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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Meyer Raises the Recruiting Bar
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

Meyer2After Urban Meyer’s 2013 recruiting stretch run culminated on national signing day with OSU landing all three of his prime out-of-state targets, Buckeye fans were officially on notice that the game had changed. Could this be the new normal?

Meyer finished with a flourish last year too, when he had only two short months to cap off the 2012 class after agreeing to coach the Buckeyes in late November. But for most of the previous decade, signing day was an anti-climax for Ohio State...with the best players in Ohio long since committed to Columbus, and all too often, OSU finishing second with the blue-chip late-deciders. Well...that stuff is so over.

Ohio State had put together a consensus Top 5 class in the weeks and months leading up to signing day, but when Meyer pulled in Florida wide receiver James Clark, Texas athlete Dontre Wilson, and finally, Georgia safety Vonn Bell at the wire, the experts vaulted the OSU class to the top of the rankings.

Meyer’s 2013 recruiting class for the Buckeyes finished up ranked #1 in the nation by, and #2 by 24/7Sports had OSU 5th overall, and ESPN ranked them 3rd

It is not today’s project to get into profiling individual Buckeye commits here, but you can see the breakdowns of Meyer’s latest haul of talent as compiled by Rivals and Scout and 24/7 if you have some catching up to do, and ElevenWarriors did their usual thorough job of introducing the newest Buckeyes.

In a perfect Scarlet and Gray world, this 2013 group might have included another top-notch offensive lineman or two (although Centerville’s Evan Lisle was the nation’s #5-ranked OT). That seems a minor quibble though, especially with the best two offensive tackles in Ohio, Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout, already in the fold for 2014, and Meyer referring to his O-line recruiting as “priority 1, and also priorities 1A, 1B, and 1C,” for next year. It’s hard for me to recall an OSU recruiting class that looked better on paper, and I’ve been following this for a very long time.

Who’s With Me?

The Big Ten’s anemic showing in the 2012 football season is well-documented and much lamented in this part of the country, and I plan to give the subject a more thorough treatment in the spring. For now, suffice it to say that the Big Ten’s 2013 recruiting crop, outside of OSU and Michigan, doesn’t look like it even begins to solve the problem.

After raking in a boatload of elite football talent, Urban Meyer had to feel a little bit like the Belushi character in that classic scene in Animal House, when Bluto tries to rally the Delta House boys with his rousing speech. (“Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”)  “Who’s with me?”, he cries...and then charges out of the room...followed by no one. In the Big Ten version, Brady Hoke might have raised his hand, but the rest of Meyer’s fraternity brothers sat in the living room with their heads hanging down.

Before I get into any talk of team rankings by this or that scouting service, I suppose the ritual disclaimers must be issued all around: Evaluations of individual players vary widely...There are regional biases...We won’t know how good these classes are for three or four years...Some coaches do more with less...Some 3-star players become All-Americans...did I miss any? Oh yes, one more...the scouting services and the programs are influenced by each other as the process evolves each year. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Ohio State is recruiting a player because he is highly rated, or if he is highly rated because Ohio State is recruiting him.

With all that understood, scouting services and star ratings still have some merit as a way to determine who the studs are, who the standout players are, and who the better than average guys are, etc. Some services rank on a 100-point scale, or just on a national ranking by position, but most still also use the star system.

Seeing Stars

5-star players are the creme de la creme. The scouting services limit the number they give out each year so as not to dilute the brand. By my count, this year awarded the 5-star honor to just 42 recruits nationwide, and of those, more than half (23) were scooped up by just five programs...the usual suspects: Alabama, USC, Ohio State, Michigan, and Ole Miss. (Ole Miss?)

The point is, there are so few of them that they are not a very helpful tool to use in comparing recruiting classes. It’s enough to say that if a program can snag even one, it’s a coup. A better measure is the breakdown of 4-star and 3-star kids a program can get to sign on the dotted line. And that’s where the gap in recruiting between the Big Two and the Little Ten in the Big Ten is most glaring.

