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Where does Marvin Harrison Jr. fall in the pantheon of Ohio State wide receivers?

Is Marv the best receiver in Ohio State history?

NCAA Football: Youngstown State at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Tamanini Matt Tamanini is the co-managing editor of Land-Grant Holy Land having joined the site in 2016.

While it was to be expected, on Tuesday, it was essentially confirmed that Marvin Harrison Jr. has played his final game in the scarlet and gray. The media assembled in Texas for this week’s Cotton Bowl reported that the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner was at Ohio State’s practice, but not participating in any meaningful way, making it as close to confirmed as possible, that he will not be playing for the Buckeyes on Friday or in 2024.

Though neither the team nor the player has made an official announcement, it seems self-evident at this point that Harrison will forgo his remaining collegiate eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. With $30+ million in guaranteed money waiting for him once he hears his name called this April, no one can fault Marv for seizing the moment and following in his father’s footsteps by heading to the NFL.

But now that his Ohio State career is almost certainly finished, and we still have a few days until the Buckeyes kick off against the Missouri Tigers, I thought it would be worth doing a little cursory examination of where Maserati Marv stands in the pantheon of great Ohio State wide receivers.

Looking back at Buckeye history as a whole, there have been waves of great OSU pass-catchers, ebbing and flowing with the varying offensive approaches employed by various head coaches with crests during the times of Earl Bruce, John Cooper, and now Ryan Day. Harrison is certainly a high-water mark in this proud tradition, but is he “The” high-water mark?

I went back and pulled the stats on 18 of the best wide receivers in program history, and while this list is far from exhaustive, I think that it does a decent job of highlighting the rise in talent at the position over the years while still recognizing the greats of generations past who paved the way for players like Marv in Columbus.

It is impossible to account for the differences in eras of college football, both in terms of offensive and defensive styles, but also rules, season-length, redshirt rules, etc., so this is a fairly crude way of making comparisons, but I think it serves a purpose. I also went with the total number of games played for simplicity’s sake and didn’t factor out games in which the players only appeared on special teams or only saw the field in mop-up duty, but that would certainly impact the final results.

While Harrison does not rank No. 1 in any of the categories included, he is the most consistent WR amongst the group. And while these benchmarks are fairly arbitrary, he is the only player to end his career with more than 16 yards per reception, 65 yards per game, a touchdown in every five catches, and 0.75 touchdowns per game. Only Cris Carter and Chris Olave were able to check off three of those categories and there were five Buckeye legends who did not achieve any of them.

Ohio State Wide Receiver Statistics

Player Games Receptions Yards TDs Yards Per Reception Yards Per Game TDs Per Reception TDs Per Game
Player Games Receptions Yards TDs Yards Per Reception Yards Per Game TDs Per Reception TDs Per Game
Brian Hartline 38 90 1429 12 15.88 37.61 0.13 0.32
Chris Olave 40 176 2711 35 15.40 67.78 0.20 0.88
Cris Carter 34 150 2421 26 16.14 71.21 0.17 0.76
David Boston 34 173 2690 32 15.55 79.12 0.18 0.94
Devin Smith 53 121 2503 30 20.69 47.23 0.25 0.57
Emeka Egbuka 32 118 1794 14 15.20 56.06 0.12 0.44
Garrett Wilson 33 143 2213 23 15.48 67.06 0.16 0.70
Jaxon Smith-Njigba 23 110 1698 10 15.44 73.83 0.09 0.43
Joey Galloway 43 92 1641 17 17.84 38.16 0.18 0.40
K.J. Hill 50 201 2332 20 11.60 46.64 0.10 0.40
Marvin Harrison Jr. 38 155 2613 31 16.86 68.76 0.20 0.82
Michael Jenkins 38 157 2746 16 17.49 72.26 0.10 0.42
Michael Thomas 39 113 1602 18 14.18 41.08 0.16 0.46
Parris Campbell 43 143 1768 15 12.36 41.12 0.10 0.35
Santonio Holmes 36 140 2295 25 16.39 63.75 0.18 0.69
Tedd Ginn Jr. 37 135 1943 15 14.39 52.51 0.11 0.41
Terry Glenn 29 72 1582 17 21.97 54.55 0.24 0.59
Terry McLaurin 44 75 1251 19 16.68 28.43 0.25 0.43

