This Week in the Big Ten looks at early offers conundrum

This Week in Big Ten Football may or may not be weekly, but it is back with more thoughts and links about what’s going on around the conference lately…. 

At an otherwise typical spring press conference last Tuesday in Columbus, Urban Meyer touched on what is becoming a major issue in college football: early offers and commits.

As he has done a few times before, Meyer lamented the calendar has been pushed up to where more kids every year seem to wrap up their recruiting even before the end of their junior year. He’s not a fan of this for a few reasons. 

For one, he would like to get to know players more on a personal level before getting serious about recruiting them. Like, as in serious enough to give them a legitimate invitation to join his team (a “committable offer” as opposed to just an offer). This is understandable because it is a lot easier to see if a player has the physical tools to play in college than it is to determine if he has the mental makeup. 

But beyond that, there are more variables as far as physical development, too, if we’re talking about 15-year-olds as opposed to 16-year-olds and so on.

In many cases, recruiting “misses” are a result of one of a few things: Bad fit, bad attitude or peaked early/late bloomer. Coaching can contribute to (or create) some of those situations as well, but sussing out nature versus nurture can be very difficult. Let’s save that discussion for another time. Sometimes guys are late bloomers because they had a bad attitude that they grew out of or had straightened out for them by coaching. Sometimes guys peak early because they stop working to develop what they started out with. Sometimes there’s no real explanation at all.

The early offer epidemic also adversely affects Meyer more than some coaches because he sits in an area he could have an easier time recruiting great players because of proximity than many of his conference rivals. If the No. 1 factor in recruiting is relationships, a close second is geography because it generally fosters the development of said relationships. That is because (putting aside the factor of growing up a fan, which certainly helps) the closest schools are the ones with which it is easiest to get familiar.

But kids get understandably antsy to secure their futures, so they are not about to fend off early offers. Nor should they be told to if they feel ready to make a decision. Early offers can undermine Meyer’s advantage being in a talent-rich state, and there is another variable at Ohio State that Meyer did not have to face at Florida. In the Sunshine State, spring football practices give college coaches more chances to see players play football, and they help those players develop skills at a younger age. That means at Ohio State Meyer could actually get to know a high school junior or sophomore down there better than he might a player in his home state, something that seems counterintuitive but tends to be true.

Hence then why camps become so important to Meyer. They give him and his staff a chance to see guys in person, to work with them and talk to them and see how they are with their peers.

I don’t find Meyer to be alone in his wish to wait for offers. It only makes sense more time is better for the majority (though certainly not everyone).

He first brought up the early offers issue after his first full year on the job, a recruiting cycle in which Michigan had seven verbal commits from Ohio before the first of June.

Securing early commits was a key to Brady Hoke putting together back-to-back national top five recruiting classes in 2012 and ’13, but even as he was doing it the head coach of the Wolverines expressed misgivings about not getting to see recruits play their senior seasons — just as Meyer has done repeatedly since returning to Columbus.

Considering what happened to Hoke in Ann Arbor, it’s easy to see why he was uneasy. His highly rated classes haven’t turned out too many highly skilled football players yet, and he was fired after missing a bowl last year.

Many of his recruiting studs still remain at Michigan though, so it’s too early to close the book on that chapter.

It’s hard to say how much of the delay so far is a result of bad scouting versus bad development, but it should not be overlooked that a lot of Hoke’s big-time recruits were linemen who were forced into action earlier than pretty much any coach who has gone on record any time recently thinks they should be playing in a league like the Big Ten. That’s not to say some young guys can’t contribute on the line in the conference, but they are the exception to the rule. Yeah, Joey Bosa was a beast for Ohio State as a sophomore last season, but there are a half-dozen or more guys roughly his age the OSU staff would have liked to see show enough to earn playing time but didn’t.

So what’s the answer? Well there probably isn’t one. Contact is limited with recruits early in their high school careers, and that is probably for the best overall so they don’t get inundated. It raises the likelihood of colleges ending up with a bad fit, but so too does committing early in all likelihood. And, again, it’s hard to pass up the chance to lock up one’s future even if there is still more time to get to know other coaches at other schools. Of course, they can always decommit anyway, right?

In the end, Meyer will probably keep complaining about having to keep up with early offers, but they almost certainly aren’t going away. There’s a balance to strike between getting to know a prospect well enough and waiting too long. Sometimes the worst thing — for all involved — is getting the wrong guy or a player picking the wrong school. That’s a bigger problem for a program than someone going elsewhere. But talent is king in college football, and you can’t win it all if too many guys in total end up playing for your opponents…

Links of note from the past week or so:

  • Meyer also shared an interesting perspective on the health and safety issues surrounding football lately (FOXSportsOhio.com).
  • Chris Ash talked at length about how Ohio State began changing how tackling is taught last season and continues to evolve its new technique (watch or read).
  • Michigan played an offensively-challenged spring game and a Michigan fan got a sweet tattoo with a Saved By The Bell theme.
  • Five biggest issues for Michigan State this spring (FOXSports).
  • Players with the most to gain at Indiana this spring (link).
  • Harbaugh is taking a page out of James Franklin’s book by staging a recruiting camp in Penn State territory (link).
  • Look for an invasion of big, athletic guys in Ann Arbor based on Harbaugh’s previous use of tight ends (link).
  • Some extensive background on Armani Reeves’ trouble with concussions that appears to have ended his career as a Buckeye (link).
  • Ohio State’s offensive line has developed a unique culture that can only be explained by the members themselves: Regarding the ‘Slobs’.
  • How is coordinating the offense going for accomplished offensive line coach Ed Warinner at Ohio State? (link).
  • Urban Meyer isn’t the only current Buckeyes coach who knows what is like to try and fail to defend a national title (link).
  • Lou Holtz explains how he almost became the head coach at Ohio State in 1978 (link).
  • Rutgers is trying anything it can to keep the nation’s top recruit for 2016 from leaving New Jersey to go to college (link).
  • Lots of Big Ten players among this list of potential breakout defenders across the country (link).
  • Is it DeArnett time in East Lansing? (link)
  • How is the offense coming along at Penn State? (link)

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