Skull Session: Ohio State is an Underdog to Oregon in 2024, Will Howard is “Competitive and Hungry” and Chris Jent Deserves a Shot at Ohio State's Head Coaching Position

By Chase Brown on February 22, 2024 at 5:00 am
TreVeyon Henderson
Adam Cairns / USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Sonny Styles and Joshua Padilla are Ohio State's DUDES OF THE WEEK.

Have a good Thursday.

 QUACK QUACK. FanDuel Sportsbook is high on Ohio State football entering the 2024 season. The Buckeyes have a win total of 10.5 (-150 over, +120 under) and national championship odds of +480. They are also seven-point favorites over Michigan in The Game on Nov. 30.

However, FanDuel has Ohio State as an underdog for its Week 7 game at Oregon on Oct. 12. In what will (probably) be a top-five matchup between Big Ten title contenders, the Ducks are currently a 1.5-point favorite over the Buckeyes, who will navigate the Oregon Trail to Autzen Stadium for the first time since 1967.

The last time Ohio State and Oregon met, the Buckeyes fell to the Ducks, 35-28, at the Shoe in 2021. C.J. Stroud threw 484 yards and three touchdowns, but the Ohio State defense was all kinds of bad, and a different C.J. – C.J. Verdell – recorded 23 touches for 195 yards and three touchdowns to help his team secure the upset.

The Buckeyes’ performance prompted Ryan Day to demote then-defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs and make Matt Barnes the defensive play caller. Coombs, Barnes and Al Washington were all gone the following offseason. Day hired Jim Knowles, Tim Walton and Perry Eliano to replace them.

Since that last matchup, Oregon lost then-head coach Mario Cristobal to Miami and hired Dan Lanning, the former defensive coordinator at Georgia. In his first two seasons, Lanning led the Ducks to a 22-5 record with wins in the Holiday Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. He will now lead them into the Big Ten with a loaded roster – one that rivals Ohio State’s – headlined by Dillon Gabriel and more.

Will Ohio State still be an underdog after it beats Akron, Western Michigan, Marshall, Michigan State and Iowa? Maybe. But I wouldn’t count on it. It could be wise to get some skin in the game now when the Ducks are favorites thanks to their home-field advantage.

 “HE’S A SPONGE.” Will Howard has a private quarterback coach. His name is Vernard Abrams, a former quarterback at La Salle, where he played under current Wisconsin offensive coordinator Phil Longo. Abrams has been impressed with Howard for a long time. He met Howard when he was a freshman at Kansas State. Howard’s leadership and work ethic stood out immediately.

“Kansas State did more homework than, ‘OK, he threw it 75 yards,” Abrams told Cameron Teague Robinson of The Athletic. “He does a great job studying his system, and he’s a kid who is competitive and hungry to be the best. As long as you have the resources around him to absorb it, he’s a sponge.”

All that Howard was (and still is) on and off the field helped him lead the Wildcats to a Big 12 championship in 2022. He finished his Kansas State career having completed 58.8% of his passes for 5,786 yards, 48 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. He also ran for 921 yards and 19 scores.

Howard performed well enough last season that he considered entering the NFL draft. However, before choosing to declare, Howard entered the transfer portal to see if a national championship contender would desire his services in 2024. After incomplete and inconsistent performances from Devin Brown and Lincoln Kienholz at the Cotton Bowl, Ohio State offered him a spot on its roster. Howard accepted.

From The Athletic:

It was a good match, but also an example of how Howard refused to settle. … Schools (like Ohio State) found him, knowing he was good enough to win.

On film, Howard isn’t a perfect quarterback prospect, but he has his strengths. His legs are a big part of that, as he moves well for a 6-foot-5, 242-pound quarterback and uses them when he needs to. He also has a good arm. He’s not a quarterback who is going to throw 100 miles per hour every throw, either; his film shows he has good touch.

“I think he has a good feel for space and timing,” Abrams said. “If you have a guy underneath the receiver, he knows how to layer it and drive the ball with pace.”

The NFL scouts he talked to in the pre-draft process told Howard they needed to see more film of him before he went to the next level. They wanted to see more of those big-time throws and decisions he can make on the field. That’s where a coach like (Chip) Kelly fits Howard perfectly, Abrams said.