If we just focus in on the players who averaged 34 of a touchdown per game, that gives us a pretty elite list of Cris Carter, David Boston, Chris Olave, and Marvin Harrison Jr. Without factoring for off-field impact and the eras that they played in, to me, that is the Mount Rushmore of Ohio State wide receivers. This is obviously an incredibly subjective practice, but with all due respect and appreciation for some of the other greats in program history, I don’t know that I could make an argument to legitimately move somebody on and off from a statistical standpoint.

If you want to discuss how a player changed their position at Ohio State, what they also did on special teams, or how their numbers compare to those of their contemporaries, what their teams were able to accomplish, etc., then I would certainly entertain those conversations. And while I admit that there is likely some recency bias with Olave and Marv, that’s still a pretty strong top-four.

Harrison came to Ohio State as the third-rated wide receiver in his class behind Emeka Egbuka and Jayden Ballard. Yet, his other-worldly physical gifts, unique WR pedigree, and now-legendary work ethic allowed him to transcend not only that group of receivers but any other pass-catcher in the country. Over the past two seasons, when he truly became a focal point of the OSU offense, he had 28 touchdowns in 25 games and averaged 98.96 yards per outing for 2,474 yards in 2022 and 2023.

However, there is more to Marv’s resume than just stats. He has twice won the Big Ten’s Richter–Howard Receiver of the Year Wide Receiver of the Year Award and this year became the first receiver in 19 years to take home the B1G’s Graham–George Offensive Player of the Year honor — Buckeyes have nine of these awards in the past 12 seasons. He is also only OSU’s second Biletnikoff winner, following Terry Glenn in the award’s second year in 1995.

But he entered another rarefied group when he was named to his second-consecutive unanimous All-American list. The wide receiver joins only four other Buckeyes in program history to accomplish the feat, joining Hopalong Cassady in 1954 and ‘55, Bob Ferguson in 1960 and ‘61, Archie Griffin in 1974 and ‘75, and Orlando Pace in 1995 and ‘96. Furthermore, he is only the 11th player in Big Ten history to earn multiple unanimous All-American honors, and the first receiver since Illinois’ David Williams in 1984 and ‘85 — he is just the third B1G WR to ever do it.

So, yes, there is likely a bit of the aforementioned recency bias when placing Marv at or near the top of Buckeye receivers, but I certainly think that it’s warranted. The major difference between guys like him Boston, Carter, and Olave, is that the others all essentially had three years of significant contributions under their belts before they left for the NFL. While Harrison had an incredible Rose Bowl to put a cap on the 2021 season (six catches, 71 yards, three TDs), up until that game against Utah, he had only registered five receptions for 68 yards.

Boston had 430 yards and 5 TDs in his first season and Carter had 476 and 7. Olave is the only one in the mix to play four seasons, which puts the fact that he has less than 100 more yards than Harrison and just four more TDs into perspective. While they have a similar number of games played, nearly 13 of Marv’s were almost exclusively on special teams.

So, yes, the eras of football that Olave and Harrison, Boston, and Carter played in are all demonstrably different, but I think that there is every reason to argue that Harrison deserves to be at the top of the list. Personally, I would still probably go with Boston, partially because he was OSU’s go-to receiver during my formative fandom years, and because he was so unique compared to the other players at the position during his career. But I would not be mad about anyone claiming that Marvin Harrison Jr. is the best receiver to ever wear the scarlet and gray. It might feel a little weird to do it before his collegiate career is even officially over, but I have no doubt that in five to 10 years, no one will have any qualms about placing him at the top of any Ohio State receiving lists.