Marvin Harrison Jr. needs a monster performance for No. 2 Ohio State in The Game

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio State receiver shifted into overdrive and sped away from defenders for another touchdown, inviting an amazed broadcaster to tag him "Maserati Marv."

Quarterback C.J. Stroud respectfully called him “Route Man Marv” because of his precision. “Marvelous Marv,” he hears all the time.

What Marvin Harrison Jr. really wants to be called is Big Ten champion and national champion. Anything beyond that — say, winning the Heisman Trophy — would be icing on the cake.

To get there, the top wide receiver in college football will likely need to take a supersized role in helping No. 2 Ohio State beat No. 3 Michigan and end a two-game skid in The Game on Saturday in Ann Arbor.

In his third year, Harrison, son of Hall of Fame NFL receiver Marvin Harrison Sr., is the best receiver in the history of an Ohio State program that's produced NFL standouts Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jackson Smith-Njigba, Parris Campbell and Michael Thomas. Harrison is almost certain to leave after this season and be a first-round pick in the NFL draft in the spring.

Harrison wasn't a significant contributor in the Buckeyes' penultimate regular-season game, a mundane appetizer for the main event this week. He had just three catches for 30 yards and a short touchdown before coach Ryan Day pulled most of the starters in the second half of a 37-3 blowout of Minnesota.

That pushed Harrison's 2023 season totals to 1,093 yards and 13 TDs, an average just short of 100 yards per game. Last year, he had 1,263 yards and 12 TDs. He's the first receiver in Buckeyes history to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

“He reminds me a lot of his dad. Great player,” suspended Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. “Got to cover (him). Slow him down is probably the better word.”

The question is whether Harrison's numbers stand up for Heisman voters who haven't watched him play a lot, especially when quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. at Washington, Bo Nix at Oregon and Jayden Daniels at LSU are having flashy seasons.

What makes Harrison so valuable often doesn't show up in the stats. He reshapes the entire nature of the Ohio State offense.

He catches nearly anything thrown his way, often in double coverage. At a lanky 6-foot-4 with massive hands, he already looks like an NFL receiver on 50/50 balls. Opposing defenses fret about him so much that it allows other receivers to get open and make plays.

“I can't really quantify how impactful he is to this offense,” said Buckeyes quarterback Kyle McCord, who won three state championships playing prep football with Harrison in Philadelphia. "If this is truly the award that goes to the best player, he has to be right there in contention."

Listen to Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck after last week's game.

"He's big, he’s strong, he’s long. He can play a short game. He can play long game. He can play any position," Fleck said. "He’s a very special player, but they have weapons everywhere. So you can take one away, (and) it’s just pick your poison.”

For his part, the easygoing, soft-spoken Harrison says all the right things. He said he feels blessed to be in the Heisman conversation, but “whatever happens in December, happens in December.”

“Last year I was just kind of an outside guy,” he said. “Now this year I think I'm showcasing more of my ability. I can do many things on the field."

Harrison's Heisman stock could spike if he has a monster showing in an Ohio State win that everyone will watch. Another big-numbers game in the Big Ten championship on Dec. 2 could move the needle again. Many who watch him every week expect he'll get at least an invitation to the Dec. 9 ceremony in New York.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day doesn't need anymore proof. He's seen Harrison stay after practice for the past three years catching hundreds of passes from a machine firing them one after another.

“The Heisman Trophy goes to the most outstanding player in the country. I know there’s a lot of great players out there. I get to see him every day. I think he is the most outstanding player in the country,” Day said. “So, he wants to be great. I know that you can just tell it, and his actions back that up. And, you know, certainly his production speaks for itself on the field and what he’s doing, and he makes everybody on that field better.”

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AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Ann Arbor, and freelance writer Jim Fox in Columbus contributed.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football