin Fields

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Joshua Perry had a few more points to make about the Buckeyes' loss to the Wolverines this week. He shared them with former Michigan tight end Jake Butt on Stadium's "Red Corner Blue Corner."

Go off then, Joshua.

Let's have a good Friday, shall we?

 IMPACT TRANSFERS. Over the past five seasons, ESPN's Bill Connelly believes Ohio State has landed some of the most impactful transfers in college football, including quarterback Justin Fields, offensive lineman Jonah Jackson and running back Trey Sermon.

In an article that ranked the top 50 transfers in college football since 2019, Connelly ranked those Buckeyes (and a few others) among the best of the best. Here is where Connelly placed Fields, Jackson and Sermon, and what he wrote about them:

No. 6 - Justin Fields


STATS: 5,373 passing yards, 867 rushing yards and 78 total touchdowns in 22 games

He first committed to Penn State. He spent a year at Georgia, where Kirby Smart didn't really seem to know what to do with him. (Remember when Georgia had QB issues?) Then he landed at his third choice ... and played almost perfect ball for two years. Ohio State went 20-2 with Fields behind center, falling only to Trevor Lawrence's Clemson and Nick Saban's best Alabama team.

No. 28 - Jonah Jackson


STATS: One sack allowed, first-team All-Big Ten

After a solid stint at Rutgers, Jackson moved to Columbus and became a key player and one of Ohio State's best (and, with a CFP loss to Clemson, least fortunate) recent teams. Two years later, he was a Pro Bowler with the Detroit Lions, too.

No. 30 Trey Sermon


STATS: 116 carries, 870 yards, four TD

The ultimate lightning-in-a-bottle transfer. Sermon lost his starting job at OU, moved to Columbus, spent most of the short season as a backup, then exploded for 331 rushing yards in the Big Ten championship and another 193 in a CFP semifinal blowout of Clemson. (Then he got hurt after one carry in the national title game.)

In addition to Fields, Jackson and Sermon, several former Buckeyes were named as impact transfers for other teams. Chief among them was quarterback Joe Burrow (No. 1 overall), an Athens, Ohio, legend who transferred to LSU after three seasons at Ohio State and won a national championship with the Tigers in 2019.

Behind Burrow was wide receiver Jameson Williams (No. 12 overall), who transferred from Ohio State to Alabama for one season in 2022, and quarterback Quinn Ewers (No. 37 overall), who moved on to Texas after three months as a backup to C.J. Stroud (and Kyle McCord and Jack Miller III) and a Holy Kombucha sponsor in Columbus. 

While Ohio State hasn't landed a top-50 impact transfer in recent years, this past offseason the Buckeyes did land some solid transfers overall. Former San Diego State offensive tackle Josh Simmons and former Ole Miss cornerback Davison Igbinosun (an honorable All-Big Ten honoree) were 12-game starters for Ohio State in the regular season, while former Syracuse safety Ja'Had Carter and Ole Miss defensive tackle Tywone Malone added depth to the Buckeyes' roster.

When the transfer portal opens on Dec. 4, Ohio State will be in search of talent to round out the roster ahead of the 2024 season. As Dan Hope shared on Thursday, the Buckeyes are in need of offensive linemen and defensive linemen. And as Garrick Hodge reported on Thursday, defensive line coach Larry Johnson has addressed the latter with haste, having already offered Middle Tennessee defensive tackle Marley Cook a roster spot in Columbus.

 FALL, FALL, FALL. Before The Game last weekend, Michigan and Ohio State led all of college football in Max Olson's “stop rate” metric. After The Game last weekend, the Wolverines remained No. 1 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in the metric, while the Buckeyes, who allowed points on all of the Wolverines' second-half drives, fell down, down, down to No. 4 behind Michigan, Penn State and Iowa.

*Reminder: Stop rate is a basic measurement of success – the percentage of a defense’s drives that end in punts, turnovers or a turnover on downs.

Michigan 12 125 81.6% 0.98
Penn State 11 125 81.6% 1.04
Iowa 12 148 79.7% 0.94
Ohio State 11 120 78.3% 1.04
Troy 11 122 75.4% 1.39
Florida State 11 128 75% 1.30
SMU 11 136 75% 1.51
Clemson 11 142 74.6% 1.46
James Madison 11 140 74.3% 1.50
Miami (OH) 11 121 73.6% 1.40

Despite Ohio State's loss to Michigan – I know, I know. There are no silver linings in the rivalry. But bear with me.

Despite Ohio State's loss to Michigan and its fall in the stop rate top 10, the Buckeyes' defense improved week-to-week in the 2023 regular season.

