This time last year, when we were thinking about what records might be broken during the 2021 campaign, most of us thought of Chris Olave. He was (surprisingly) returning for his fourth season as a Buckeye, and he looked sure to break several receiving records. And he did, in fact, set the Ohio State career receiving touchdown mark with 35.
Who would have anticipated, though, all of the offensive records that would be set by C.J. Stroud, TreVeyon Henderson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba? All three of them are back for 2022, and Stroud and JSN could easily break the records that they set last year – or set new marks in different categories. As a sophomore, Henderson’s not going to smash any freshman rushing records, but isn’t Trey Sermon’s 331 yards against Northwestern reachable? Henderson had 270 against Tulsa last year.
Out on a limb
But I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that a season record established way back in 1975, nearly 50 years ago, will fall this year. I’m talking about points scored in a single season by an individual player. The record is currently held by fullback Pete Johnson who, with his 26 touchdowns that year, racked up 156 points. I’m suggesting that kicker Noah Ruggles will break that record this year.
Noah Ruggles didn’t enroll at Ohio State until June of 2021. He came in as a graduate transfer from the University of North Carolina, where he had been sometimes a starter, and sometimes not. Ruggles came out of high school in 2017 as the ninth-ranked kicker, according to 247Sports. He redshirted his freshman year, played three seasons at UNC, and transferred to OSU. He picked up an extra (COVID) year of eligibility and, to my surprise at least, declared that he was returning to the Buckeyes for his sixth year of college ball.
As the kicker for the Buckeyes last year, Ruggles started off as a pleasant surprise and finished as a genuine star. Ruggles hit 20 of his 21 field goal attempts, missing one against Michigan State in a blowout. He was superb in the clutch — witness the Rose Bowl winner! When kicking extra points, Ruggles was a perfect 74 for 74. If you need a little help with the math, that’s 134 total points — just 22 short of Johnson’s record.
With all of the passing offense that the Bucks displayed last season, it’s easy to lose track of how good Ruggles’ season really was. For starters, he set a record himself. His 134 points beat the previous record of most points by a kicker, held by Sean Nuernberger, who had 128 in the championship 2014 season. Ruggles was one of four finalists for the Lou Groza Award in 2021, a first-team ESPN All American, and the nation’s leading scorer as a kicker, averaging 10.3 points per game. Ruggles’ .952 field goal percentage set both season and career records at Ohio State. Most All America preseason projections for 2022 have Ruggles on the first or second team.
Yes. He’s already the all-time leading scorer as a kicker in a single season. Mike Nugent’s four-year total of 356 (72 FGs, 140 PATs) points is out of reach, but what about Johnson’s 156 in a season? First, let’s go all the way out on that limb and give Ruggles 15 games: 12 regular season, Big Ten Championship game, two playoff games. If he maintains the 10.3 points per game that he had last year, he’s just short at 154.5 points. Two more extra points.
I have every confidence that the Buckeyes will put up plenty of points. They led the nation last year, and I predict that they will again. With an improved running game, the Bucks should be better at scoring touchdowns in the red zone, a fact that would probably hurt Ruggles’ chances. After all, he gets three points for field goals but only one for extra points. But I predict that he’ll get more of each in 2022. More than 74 PATs and more than 20 FGs. His accuracy will still be there, and OSU will have fewer failed drives, scoring on a vast majority of their possessions.
A great team needs a great kicker. Close games – and there will be a few – call for clutch kickers. Whether the Buckeyes win the national title, or not (and I think that they will), Noah Ruggles will go down in the record book as one of the great OSU kickers. If he breaks Pete Johnson’s record and continues those absurd make percentages, maybe we’ll recognize him as the greatest.