Many Big Ten programs are happy to get 3-star players, and rejoice if they can land a 4-star or two. In Columbus, eyebrows get raised if the OSU coaches even offer a kid with only three stars. Urban Meyer’s concern about Big Ten recruiting, discussed a bit later, appears to be well-founded. His message to his fellow Big Ten coaches...if I might presume to “Aim higher”. Here’s why. (Bear with me as a get into a little number-crunching.)

OSU brought in 24 recruits in the class of 2013. Using Scout’s rankings for our purposes here.. four of them were 5-star players, 17 were 4-star, and only three were 3-star rated. Similarly, Michigan landed four 5-star recruits, 15 with 4-stars, and 7 rated as 3-star players.

Bo Pelini and Nebraska did a commendable job too, considering their geographic disadvantage, landing nine 4-star players to go with 16 with 3-stars. That ranked them 11th out of 126 FBS schools. And Penn State nabbed two 5-star talents, but didn’t supplement the class with much depth.

Here’s how the rest of the conference did in signing up top-rated high schoolers relative to the Big Two, with their national team rankings according to (remember OSU and Michigan also have four 5-stars each!)

And in case you’re interested, the two programs joining the Big Ten in know, the ones being ridiculed for having weak football right in with the pack of traditional B1G powers like MSU, PSU and Wisconsin, with Rutgers out-recruiting all three.


To sum up...(and excluding the two new kids on the block)...OSU and Michigan averaged 20 recruits with ratings of four stars or better. The other 10 teams average 2.6 recruits similarly rated...and that’s with Nebraska dragging their average up.

You can view the teams' classes individually by clicking on the team name at this Scout link.


Compare to the Best

Everyone is measured by how they stack up to the SEC, so we’ll use them as the yardstick, and we’ll grab one of the scouting services at random...say, Rivals this time, for variety’s look at the team recruiting rankings between the Big Ten and their counterparts from God’s Conference.

Recall first of all that, like the Big Ten, (and the national championship aside) the SEC had something of a down year, with Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee having miserable seasons, and Kentucky even worse than usual. The strong teams in these power conferences (like Alabama and Ohio State, ranked #1 and #2) will always do well, but the overall strength of the league is dictated by how the second division programs recruit.

This year, according to Rivals, all 14 SEC teams had recruiting classes ranked in the top 40 in the country. The Big Ten had four. Six of the top ten rankings were from the SEC. The Big Ten had two. Here’s how the two leagues were evaluated by the folks at Rivals:

SEC - Alabama (1), Florida (4), LSU (6), Ole Miss (7), Auburn (8), Texas A&M (10), Georgia (12), South Carolina (16), Vanderbilt (19), Tennessee (20), Mississippi State (25), Arkansas (26), Kentucky (28), Missouri (39).

Big Ten - Ohio State (2), Michigan (5), Nebraska (17), Michigan State (38)

A bit of qualification is due here, to be fair. While the absence of the Big Ten’s lesser lights from the Top 40 is hardly unusual, it is out of the ordinary to see Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt cracking the Top 20, let alone seeing Kentucky anywhere on the list. But the larger point remains...two-thirds of the Big Ten teams are nowhere to be seen...and for example...when Michigan State is getting out-recruited by Vanderbilt and Kentucky, something is wrong.

The Big Ten is getting weaker overall in football for several reasons, (coaching and quarterback play among them) but the biggest one is that the best players in the country are enrolling elsewhere.


“Calling Out” His Rivals?

Which brings us back to Bluto...I mean Urban Meyer. They say that in Washington, a “gaffe” is when someone accidentally tells the truth, and if there’s one thing we have learned about the Buckeyes head coach in his first year on the job, it’s that he is reliably candid with the media.

