COLUMBUS — At the Big Ten’s football media days in late July, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud talked about how the ability to make money from Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) endorsements is a good thing for college athletes and how he wished some earlier OSU football players could have benefited from it. “I feel bad for the older players who didn’t have a chance to get money from this, like Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones, Justin (Fields), just many dudes who came before me who should have made a killing,” Stroud said. That got me to thinking. Who would be the top 10 Ohio State players of the last 50 years who could have made the most NIL money if they’d had the chance? My list:
1. Archie Griffin
There is no more popular Ohio State football player than Griffin, the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner. There probably never will be a more popular Buckeye than the Columbus native. Sorting through the offers he would have gotten when he played at OSU from 1972-1975 would have been a full-time job.
2. Chris Spielman
He didn’t get any money for it, but Spielman was ahead of his time when his image appeared on Wheaties cereal boxes when he was still in high school at Massillon. His accomplishments on the field and his passion for football would have created a long line of people seeking his endorsement for their business or product. He was a two-time All-American linebacker during his Ohio State career from 1984-1987. But he says football dominated his life during his college years so who knows if he would have taken the time to cash in on every NIL opportunity.
3. Art Schlichter
Schlichter’s reputation has deservedly been in free fall since his days as Ohio State’s quarterback from 1978-1981 because he has spent more time behind bars than he spent in college football and the NFL combined. But as the quarterback who was supposed to bring Ohio State’s passing game into the 20th century, he was very popular during his four years as a Buckeye. He finished in the top five in the Heisman Trophy voting twice. And let’s be honest. Based on his post-OSU life, he probably would have gone after every penny he could get his hands on.
4. Ezekiel Elliott
Timing plus talent would have made Elliott a major player in the NIL world. Elliott became one of the biggest names in college football in 2014 as a sophomore when he rushed for 1,878 yards, including 220 against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, 230 against Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal and 246 against Oregon in the national championship game. Then he rushed for 1,821 yards a junior before going to the NFL. His 85-yard touchdown run against Alabama is one of the most memorable plays in Ohio State history.
5. Braxton Miller
Miller was one of the most exciting players in OSU history as a quarterback from 2011 to 2013. He was the heart, soul, arms and legs of the Buckeyes’ offense in 2011 and 2012. Even though opposing defenses knew what was coming, they couldn’t stop him. They were lucky to get a hand on him. A preseason shoulder injury wiped out his 2014 season and ended his days as a quarterback. He reinvented himself and returned as a wide receiver in 2015.
6. Orlando Pace
As I’ve said before, the Pro Football Hall of Fame should have cast the bust of Pace, a legendary offensive tackle, sometime during his sophomore year at Ohio State and kept it in storage until he met the must be retired for five years requirement to get into the Hall. During his final college season in 1996 OSU promoted his Heisman candidacy with a clever refrigerator magnet honoring his “pancake blocks.” He got no money for it, but he certainly would have found a way to do that now. Also, he was from Sandusky. Putting Pace, at 300-plus pounds, in a Cedar Point roller coaster endorsing the park seems like it could have made a memorable television ad.
7. Eddie George
Some people would put the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner higher on this list. But George’s popularity came late in his career, mostly during his huge 1995 season when he rushed for 1,927 yards. Ohio State fans – and probably OSU’s coaches, too – buried George after he lost fumbles at the 1-yard line twice in a game against Illinois as a freshman in 1992. He became the Buckeyes’ No. 1 running back as a junior and ran for 1,442 yards. But it wasn’t until his senior season that he was widely appreciated by the fans. So he might have been a late bloomer in NIL deals if they’d existed back then.
8. Troy Smith
A 3-0 record against Michigan as a starting quarterback from 2004 to 2006 by itself would have gotten Smith quite a few endorsements. And those deals would have multiplied when he had one of the greatest seasons ever by an OSU quarterback in 2006 when he won the Heisman Trophy and the Buckeyes played in the national championship game. His suspension for taking what were labeled as “improper benefits” cost him an Alamo Bowl appearance against Oklahoma State in 2004 and the first game of the 2005 season. That might have kept him from getting some endorsement deals.
9. Joey Bosa
Probably the only thing that would have stood between Bosa and big NIL money was Bosa himself. He was obviously a great player on the defensive line for OSU from 2013-2015. But he didn’t like the spotlight and didn’t particularly enjoy being recognized off the field. The shrug alone would have made him an in demand product endorser in television ads, though.
10. Justin Fields
Whatever NIL deals Stroud has signed this year in his second season as OSU’s starting quarterback, Fields could have signed in his second season as the Buckeyes’ starting QB in 2020 if NIL had been part of college football.