Category Archives: Recruiting

Rutgers and Maryland limping into Big Ten football

Per Scout.com’s Signing Day Primer we learn Rutgers and Maryland are all set to continue the Big Ten’s recent tradition of recruiting poorly:

Another sidelight to the 2014 class was the decimation of Rutgers’ class, which at one time was in the Top 30 but suffered through 12 decommitments.

The Scarlet Knights’ top in-state player is No. 10 Kevin Wilkins, and they only have two of the top 20 players in the state staying home. In fact, Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan State, Virginia Tech and Miami each have as many commitments from New Jersey’s Top 20 as the Scarlet Knights.

Maryland didn’t have much in-state success either as only one of the top 25 players in the state opted to remain home, although the state’s No. 1 player, four-star offensive tackle Damian Prince of Forestville (Md.) Bishop McNamara, has the Terps among his finalists heading into signing day.

(via Scout.com: Signing Day Primer: Storylines to Watch.)

With National Signing Day one day away, Ohio State (at No. 4) is the only Big Ten team in the top 10 classes nationally while Wisconsin checks in at No. 19, Penn State is 21st. and Michigan is 24th.  Continue reading

Ohio well represented in Scout Top 300 | FOX Sports on MSN

The final 2014 Scout 300 had 17 Ohio State verbal commitments and 19 players from Ohio.

There are 21 four-star prospects in Ohio, and those Buckeye Staters who aren’t going to be Buckeyes are going to the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and – believe it or not – the Ivy League.

Read on: Ohio well-represented in Scout Top 300 | FOX Sports on MSN.

On Jason Whitlock, Brady Hoke and Michigan football

This column from Jason Whitlock about the present and future of the Michigan football program is really interesting.

The Ohio State band performs Script Ohio at Michigan Stadium

The Ohio State band performs Script Ohio at Michigan Stadium

Maybe I shouldn’t have led with “Jason Whitlock” because I’m sure he is a divisive figure to some, but he often has an interesting perspective on a variety of sports topics whether you or I agree with him much. This piece on the Wolverines is unique because while Whitlock repeats something he’s never tried to hide – he loves Hoke and they have a personal relationship – he then proceeds to rip apart the state of the current Michigan team.

I agree with his observations about what is wrong with these Wolverines, though you probably won’t be surprised to learn I am far more skeptical about his ability to turn the program around than Whitlock. The author’s main justification is, “He’s Hoke,” which I guess could turn out to be all it takes but isn’t really based on what I’d call facts. Continue reading

Ohio State Signing Day Roster Analysis: Offense

After breaking down the defense previously, it’s time to take a look at the offense.

The 2012 season was a fascinating one on that side of the ball for Ohio State as the Buckeyes worked to absorb the new spread offense of head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who also serves as quarterbacks coach.

It will be no less interesting this year with that pair hoping they have more parts to allow the unique and innovative attack to truly take flight.

Meyer expressed frustration regularly last season about the lack of playmakers on offense even as the Buckeyes led the Big Ten in scoring and finished just four touchdowns shy of tying the school record in a single season (they had 60).

He hopes to have tackled that problem this winter by adding a trio of players that are tough to bring down in the open field: Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson and James Clark.

Marshall was the first to commit (in January 2012) and might have faced a heavy load as the Buckeyes’ slot receiver if not for the recent decisions of Wilson and Clark to jump on. The top-rated player in Ohio, Marshall is a solid 6-0, 190 pounder who played quarterback at Middletown and brings a variety of skills to the Buckeyes. Wilson (5-10, 174) and Clark (5-11, 170) are smaller, scat-back types whom Meyer hopes can stretch defenses horizontally with pure speed and make yards after the catch with their agility.

The youngsters probably won’t be able to walk right into a starting role, though, as the addition of a couple more athletes might result in a re-shuffling of the wide receivers already on hand. In addition to the slot receivers, Meyer secured signatures from Corey Smith and Gareon Conley, two bigger prospects (6-1 and 6-2, respectively) who can go down the field and battle corners for catches, creating space for the others to work underneath.

A four-star cornerback prospect, Conley could end up on the defensive side of the ball, but Smith is expected to compete immediately for playing time on the outside. A junior college prospect, the 180-pounder’s presence could allow senior Corey “Philly” Brown to move inside to the slot. The speedy Brown led the Buckeyes in catches last season but might be miscast as the possession receiver he essentially became as the 2012 campaign wore on.

Tight end Marcus Baugh figures to find playing time hard to come by this season, but the 6-4, 245-pound Californian might be able to carve out a niche as a change-of-pace when compared to veterans Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. The elder players don’t lack athleticism, but they are more traditional Big Ten tight ends who excel as blockers while Baugh is known for his ability as a receiver in the open field.

