Skull Session: (An Experienced) Defense Wins Championships, Ross Bjork Calls Ohio State “The Biggest Brand in College Sports” and Will Howard Trims Down Before the 2024 Season

By Chase Brown on July 10, 2024 at 5:00 am
Cody Simon

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Only 52 days until the sounds of "Carmen Ohio" fill the Shoe again.

Have a good Wednesday.

 AN EXPERIENCED DEFENSE. This week, former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett appeared on former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel's podcast, "It's All About the Team." Amid the 100-minute episode, Tressel asked Clarett to explain what made Ohio State's 2002 team national champions. Clarett's answer intrigued me.

“I think a large part was an experienced defense," he said. "They played a more significant role – like, on offense, you get glorious moments. You’re a freshman. You’re a running back. You’re in the Big Ten. You’re at Ohio State. You have success. That’s going to make news. But for me, what comforted me was that we had a solid (defense). You don’t feel the pressure to go out there and score five, six, seven touchdowns. You know that. I think (the defense) was more of the spirit. Very mature, very physical. An anchor of some sort.”

What made Ohio State national champions was… an experienced defense?

An experienced defense… like Ohio State's in 2024? 


Ohio State’s 2002 defense

  • DE Will Smith, Junior
  • DT Kenny Peterson, Senior
  • DT Tim Anderson, Junior
  • DE Darrion Scott, Junior
  • LB Cie Grant, Senior
  • LB Matt Wilhelm, Senior
  • LB Robert Reynolds, Junior
  • CB Chris Gamble, Sophomore
  • CB Dustin Fox, Sophomore
  • S Donnie Nickey, Senior
  • S Mike Doss, Senior

Five seniors, four juniors and two sophomores.

Ohio State’s 2024 defense

  • DE JT Tuimoloau, Senior
  • DT Tyleik Williams, Senior
  • DT Ty Hamilton, R-Senior
  • DE Jack Sawyer, Senior
  • LB Cody Simon, R-Senior
  • LB C.J. Hicks, Junior -or- Sonny Styles, Junior
  • CB Denzel Burke, Senior
  • CB Davison Igbinosun, Junior
  • CB Jordan Hancock, Senior
  • S Caleb Downs, Sophomore
  • S Lathan Ransom, R-Senior

Three redshirt seniors, five seniors, two juniors and one sophomore (who was Alabama’s best defender last season).

So, the 2024 Buckeyes are even more experienced than the 2002 Buckeyes…

That’s interesting!

Note: Clarett also said Ohio State’s 2002 team needed someone with a “fearless spirit” to win the national title. (He called himself that person). Clarett also mentioned quarterback Craig Krenzel as a reason the Buckeyes won the championship. “Craig doesn’t get a bunch of praise because he didn’t throw for a million touchdowns and a million yards… but it was leadership, team, who he was.”

 “WE HAVE THE BIGGEST BRAND IN COLLEGE SPORTS.” In the Tuesday Skull Session, I referenced an interview Ross Bjork did with Big Ten Network soon after he started his tenure as Ohio State’s athletic director. I want to return to that interview and look at some comments Bjork made about the school’s reputation, as he reminded BTN viewers that the Buckeyes “are the biggest brand in college sports.”

Bjork’s (true) claim comes at a time of significant change in college athletics.

Provided a federal judge approves a legal settlement of three antitrust cases against the NCAA, colleges and universities will begin revenue sharing with their athletes next year. Ohio State, like schools across America, could choose to share millions of dollars in revenue from their media deals, sponsorships and ticket sales with.

“The biggest challenges right now are creating the new opportunities that lie ahead with revenue-sharing, with the remodel of the financial equation between the athlete and the institution,” Bjork told Rick Pizzo. “All of that has to change. With a place like Ohio State, we have 36 sports. How do we manage that? How do we fund it? How do we remain competitive? Those are all the questions that we have to ask ourselves going into this new era.  What is the right model? How do we have the same experience for our student-athletes that we have before even though our financial equation may look different? Those are all the things we have to put on the table.”

