Skull Session: Josh Pate Says Ohio State Football is “On Fire,” The Buckeyes’ Roster is Loaded and Jaxon Smith-Njigba Will Be a “Massive Piece” of the Seahawks’ Offense This Fall

By Chase Brown on June 18, 2024 at 5:00 am
Ryan Day
Adam Cairns / USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Brutus Buckeye is THE best mascot in college sports.

Who knew a poisonous nut could be so cool?

Have a good Tuesday.

 “OHIO STATE IS ON FIRE.” On Sunday, Josh Pate of CBS Sports addressed Ohio State’s absurd run on the recruiting trail as of late. As he described Ohio State’s top-ranked 2025 class, which features commitments from three of the top six overall prospects in Devin Sanchez, Na’eem Offord and Tavien St. Clair, Pate took a shot at some “casual” college football fans who believe 2024 is “national title or bust” for the Buckeyes:

“Official visit season is blowing up right now, so is Ohio State — Ohio State is on fire. They’ve got three of the six top six kids in the country verbally committed. Their average player rating is 94.84, which is illegal in several states, but fortunately for them, it’s good to go in Ohio. Tavien St. Clair, the quarterback they have committed, he’s 6-foot-4, 225 (pounds), he’s way up there and then they’ve got the number one and number two corners in the country committed. They’ve got 16 commits and 15 of the 16 are blue-chips. And they’re not done. You’ve got some casual energy out there that’s gonna tell you, ‘Well, it’s make or break this year for Ohio State. If they don’t get it done this year, when?’ The answer would be next year, or the year after that or the year after that because I don’t even need all my fingers to count on one hand how many programs are recruiting like Ohio State is. Maybe they win the national title year. I don’t care if they lose two games this year. The way they recruit will have them right back year after year after year. This is not a window program, and this recruiting reflects that. They continually stock the cupboard, take their best shot and put themselves in contention. If they don’t do it this year, they’ll have another shot next year and the year after that. It’s an insane class that is currently being constructed in Columbus, Ohio.”

Yeah, what he said!

 THE BEST OF THE BEST. While Pate — and to an extent, me — poked fun at those who believe Ohio State’s 2024 season is “national title or bust,” there are several reasons to believe the Buckeyes can win the inaugural 12-team College Football Playoff. 

The most compelling reason is that Ohio State possesses one of the best rosters in America. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, the Buckeyes have a top-10 unit at every position entering the fall, including the best running back, defensive back and best defensive line rooms.

Have a look at where PFF ranked each of the Buckeyes’ position rooms this offseason:

Quarterback - No. 4

While the Buckeyes don’t have a proven star under center like the schools above them, or even directly below them, on this list, they’re certainly not lacking intriguing options. Will Howard transferred in from Kansas State and is projected to be Ohio State’s new starter. His 5% big-time throw rate since 2022 ranks fifth among Big 12 quarterbacks, and he is third in that same group with 12 rushing touchdowns over that span. The players behind him on the depth chart are unproven but very talented. Devin Brown is entering his third year with the program and was a five-star recruit in the 2022 class. Julian Sayin is another former five-star recruit, placing second among quarterbacks and eighth overall in the 2024 cycle. Like Sayin, Air Noland is also an incoming true freshman who was a top-five quarterback recruit in 2024. Lincoln Keinholz rounds out the room and was one of the 15 best quarterback recruits in the 2023 class. 

Running Back - No. 1

Ohio State is the only school that features two running backs who made the top 10 of my 2024 running back rankings, making it the easy choice to lead this list. Placing second in that ranking is Quinshon Judkins, who transferred in from Ole Miss this offseason. Since 2022, he has led all Power Five running backs in rushing yards (2,726), yards after contact (1,800) and forced missed tackles (154). Those also happened to be his first two years of college football. TreVeyon Henderson was a surprise returner for his senior year and ranked No. 6 in that ranking. He earned a 90.0 grade this past season, which was seventh among Power Five backs. Incoming freshman James Peoples is the cherry on top in that room and was the No. 8 running back recruit in the 2024 class. 

Receiving Corps - No. 3

For the third year in a row, Ohio State has one of my top-three receiving corps in the country. It starts with Emeka Egbuka, my No. 3 wide receiver in college football and the veteran leader of the bunch. The rising senior battled injuries last season but was the second-most valuable receiver in the nation the year before according to PFF’s wins above average metric. After Egbuka, the Buckeyes are unproven but extremely talented. All eyes will be on true freshman Jeremiah Smith who was the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2024. He’s the highest-rated wide receiver recruit since 2004, On3 Sports’ first year of industry ratings. Ohio State also has three other players who were among the 10 highest-rated wide receivers in their respective classes: Carnell Tate (2023), Brandon Inniss (2023) and Mylan Graham (2024). 

Offensive Line - No. 6

Ohio State returns four starters from last year’s offensive line, and the star is at left guard. Donovan Jackson is the fourth-best returning interior offensive lineman in college football and is the third-most valuable returning Power Five guard, according to our wins above average metric. The Buckeyes also brought back both of their starting tackles, Josh Simmons and Josh Fryar, who each earned 70.0-plus grades in 2023. Seth McLaughlin transferred from Alabama and will take over at center. While he endured a down year this past season (63.4 grade), he was second among SEC centers in PFF grade the year before (75.1).