The only traditional running back in Ohio State’s class of 2013, Ezekiel Elliott will not be lonely when he shows up for his first position meeting. Thanks to Jordan Hall’s medical redshirt, the Buckeyes have six running backs on scholarship for the coming season. The group includes power backs Carlos Hyde (who will be a senior after running for nearly 1,000 yards last season), junior Rod Smith, sophomore Bri’onte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball as well as the smaller, shifty Hall.

Offensive line is the only area Meyer expressed some disappointment, admitting the ability to sign only two players puts the coaching staff on notice to stock up on big uglies in 2014. Neither Evan Lisle, a four-star prospect ticketed for tackle, or Tim Gardner, a three-star who seems fit for guard, figures to be pressed into duty any time soon as four starters return for 2013 and the staff is high on the potential of rising sophomores Chase Farris, Taylor Decker and Jacoby Boren. However, four starters will graduate after next season, so a strong freshman campaign could set up one or both of the new signees for a run at major playing time as a sophomore or redshirt freshman. The 6-6, 290-pound Lisle in particular is considered a major prospect for his long, athletic frame.

Lastly there is quarterback. There is no spot less primed for an immediate impact than signal caller, but that is probably fine with everyone involved. J.T. Barrett is a four-star recruit who enrolled in January, but the 6-1, 225-pound Texan is still rehabilitating a knee injury that cut short his high school career. Meyer and Herman have already observed a work ethic and leadership they love in the youngster, who will find himself fourth on the depth chart this fall and is likely ticketed for a redshirt.

All in all, it should be fascinating to watch the staff put together the new pieces. Herman spoke at the signing day press conference about using the additional speed and shiftiness at receiver (out wide but especially in the slot) to “protect” the running game that revolved around dynamic quarterback Braxton Miller and Hyde last season. That represents something of a twist on the old “run to set up the pass” mentality, and it is a reality of playing spread football in the 21st century.

Michigan and Wisconsin provided a blueprint for slowing down the OSU attack last November by crowding the line of scrimmage on early downs and doing just the opposite when the Buckeyes fell behind the chains, but speedsters in the slot could create new ways to punish such strategies in 2013.

Ohio State Signing Day Roster Analysis: Defense

National Signing Day is over for another year. The presents have been unwrapped. Letters have come in and been filed. Now what?

Well rather than haggle over ranking and ratings, why don’t we take a look at where the newest Buckeyes fit on the roster for this and coming seasons?

Two positions jump out: Wide receiver and linebacker. From those two groups it is fair to judge the most immediate impact could come, although head coach Urban Meyer and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell agreed they viewed the whole defense as in need of upgrade or support.

We’ve got to start somewhere, though, so how about linebacker? Ohio State picked up a pair of highly sought players in Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson, both of whom committed just after the start of the new year.

Mitchell is considered the superior physical specimen (6-4, 225), but Fickell praised Johnson’s football acumen. The pair join a group that will be very young this season as only one starter (First-team All-Big Ten selection Ryan Shazier) returns from 2012. Shazier is also the elder statesman of the group, joining fellow junior Curtis Grant as the only linebackers who will be more than two years removed from high school this fall. The rest of the group consists of five sophomores who had little-to-no impact on the defense last season, though several of them are highly rated prospects of whom much was expected when they were in the shoes of Mitchell and Johnson (6-2, 220) one year ago.

Mitchell could prove to be too talented to keep off the field while Johnson’s sense of how to play the game might appeal to Fickell, who wants a middle linebacker who will take charge of things when the bullets are flying on the field. Fickell will have little choice but to put an inexperienced player in the middle, so it’s hard to bet against either frosh earning a spot if he does something to stand out when camp commences in August.

While the linebackers are relatively new, the majority of the star-studded defensive line class was in place for most of this recruiting cycle. It started with Billy Price of Austintown (Ohio) Fitch right after Signing Day 2012 and continued in the spring with commitments from ends Tracy Sprinkle of Elyria, Ohio, and Joey Bosa of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas. Tackle Michael Hill committed in June with end Tyquan Lewis jumping in late in September. The class closed with tackle Donovan Munger in December.

The freshmen frontmen will find all four starting spots open (something that has not happened at Ohio State since the move to a 4-3 defense in the early 1990s), but there figures to be heavy competition at all of them thanks to the presence of last season’s highly touted defensive line class.

Lewis (6-3, 223) and Sprinkle (6-2, 241) might have the best shot to make an early impact as they are the only linemen to enroll early. They join a group of “Leo” rush ends headed up by sophomore Noah Spence, who flashed star potential last season in spot duty.