As The Columbus Dispatch reported on June 20, the NCAA and its conferences agreed to a revenue-sharing model that would allow schools to offer up to 22% of their revenue to student-athletes.

“Ohio State will participate in the full amount,” Bjork said. “We will share as much of the revenue that’s allowed under this new settlement, so we’ve geared up for that. The details of that still have to be worked out. What does Title IX look like? Is it proportionality? Do you share 50 percent with female athletes and 50 percent with male athletes? Those things still have to be worked out. How’s that dispersed then from there, how many teams are on the women’s side, how many teams are on the men’s side?

“The fortunate thing is we have many great administrators who have been mapping this out for a really long time. Even before I got to Ohio State, they started working on plans for how to stratify all of our sports, so those plans have to come together now that we have this revenue-sharing formula.”

Since Bjork’s introductory press conference in January, he and Ted Carter have maintained a firm stance that the school will keep all 36 sports moving forward. However, the athletic director and president have also been clear that Ohio State’s programs “will look different” (i.e., some sports could have smaller rosters while others have more players on full rides).

“We will have the ability to fund those sports as we see fit,” Bjork said. “You may have a women’s soccer roster that is all full-ride. Right now, they’re an equivalency sport (meaning the program splits scholarships and shares financial aid with multiple members of a team), so that could be positive for some sports. Then, you look at other sports, and the equation will be different. How that gets mapped out will be different.”

No matter the outcome, Bjork believes Ohio State will continue to thrive in the changing landscape. 


“We have the resources. We have the fanbase. We have the biggest brand in college sports. We have the most fans of any athletic department in all of college athletics,” Bjork said. “We’ll be on the right side of that equation, whatever the equation is, and we’re ready to start mapping that out and getting some final details heading into the summer and fall.”

 “I’M TRYING TO LEAN OUT.” After sharing how the transfer portal has impacted some of college football’s top quarterbacks on Monday, Larry Holder of The Athletic continued his #content from The Manning Passing Academy on Tuesday. This time around, Holder had quarterbacks complete a self-scout and look at areas to improve in 2024.

One of the quarterbacks to complete the evaluation was Ohio State signal-caller Will Howard. Here is what the Kansas State transfer said about his move to Columbus and his desire to slim down for the fall:

How are you approaching the move to Ohio State?

I feel like now, in the Ohio State system, I don’t really have to be a hero or anything. I can kind of dish the ball around, make good decisions and let those guys go make plays, and I don’t really have to be a hero. So I’m just trying to lean into that, trying to just get the ball to my playmakers and let them go make plays.

In terms of helping yourself physically, with the NFL Draft being the goal, what are you working on to make that even more of a reality after this year?

The biggest thing is I’m trying to lean out and cut down, which I have done. I’m about 235 (pounds) now. I got (to Ohio State) at about 248. I was a little heftier when I first got there and slimmed down some weight, and I’m still trying to get down. Maybe if I can get it to 232, that would be ideal. And then I would say just the velocity on my ball. Coach (Ryan) Day is big on zipping that thing and getting it there in tight windows. I’ve always been very good at touch throws, and I know when to dart the ball and when to put touch on it. Just getting more consistent with knowing when to just really dart that thing.

I love Howard’s first answer. “I don’t really have to be a hero or anything.” No, no, you do not, good sir. Just get the ball in the hands of TreVeyon Henderson, Quinshon Judkins, Emeka Egbuka, Carnell Tate, Brandon Inniss and Jeremiah Smith and let them go to work.

I also love Howard’s second answer because it tells me he will run the football this fall. Like, a lot. It’s hard to run the football at 250 pounds. It’s one thing to do it for three games – à la 6-foot-5, 250-pound Cardale Jones in 2014 – but it’s another thing to do it for an entire season. At 232 pounds, Howard should be able to move smoother and quicker while still withstanding some of the hits he’ll receive from Big Ten defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs. That said, I love that development for him and the Buckeyes.

 A MODEL OF CONSISTENCY. Ohio State has been one of the best programs in college football over the past 10 years. Want proof?

Is that good?

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Our House" - Crosby, Stills and Nash.

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