Defensive Line - No. 1

Ohio State saw three defensive linemen return to Columbus for their senior campaigns despite the fact that all three would’ve likely been selected on Day 2 of the 2024 NFL Draft. That includes edge defenders Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau, who were the only pair of edges to make my top-10 list. Tyleik Williams was one of my top-five returning interior defensive linemen after tying for fourth in the Power Five with 26 run-defense stops last year. Ty Hamilton will likely start alongside him and posted a 76.4 grade on 350 snaps in 2023. 

Linebackers - No. 10

The Buckeyes must replace both of its starters in Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg, but they have plenty of intriguing options behind them. Cody Simon played 374 snaps last season and was seventh among Big Ten linebackers with a 77.7 PFF grade. Sonny Styles is moving from safety to linebacker this year, where his 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame should fit better. In 2023, the former top-five recruit tied for sixth among Power Five safeties with seven tackles for loss/no gain. He’s not the only former five-star recruit that Ohio State has in its room. C.J. Hicks was a top-15 overall recruit in the 2022 class and should factor in heavily. 

Defensive backs - No. 1

This is the third position unit ranking where Ohio State places first, showing how loaded the Buckeyes’ roster is. In fact, they’re the only team to lead multiple lists. Ohio State also placed No. 1 for their running back unit, and that was largely because of an incoming transfer (Quinshon Judkins). The same could be said for the team's secondary, as the Buckeyes added the best safety in America, Alabama’s Caleb Downs. He was a first-team PFF All-American as a true freshman last season and ranked third among Power Five safeties with an 88.9 coverage grade. Ohio State lost only one starter from its secondary last year (safety Josh Proctor). Denzel Burke returns and is one of my top 10 cornerbacks in the country. He’s joined by Davison Igbinosun, Jordan Hancock and Josh Proctor, who all earned 70.0-plus grades on at least 450 snaps in 2023.

Man, oh, man. This team is loaded.

Beat Michigan.

Win the Big Ten championship.

Win the College Football Playoff.

(But, please, Buckeyes, complete task one before thinking about tasks two and three).

 “HE WORKS HIS TAIL OFF.” In Mike Macdonald’s first season as the Seattle Seahawks head coach, the former Michigan defensive coordinator (2021) will lean on an Ohio State wide receiver as one of several standout performers to lead his offense. That wide receiver is, of course, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, a record-breaking pass-catcher for the Buckeyes who had an excellent rookie season in the Pacific Northwest.

“JSN’s a great player and we’re expecting big things out of him,” Macdonald reporters as the Seahawks finished minicamp last week. “He’s had a great offseason. He works his tail off. His practice habits are awesome. Moving ability is pretty elite. I think we got a really cool plan for him. … He’s someone we can focus our offense around, along with other guys. Tyler Lockett is still a great player. DK Metcalf is a phenomenal player, the running backs, Noah Fant. But (Jaxon) is definitely going to be a massive piece of what we’re trying to do offensively.”

JSN looks forward to having an increased role this fall. In his press conference last week, the 6-foot, 196-pound wide receiver said his 2023 season created “a good foundation” for his NFL career. Now, he hopes to improve with a complete 2024 campaign.

“I can grow from it,” he said. “A lot of growing pains, a lot of ups and downs, but kind of similar to the first years of college and high school. Kind of the same thing.”

For the record, JSN collected 10 catches for 49 yards and one touchdown as a freshman at Ohio State. The following season, he exploded for 95 receptions, 1,606 yards and nine scores in a wide receiver room that also featured Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.


If JSN collected 63 receptions for 628 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, that means he’ll explode for 100 receptions, 1,000 yards and 1,000,000 touchdowns this fall. Right? That’s how that math works?

I heard that’s how it works.

 LOGAN HITTLE, BIA. You’ve heard of The 1870 Society, The Foundation and Cohesion Foundation, but have you heard of the Ohio State staffer who gets those puppies organized? His name is Logan Hittle, a former Ohio State linebacker and the school’s current assistant athletic director for NIL. On Monday, Hittle was recognized as one of the best NIL directors in college sports.

A Zanesville, Ohio, native, Hittle joined Ohio State’s athletic department in 2021 as an associate director of student-athlete development in the Eugene D. Smith Leadership Institute. Over the past three years, Hittle has helped the Buckeyes develop education on name, image and likeness, brand development and partnerships for student-athletes. Following a promotion in 2023, he has continued to create initiatives and strategies for Ohio State’s NIL programs as the school’s assistant AD for NIL.

As a result of his good work, Hittle has been nominated for NIL Director of the Year, along with Madison Dunker (Marquette), Jay Giddens (Purdue) and Collin Stoecker (Western Kentucky). In a post on X, Hittle said he was thankful to be recognized.

The NIL Store will use a Fan Vote to determine the winner of NIL Director of the Year. Seeing as Ohio State has more fans than Marquette, Purdue and Western Kentucky combined, Hittle should win by a landslide…

But he needs you to vote!

So vote! 

Dew it.

 SONG OF THE DAY. This incredible video.

 CUT TO THE CHASE. No lie: Perfectly preserved centuries-old cherries unearthed at George Washington’s Mount Vernon… Malfunctioning steam room sets off alarm, prompts evacuation at Rhode Island YMCA… Nearly 73 million people in the US are under heat alerts. Go indoors and hydrate… US Open flop by Rory McIlroy reminiscent of his bitter rival… On the road with Tony Hawk, who didn’t know skateboarders could be famous.

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