Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Bold predictions for Ohio State’s 2024 recruiting class.
With the Cotton Bowl and 2023 football season now officially in the rearview, at least for Ohio State, the Buckeyes and their fans can begin looking ahead to the 2024 season. While this year did not deliver the desired on-field results, there is plenty of reason for optimism moving forward. And with that in mind, Gene and I have decided to focus on OSU’s incoming recruiting class for this New Year’s Day edition of You’re Nuts.
When my partner first pitched this general topic or idea for YN, I hit him with a sarcastic response. Being the jaded curmudgeon that I am, I asked Gene if he wanted to predict which member of Ohio State’s 2024 class would enter the transfer portal first after not earning immediate playing time as a true freshman. But alas, we’re focused on turning over a new, positive leaf this year, so we settled on a more optimistic approach.
Gene and I are doing/giving bold predictions for the Buckeyes’ newest recruiting class, with no restrictions. So if I want to predict that incoming defensive lineman Eddrick Houston will break the OSU sack record, I am well within my rights to do so.
Instead, I settled on a prediction that I believe has a much higher likelihood of coming to fruition. Which is that quarterback Air Noland will become the most productive and successful left-handed QB in Ohio State history, clearing the bar set by Steve Bellisari.
Bellisari donned the Scarlet and Gray from 1998-2001 and achieved middling individual and team success (at best). His tenure as the Buckeyes’ starting QB ultimately led to the demise of John Cooper’s coaching career. But if we’re being honest, the former had plenty of help in achieving suboptimal results. A defensive back “by trade”, Bellisari somehow became OSU’s best option at QB in 1999. He was then thrust into a role he clearly wasn’t suited for and struggled with both accuracy and decision making. In three seasons as Ohio State’s primary starter, Bellisari totaled 5,558 yards through the air, with 33 touchdowns and 28 interceptions.
So yeah, the high-water mark for Noland isn’t so high after all. But he’s not even enrolled in Columbus yet. He could leave OSU after a year like Quinn Ewers or turn out to be a total bust. We have no idea what Noland’s ceiling (or floor) is, making my prediction pretty darn bold... If you ask me.
But all the “stuff” is there with Noland. He is a smooth lefty with a quick release and above average wheels. He started 42 games in high school and threw 55 TDs in 2022, besting the HS marks (in Georgia) of Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson. And above all else, coaches rave about Noland’s approach, leadership, and mentality. So I would be shocked if he becomes a bust of any kind.
That being said, if Noland is to become Ohio State’s most productive lefty, he will – in all likelihood – need to start 20+ games for the Buckeyes, while also producing at a high level. And I predict that he will. I’m putting the over/under at 26 starts for Noland. Meaning he would need to average 230 passing yards and just over 2 TD per game to surpass Bellisari’s totals.
Adding an extra layer to my bold prediction, I also prognosticate that Noland redshirts in 2024, before taking over the reins of the OSU QB position in both 2025 and 2026. He will fight off stiff competition along the way, but ultimately hold onto the gig because he A) plays well and B) throws lefty. And lefties look cool(er) doing everything.
So there ya have it, Gene. My bold prediction is that Air Noland becomes “Air Buckeye” and the most productive lefty in Ohio State QB history. Now I wonder if you might come up with a bold prediction that is somehow related to Noland’s hypothetical success... Puzzled emoji...
My bold prediction is short, sweet and to the point, and is the main reason why I suggested this topic to Josh in the first place. I really just wanted an excuse to write about how good wide receiver Jeremiah Smith is, and with that being said, my bold prediction for the 2024 class is that Smith will break both the career receiving yards and career receptions records at Ohio State.
This prediction is two-fold, because while I think Smith can achieve these records on pure talent alone, I also think he will be a three-year starter in Columbus — including as a freshman in 2024.
Ohio State’s current record-holder for career receptions is K.J. Hill, who amassed 201 catches for 2,332 yards from 2016-19. Hill played sparingly as a redshirt freshman, but totaled at least 56 catches apiece over his final three seasons, including a career-high 70 receptions in 2018 as a junior. Somewhat surprisingly, the record for career receiving yards — even with all the talent that the Buckeyes have had at wideout over the past decade — was set all the way back in 2000-03 by Michael Jenkins at 2,898. Jenkins averaged a little over 915 yards per year, with his lone 1,000-yard season coming in 2002.
Of course, with how supremely talented Ohio State’s wide receivers have been as of late, most guys have redshirted their first year and only really seen the field for two seasons before going off the to NFL. Chris Olave was the closest to breaking the yardage record in this century, collecting 2,711 yards over four seasons, and he is also the third-highest on the receptions list at 176. Guys like Marvin Harrison Jr., Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Garett Wilson all only had two full years as starters, and as a result fell short of the record books despite being elite players.
That is where Jeremiah Smith will differ. The No. 1 wide receiver and No. 1 overall player in the country in 2024 class, Smith is going to be a day-one starter at Ohio State. Even if Emeka Egbuka returns and with former five-star talents like Carnell Tate and Brandon Inniss already on the roster, Smith is far too talented a player to not get significant snaps right from the jump. At 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, Smith already processes the raw athleticism to compete at this level, and with a scouting comparison to Julio Jones, it is clear that he is built different than even the first-round talents Brian Hartline has had in his room for the last several years.
In his last three seasons on the varsity team at Chaminade-Madonna Prep, Smith has racked up an eye-popping 179 receptions for 3,043 yards and 45 touchdowns over 35 games, according to MaxPreps. As a senior, he hauled in 90 catches for 1,389 yards and 19 TDs, helping the Lions to a third-straight state title and a 14-0 season. He is also a track star, earning gold in both the 110 and 400-meter hurdles at Florida’s 1A state track meet as a junior.
If he starts for three seasons at Ohio State, he would need to average at least 67 catches per season and 966 yards per season to break both school records— neither of which seem like all that big of stretch. If the Buckeyes play at least 13 games per season, which barring complete program collapse will be the bare minimum, that averages out to a little over five catches and just over 74 yards per game. Through in a few 150-plus yard games with eight or more catches, which I would be stunned if Smith doesn’t have more than a few of in his collegiate career, and the numbers become even easier to hit.
Ohio State’s wide receiver room has been one of the best in the country for the last several years, and even with all of the five-star talent Hartline has been accumulating in his room, it is hard to keep up the standard that has been set by the Harrison Jr.’s, Smith-Njigba’s, Olave’s and Wilson’s of the world. That being said, I think Smith has a legitimate chance to be even better than all of those guys, and with a chance to be at minimum WR2 from the first day he steps on campus with WR1 not too far away, I think he will see his name atop the program record books when his time in Columbus comes to an end.