So it turned out that Meyer caused a bit of a flap when he answered a question forthrightly about the state of recruiting in the Big Ten as posed to him on Beau Bishop and Anthony Rothman’s radio show on 97.1 The Fan. Here’s how that exchange went (slightly edited):

Question:  "Urban, you won two national titles in the SEC, and that league is on a heck of a roll, and I know you get asked this question all the time....You guys are on a heck of a roll right now, your rival to the north seems to be doing pretty good -- they had the nice class yesterday. Is there any concern for you that the rest of the Big Ten isn’t holding up its end of the bargain, and do you think that’s important for what you’re trying to build here at Ohio State?"

Meyer: "Well, it’s not only important, it’s essential. It has to happen. And I don’t know enough about what goes on in the other programs. I know I have a lot of respect for the tradition and their historical success they’ve had, but we do need to as a conference need to keep pushing that envelope to be better. And I think ... our whole conversation needs to be about how do we recruit? When you see 11 of the SEC teams are in the Top 25 in recruiting, that’s something we need to continue to work on and improve."

Now, I’m not sure how he could have been more diplomatic or deferential to the efforts and traditions of the programs of his Big Ten lodge brothers, but these fairly innocuous comments were still taken to be Urban “calling out” his fellow conference coaches in various news reports, and on fan sites in rival cities.

It’s understandable that these remarks could be construed as the conference bully rubbing it in after making full use of the many built-in institutional advantages in recruiting that the coach at OSU has over his league foes. The 12-0 record in 2012 didn’t hurt. Having Urban Meyer with no bowl game and all of December to focus on recruiting didn’t hurt either. It’s sort of like the coach who gets criticized for running up the score on an over-matched opponent, and responds by sneering “Want a closer game? Get a better team.”

I’m not suggesting that’s Meyer’s style. It’s least not in public. But his answer to the question probably ruffled feathers precisely because it was spot on. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg thought so:

How will his colleagues react? Meyer is relatively new to the Big Ten....and he hasn't exactly made a ton of friends with his recruiting approach. These coaches are competitive, prideful men, and they might not respond well to a guy challenging their recruiting performance, even if that guy is, for the most part, getting the better of them on the trail. They don't want to be told how to do their jobs.

But the recruiting discussion is important...that must be addressed. The current approach around the league doesn't seem to be working all that well. And while Meyer might not be Mr. Popular, he's also the only guy in the room to have won a national championship as a head coach.

Meyer doesn't have all the answers, but his approach works. Like it or not, the Big Ten coaches should embrace the recruiting discussion. Something has to change.


What Fence?

In a talent-rich state like Ohio, the philosophy at OSU has always been to “build a fence around the state of Ohio”...that is, to make sure they keep the best in-state kids here at home in Columbus. Meyer is certainly conscious of that imperative, and was just recently quoted as saying he’d like to form a core of about 10 Ohio recruits (or about half his recruiting class) every year if he can. But he has also shown in his two seasons of recruiting for the Buckeyes that there is no fence keeping him and his staff in Ohio while in pursuit of the best football players for the program.

Jim Tressel always recruited Florida pretty well, and that certainly won’t change with all of Meyer’s history and contacts in the Sunshine State. Tressel was also able to snag some of the best kids from Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan from time to time. The difference under Meyer is that there seems to be no geographic barrier whatsoever to the reach of the OSU program.

Exhibit A is the trio of elite Texas players brought in this year, with a good deal of the credit going to offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who has recruited the state well for years. Quarterback J.T. Barrett, linebacker Mike Mitchell and slot receiver Dontre Wilson are not some hidden gems that got overlooked in a deep Texas talent pool. All three are among the top two or three recruits at their positions in the state, if not the nation. That kind of a haul from Texas is unprecedented at Ohio State.

OSU continued to do well in the southeast as well, drawing top-rated recruits from North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina in addition to Florida. And Meyer reached into California to grab an athletic tight end that fits his system.

The game has indeed changed for Ohio State recruiting, and Urban Meyer has informed his coaching brethren in the Big Ten that they have a choice. Either jump on the train, or get run over by it. Because what you’re seeing in Columbus is the new normal.


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