It hurts that Ohio State didn't secure stops when it mattered most last weekend. Of course it does. But the Buckeyes took some steps forward overall. Ohio State finished No. 22 in stop rate in 2021 and improved to No. 11 in 2022. The Buckeyes are seven spots better in 2023 (without its postseason statistics), which should provide some encouragement as the team heads to the CFP or the Orange Bowl (preferably the former).

About the former...

 WILL THE DOMINOES FALL? This weekend, Ohio State needs help to make the CFP. In this section, we will look at those dominoes and how each will impact the Buckeyes' chances to compete for a national championship for the second consecutive season and the fourth season overall in Ryan Day's tenure as head coach.


  1.  Washington beats Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
  2.  Texas loses to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship Game.
  3.  Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
  4.  Florida State loses to Louisville in the ACC Championship Game.


It’s hard to argue Ohio State deserves to make the CFP over teams now ranked in the top four, considering all possess a better record and qualified for their conference championship games. Ohio State, obviously, did not. Still, CFP executive director Bill Hancock said on Tuesday that the selection committee’s mission is to pick the four best teams rather than the four most deserving.

“It is best. Most deserving is not anything in the committee’s lexicon,” he said. “They are to rank the best teams in order, and that’s what they do. Just keep that word in mind, best teams.”

Hancock’s distinction leaves Ohio State with a chance – yes, I’m sayin’ there’s a chance – to make the CFP in 2023.

That chance, however, is slim.

In nine years of the CFP, no one-loss team that didn’t win its conference championship has ever made the CFP over a Power Five conference champion with one loss or fewer. That said, the Buckeyes’ chances to make the playoff will drop to near-zero if Texas or Florida State wins on Saturday.

But in a scenario where Florida State, Texas and Alabama all lose, Ohio State could sneak in as the fourth-best team behind Georgia, Michigan and the Pac-12 champion. In the four polls released before Tuesday, the committee ranked Ohio State above Washington and Florida State while all three teams were undefeated. In that stretch, the Huskies had a lot of close calls, and FSU quarterback Jordan Travis suffered a season-ending injury that has changed how the committee views the Seminoles.

“They’re a different team. It’s pretty obvious, with Jordan Travis not playing and Tate Rodemaker playing, they’re a different team, just as anyone would be if they lost their quarterback in that situation,” CFP committee chair Boo Corrigan said. “Player availability, if you will, it’s a big part of the conversation.”

Bottom line – Ohio State needs help this weekend, just as it needed help last season from Kansas State and Utah (Remember, “Coach Day, you're welcome”?).

FWIW, if an Ohio State fan (like the fine readers of Eleven Warriors are) were to place some soft-earned dollars on the combined outcomes of Washington over Oregon, Oklahoma State over Texas, Georgia over Alabama and Louisville over Florida State, those odds would be +7237...

Something to consider this weekend.

Just something to consider!

 THIS AND THAT. Another Skull Session, another This and That™.

You know the drill.

Goodbye, Eleven Warriors Radio Hour. Hello, The Eleven Warriors Show.

Yes. Yes. After five years on the radio at WBNS 97.1 The Fan, Jason Priestas and Chris Lauderback have taken their talent in-house. The Eleven Warriors Show debuted this week, as Priestas and Lauderback discussed Ohio State sports from the comfort of their own home – Chris in front of a collection of many valuable bourbons that he should share with me sometime.

USA TODAY posted an article this week about Connor Stalions in which a man from Stalions' hometown of Lake Orion, Michigan, said he was "proud" that Stalions was the centerpiece of the Wolverines' sign-stealing operation over the past three seasons. 

For some like [Chris] Barnett back in Stalions’ hometown, it wasn’t an introduction to the 28-year-old, but a reaffirmation of what they already knew about the local boy who wouldn’t let anything impede him from his dream of coaching his childhood team.

“I’m damn proud of him,” said Barnett, Lake Orion’s township supervisor who is close with Stalions and his family. “I’m not going to get into the nuances of the NCAA rules and whether he broke them, but I just leaned back and smiled when I first heard the story because this is Connor Stalions. He’s driven. He wants to be the best he can be and help the organization he literally grew up loving be the best they can be. I wouldn’t say I was surprised to hear that he was involved in this.”

Mmmmmmm. What a hero, Stalions is.

This picture looks cleannnnnnnnnnnnn.

Andy Katz believes Ohio State has the best backcourt in the Big Ten with the combined performances of Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle Jr. It's early in the season, but after six games, I think Katz could be on to somethin'.

That's all, folks.

Have a good weekend. See you Monday.

 SONG OF THE DAY. “Starman” - David Bowie.

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