At tackle, Ohio State does not lack space-eaters to play on the nose, but line coach Mike Vrabel figures to be on the lookout for an athletic option to put at the 3-technique following Johnathan Hankins’ decision to skip his last year of eligibility. That could be where Price or Hill (both of whom go 305 pounds) could find a spot pending where Adolphus Washington lines up (inside or out) for his sophomore season.

There is a glut of players for the other end position, where Bosa figures to end up eventually unless he is done growing now at 6-5, 270. Washington could also line up there, but Michael Bennett and Se’Vonn Pittman provide two more intriguing options there after both had their 2012 seasons marred by injury.

As for the secondary, only one spot is open for 2013 but lots of playing time figures to be around the corner in 2014. Starting safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett as well as top reserve Corey Brown are all seniors with only sophomores Ron Tanner and Devan Bogard behind them. That means five-star Vonn Bell as well as four-stars Jayme Thompson and Darron Lee could be in the mix in year two and will want to spend the upcoming season positioning themselves for a run at the starting lineup.

Cornerback does have an open spot, though that is likely to be filled by Doran Grant, a highly touted recruit who had an up-and-down sophomore season in 2012. Four-star prospects Cam Burrows and Eli Apple enrolled in January and will take part in spring practice, where they can expect to fight for a spot in the two-deep if not Grant for a starting role. Four-star prospect Gareon Conley, a former Michigan commit, could join the mix in preseason camp if he is not playing wide receiver.

Then there is the ever-popular Star position, a hybrid linebacker/safety that replaces the Sam linebacker in the nickel defense Ohio State has run for more than a decade.

There figures to be an open competition here with Orhian Johnson, the only player who filled the role even somewhat capably last season, having used up all his eligibility. Lee and three-star linebacker Christopher Worley both bring the body type to play there. Perhaps they have the intangibles, too. The coaches loved the competitiveness Lee showed at a pair of camps last season, and Worley has been compared to fellow Cleveland Glenville alumnus Jermale Hines, a heady player who spent two years at the Star position.

Bryant has experience at Star, leaving open the possibility of a move there if Brown or one of the young safeties shows well this summer.

We’ll take a look at those incoming wide receivers and the rest of the freshmen on offense in our next post.

Ohio State Football: Why Cincinnati matters

By now, the discussion about Ohio State’s place in the hearts of Cincinnati sports fans is tired and lame.

There are plenty of Buckeye fans in and around the Queen City, but people in the rest of the state don’t get why there aren’t more, and some of them are bitter about it. As far as that goes, to each his own.

But there is a tangible reason why Ohio State’s influence matters in Cincinnati, and it relates to football recruiting. 

In that realm, there can be no debate that Cincinnati takes a backseat to Cleveland when it comes to producing future Buckeyes, at least in the past 10 or so years.

Jim Tressel is a native of the Cleveland area with extensive ties throughout northeastern Ohio (although he was an assistant at Miami University for two years), and he leaned heavily on those while recruiting at Ohio State.

From 2002 (his first full year on the recruiting trail) through 2011 (his last), he offered roughly as many players from one school in Cleveland (Glenville) as he did the entire greater Cincinnati area. Continue reading

Brady Hoke’s Potential Trump Card

Maybe Brady Hoke’s timing is better than it first seems.

From the standpoint of existing personnel, Rich Rodriguez did Hoke no favors. Anyone who watched Michigan play last season knows a few bandaids aren’t going to get the Wolverines back on their feet this year or next.

Michigan’s former coach was not only recruiting poorly, he was recruiting the wrong kind of guys. The problems with the roster are by design. He wanted the types of misfits he won with at West Virginia in the Big East. He didn’t seem to understand that he actually had the ability to go after better players when he went to the better university in the better conference*. Hoke will pay up front for those mistakes, but he probably will receive more patience than Rodriguez did, so he figures to have the chance to overcome it.

For all the bluster about “Michigan Men”, let’s keep this in the forefront of our minds: Michigan football would be nothing without the state of Ohio. That should be on a billboard along U.S. 23 for everyone to see. Ohio State should consider the slogan for a splash page on its website during Michigan week because Wolverines have been imported from the Buckeye State for years. The very man who once declared, “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan!” was from Barberton, after all.

The problems Michigan now faces have a lot to do with Rodriguez being a bad coach, but the problems that led to the program being turned over to him have a lot to do with Ohio, specifically, Jim Tressel’s stranglehold on the state.

Michigan hasn’t been the same since a star-studded group left after 2003. That team was a legitimate top 5 team in terms of talent and experience.

The 2004 freshmen had some big names and started with a bang but fizzled as time went on (0-4 against Ohio State, 1-3 in bowl games). Why is that? I trace it back to Jim Tressel reducing the Michigan-Ohio talent pipeline to a mere trickle.