Though Kelly is known as a run-heavy coach, the mix of wide receiver and running back talent at Ohio State and Kelly’s offensive mind is only going to help. Mix that with Kelly’s creative ability to get quarterbacks in space for their arm and legs, and Abrams said it’s a perfect fit.

“Being able to get the ball to your talented receivers in space, being creative with motion and taking pressure off the quarterback because he has the ball in space, I think that’s literally perfect,” Abrams said. “Now he gets to showcase his passing ability. You look for what’s going to give you a complimentary look to his resume and I think this is like, ‘What perfect opportunity to be in a situation where he will be able to spray the ball all over the field and give him the read stuff he’s able to do.”

Howard can do all of that on Saturdays in Columbus. He'll just need to beat Brown, Kienholz, Air Noland and Julian Sayin in a "quarterback competition" (you know how I feel about this) to become Ohio State's QB1. Assuming he does that, Howard will find a way to lead and win for the Buckeyes – just like he did for Kansas State the past four seasons.

 HE’S A GRINDER. Chris Jent, a former Ohio State small forward (1988-92) and two-time former Ohio State assistant (2011-13, 16-17), is interested in the Buckeyes’ head coaching position, according to Adam Jardy of The Columbus Dispatch.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: It has never worked when a program hires alumni with NBA coaching experience but no college head coaching experience! 

That’s true. 

Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing, Juwan Howard, Mike Woodson, Jerry Stackhouse, Penny Hardaway, Mark Price, Isiah Thomas – the list goes on. Still, I don’t think that should completely rule out Jent.

A current assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers, Jent has 20 years of coaching experience in college, the G League and the NBA. Since 2003, he has been an assistant for the Philadelphia 76ers (2003-04), the Orlando Magic (2004-05), the Cleveland Cavaliers (2006-11), Ohio State (2011-13), the Sacramento Kings (2013-14), Ohio State (2016-17), the Atlanta Hawks (2017-22) and the Lakers. He was also head coach of the Bakersfield Jam in 2015 and 2016.

That coaching experience came after a 10-year professional career that included time in the CBA and NBA, where he earned a championship ring with the 1994 Houston Rockets, as well as Australia, Greece, Italy and Spain.

And that professional experience came after Jent scored 1,007 points and collected 485 rebounds, 209 assists, 110 steals and 17 blocks across four seasons at Ohio State. He averaged 12.6 points per game as a senior in 1991-92 as Ohio State reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes also reached the Sweet 16 when he was a junior in 1990-91.

While I know that the whole NBA-coach-becomes-a-college-head-coach-without-prior-experience trick hasn’t worked in the past, I don’t think many, if any, of the names mentioned above had a resume like Jent’s when their alma mater hired them.

At the very least, Jent deserves to be interviewed for the Ohio State opening. Gene Smith and Co. chose not to interview him when the Buckeyes moved on from Thad Matta in 2017, and sources have told Eleven Warriors that disappointed Jent.

Still, Jent put his head down and went back to work with the Hawks and Lakers. He’s a grinder – always has been, always will be. Who knows? Maybe this time around, Jent will end up as Ohio State's next program leader.

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

You know the drill.

Ohio State-Purdue was an incredible game. The viewership numbers for college basketball's Sunday slate prove it. According to Sports Media Watch, the Buckeyes' win over the Boilermakers attracted an audience of 1.73 million viewers – almost 800,000 more than the women's basketball matchup between Georgia-South Carolina, the second most-watched game on Sunday with 962,000 viewers.

Ohio State women's basketball head coach Kevin McGuff is a Naismith Women's College Coach of the Year candidate in 2023-24. This season, the Buckeyes are 22-3 overall and lead the Big Ten with a 13-1 conference record. Last week, the NCAA women's basketball selection committee listed Ohio State as a No. 1 seed in an in-season top 16.

The Wolfe Foundation, created in honor of the late John F. Wolfe, donated $50 million to Ohio State this week. According to Ohio State president Ted Carter, the donation will be used to expand teaching opportunities for students and support research projects at the Wexner Medical Center.

ICYMI: Ohio State football and The 1870 Society will host an event at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center next week where Buckeye Nation has the chance to meet Ryan Day and some of their favorite players. You can purchase tickets to the event HERE or through the link featured in the post below.

That's all, folks!

 SONG OF THE DAY. “Judy's Heels" - Amble.

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