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Savor the rarity of Ohio State’s incredible run of receiver play

Ohio State’s receivers room cup runneth over in recent years. Don’t take it for granted.

Ohio State v Maryland
This isn’t normal. We only think it is.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

It’s difficult for a lot of us to live in the moment and appreciate the good things in life when what triggers us most are the things we don’t have. The pursuit of the better job, the bigger house, and the nicer car is something that can get in the way of the enjoyment of the ones we have.

It doesn’t just happen with our personal lives, though. We also bring that to our methods of escapism, especially when it comes to watching sports.

I grew up in an era when Ohio State typically won nine football games and lost three in any given season. Back then, the gold standard in the Big Ten was reaching (and winning) the Rose Bowl. It wasn’t an easy task, and I’ve seen OSU coaches survive worse seasons than 9-3 and get rewarded for doing better. Times have changed.

The Buckeyes are coming off a season in which they went 11-2 and came within a missed field goal of playing in the national championship game. That’s the kind of season that used to lead to contract extensions and significant raises in Columbus. Now, it makes a portion of the fan base scream on social media for coaches to be fired and players to get benched.

That’s fine, because high expectations mean that the program is operating at a level of high success, and fans’ minimum demands (the ‘floor’) have risen. But it also might mean people aren’t allowing themselves to be happy.

I didn’t set out to write about the team’s record, however. I came to point out that some things have to be enjoyed while they’re present because history shows that nothing lasts forever. This includes the ridiculous golden age we are currently living in when it comes to the success of Ohio State wide receivers.

It’s not difficult to point to the cornerbacks or the linebackers to see that a position group goes through good and not-so-good periods in terms of performance. Both of those position groups have been the strengths of the program for many years, but haven’t been at quite that level recently — although it was a nice upswing for the linebackers this year.

The wide receivers room is riding the crest of the wave right now, but a trough at some point is as inevitable as the tide itself.

Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Ebuka both eclipsed 70 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in 2022. Those two both cracked the top five in OSU history in receptions in a season, slotting into the fourth and (tied for) fifth spots all-time and that’s also where they rank all-time for receiving yards in a season after 2022.

The only player in the top five in receptions who played prior to 2018 — just four short years ago! — is David Boston, who caught 85 passes in 1998. Boston and Terry Glenn (1,411 in 1995) are the only receivers in the top five in single-season yards prior to 2021.

There’s more passing in today’s game, certainly, but to have so many of the school’s historic leaders in such a short period of time is nothing short of amazing. These guys are doing things that simply haven’t been done.

Last year was perhaps even more ludicrous. Jaxon Smith-Njigba set the school’s all-time records for catches (95) and yards (1,606) in a season. In more than 100 years of Buckeye football, no receiver has done better than JSN did in 2021. But teammates Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave also had seasons that year that would have been elite prior to just a few years ago.

Wilson caught 70 passes for 1,058 yards and Olave hauled in 65 for 936 yards. At the time, both Wilson and Olave were in the top 15 in single-season receiving yards in Ohio State history. Smith-Njigba’s total for 2021 alone placed him 23rd on the OSU career receiving yards list.

JSN was supposed to be the Buckeyes’ primary weapon in the receiving corps in 2022, but injuries prevented that. It hardly slowed Ohio State’s passing attack down not to have him, and that’s despite the loss of both Olave and Wilson to the NFL — where they became the first collegiate teammates to both eclipse 1,000 yards as a rookie. Wilson caught 83 passes for 1,103 yards for the New York Jets, while Chris Olave snagged 72 balls in New Orleans for 1,042 yards.

Taking Olave, Wilson, Harrison, and Egbuka into account, that’s 306 combined catches for this year’s and last year’s Ohio State starting wide receivers, for a total of 4,559 yards in a single football season. If that’s not something that should be savored, I don’t know what is.

Harrison’s 14 receiving touchdowns also tied Boston’s 1997 output as the second-most in one college football year by a Buckeye. Glenn had 17 in 1995, making him the only player with more touchdown receptions in a season. It was a quarter of a century between Boston’s 14 touchdowns and Harrison’s. Most of the student body had never seen anyone catch 14 tuddies (shout out to my returning students!).

It boggles the mind to think that four of the best receiving seasons happened in the last two seasons by four different players. And now two of them are doing the same kinds of things in the professional ranks.

Ohio State will most likely have a potent passing attack next year and the year after that. The program has become a favorite landing spot for the country’s best prep receivers and quarterbacks under Ryan Day and position coach Brian Hartline.

But fans should savor the school’s passing pipeline while it exists. It will take a downturn at some point because what goes up, must come down. What we’ve been seeing isn’t normal, so let’s appreciate it — even if we greedily demand more at the same time.