When the Ohio State head coach started signing almost all of the best kids in Ohio every year (beginning with a huge, talented 2002 class), Michigan had a big problem. The Wolverines kept recruiting well nationally in the later years of Lloyd Carr’s regime, but that came back to bite them eventually as they ended up having a remarkably high bust rate. I don’t consider that to be a coincidence. Recruiting too nationally – for any program – is dangerous. There’s less familiarity, less loyalty with the high school coaches because they don’t deal with you on a regular basis. It’s hard to know what you’re getting because you don’t know what type of competition those kids are facing, either.

(Rodriguez signed his share of Ohio kids but Ohio State wanted almost none of them.)

Brady Hoke, the new Michigan coach, is from Kettering, a suburb of Dayton in southwestern Ohio. His MAC coaching stop was not in Ohio, but he had good success luring prospects across the border to Ball State in Indiana. Of course he was never going head-to-head with the likes of Ohio State for those kids, but there are plenty of MAC schools in Ohio they could have gone to, not to mention Cincinnati. That means they liked what Hoke was selling better or he had a better sense on who was worth getting (probably a little bit of both).

Recruiting in the MAC and recruiting in the Big Ten are two different animals, but it stands to reason Hoke made a lot of contacts while he was at BSU and during the eight years he was defensive line coach at Michigan. Knowing where to look, knowing you can get in the door and knowing who you’re talking to are vital in recruiting.

Now remember how much consternation has arisen among Buckeye fans at what has gone on in Cincinnati in regards to recruiting during the Tressel era. Many folks are frustrated that Ohio State does poorly in Cincinnati compared to the rest of the state, but there are two sides to that coin.

Tressel has more coaches combing northeastern Ohio – his native land and a place he got to know well as head coach at Youngstown State in the late ’80s and all of the ’90s – than he does the southwestern corner of the state. Many more offers have gone out to the Cleveland, Youngstown and Akron-Canton areas than Cincinnati and Dayton, and often times it seems that if Tressel is going to take a chance on a kid, he’s more likely to be from his old stomping grounds.

Given how well he has generally done both in terms of recruiting stars and uncovering diamonds in the rough, Tressel obviously knows what he is doing, but the sands may be shifting under his feet.

The northeastern part of the state is dying. Columbus is the fastest growing of the three “Big Cs”, but the Cincinnati metro area is expanding, too. The latter passed the Cleveland area in the past decade in terms of population with one trending up and the other down.

As the population shifted, southwestern Ohio started popping out more highly rated recruits than it had in the past, too, and that leads me to wonder if Tressel will need to shift his focus in the coming years.

He’s already taken a more national view of recruiting in the past four years, something that has opened up a few more bona fide Big Ten-quality players for the rest of the conference, but he could be presented an interesting dilemma sooner or later.

Hoke’s last Ball State team had 29 Ohioans, including 15 from southwestern Ohio and 10 from the northeast. I’m sure he kept a few of those phone numbers of coaches in Dayton** and Cincinnati before he left for San Diego State.

If he digs in down there while Tressel remains more worried about the Cleveland area, could he get the drop on the Vest as the population shifts? There are plenty of variables and plenty of time, but that should be an interesting subplot to watch develop***.

Depending on how Tressel plays it, Hoke could be well positioned to move into the void if and when that day comes.

That can only be good news for Ohio State as kids growing up in their backyard are always going to be naturally inclined to be Buckeyes.

Part of me thinks Michigan can’t come back without Ohio State faltering first, but perhaps the growth of central Ohio changes that.

 

*I am not in the camp that believes Rodriguez got a raw deal, by the way. He was the wrong guy from Day 1 there. Other than being creative offensively, I’m not sure that he’s really proved he’s a good head coach. His teams did a lot of fundamental things poorly and did not play with much character. But the biggest reason ever hiring Rodriguez was a major error was that he brought a system that ignored the built-in recruiting advantage Michigan had as a name-brand school that doesn’t have to choose between recruiting small, fast guys or big, slow guys. The Wolverines could have the big, fast guys at one time, but Rodriguez pissed that away.

** I should note that Dayton and Cincinnati are not interchangeable. Anecdotally, I would say the percentage of Ohio State fans in and around Dayton is much higher than it is in Cincinnati. But Tressel’s emphasis on northeast Ohio could affect Dayton the same way it does the Queen City as BCS school descend on both in greater numbers than they used to.

***Columbus is a wild card, too. Cincinnati and Cleveland were light years ahead at the turn of the century, but as central Ohio grows, that figures to change. The gap has already begun to narrow, as evidenced by Hilliard-Davidson’s emergence on the scene and the success of programs such as Dublin Coffman and Pickerington Central.


Discuss (or, if you prefer, argue) Ohio State sports on our premium Ask the Insiders message board. If you’re not already a subscriber, sign up for the 7-day free trial to see what you’re missing.