Battleground states: Buckeyes dominate in Ohio, but other Big Ten programs find recruiting success
Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, and a population shift has made it tougher for Big Ten schools. Southern migration has left fewer elite college football prospects in the conference’s footprint. No state in “Big Ten Country” produces enough prospects for the local school to thrive, so venturing into rival territory to secure more players is critical.
Land of 10 looked at how Big Ten schools have recruited in the states with the most talent — Florida, Texas, California and Georgia. Now it’s time to dive deep into how the league’s members recruit in each other’s backyards.
First up is Ohio, typically home to the most elite prospects in the Big Ten footprint. It’s also home to recruiting powerhouse Ohio State.
The State of Urban
Urban Meyer is 61-6 in five seasons as Ohio State’s coach. He’s 40-3 against Big Ten opponents. Beyond all of the wins, Meyer has turned the Buckeyes into the biggest recruiting machine outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Ohio State has finished the past five recruiting cycles ranked second, third, seventh, fourth and second in the country by the 247Sports composite.
Here’s a breakdown of players from Ohio signed by the other 13 Big Ten schools (rankings from 247Sports composite include players’ average rank in Ohio and number of top-25 Ohio prospects signed):
|SCHOOL||PROSPECTS||AVG RANK||TOP 25|
Meyer spent his first full recruiting cycle in Columbus (2013) spreading the Buckeyes’ net nationally. During the past four years, Ohio State has had great success with in-state players. L.J. Scott, who chose Michigan State, was one of the few big names that got away.
The Buckeyes usually get what they want within their borders. Other coaching staffs know this, so it creates an interesting dilemma: Is it worth the time and resources to fight Ohio State for a 4-star prospect in Cleveland or Columbus if the Buckeyes have made it clear they really want the kid?
More often than not, other schools in the Big Ten pursue two types of prospects. They chase lower-ranked players the Buckeyes aren’t likely to want, and they hunt for prospects Ohio State has been slow to warm to.
Sometimes a 5-star prospect announces that there’s a good reason to recruit him, but a more likely scenario is that another Big Ten school will extend an offer before Ohio State gets involved, hoping the Buckeyes don’t put on the full-court press.
There have been 102 blue-chip (4- or 5-star) prospects in Ohio from 2012-17. Ohio State has signed 43, and that includes the first two years of Meyer’s tenure when the program was dealing with the aftermath of NCAA sanctions.
Here’s the breakdown of where all 102 have signed:
|Ten teams tied||1|
Notre Dame is an obvious recruiting rival because of its tradition as a Midwest power. The Fighting Irish also have had plenty of success in Ohio because of the prevalence of great Catholic school programs.
Kentucky and Pittsburgh are geographical neighbors. Michigan State has been a volume shopper, but also has collected some coveted prospects.
The 2017 NFL Draft is likely to include several Big Ten players from Ohio who didn’t play for the Buckeyes. Dawuane Smoot and Chunky Clements from Illinois, Ifeadi Odenigbo from Northwestern, Indiana’s Devine Redding and Purdue’s Jake Replogle could hear their name at the draft or sign with an NFL team as a free agent.
Then there is Michigan.
That School Up North
Meyer’s recruiting dominion in Ohio has had an interesting ally — Jim Harbaugh.
Brady Hoke did a poor job recruiting on a national level as Michigan coach, but he saw an opening in Ohio at the end of the Jim Tressel era, which was marred by an NCAA investigation and sanctions. The Wolverines raided the state in 2012 and 2013 for 18 prospects, including 15 that were ranked among the top 25 in their class.
Many of the top players on the 2016 Michigan team — Taco Charlton, Jake Butt, Chris Wormley, De’Veon Smith, Ben Gedeon, Kyle Kalis, Dymonte Thomas and Mike McCray — were Ohio kids from those 2012 and 2013 classes.
When Hoke was fired, Michigan landed its dream coach. Much in the same way that Meyer wanted to do more national recruiting in 2013 when he arrived in Columbus, Harbaugh has been hell-bent on making his Wolverines a national brand.
Michigan’s new coaching staff has compiled two fantastic recruiting classes (2016 and 2017) after having little time to add to the 2015 group. What the Wolverines haven’t done under Harbaugh is make much of an impact in Ohio. They have signed a total of six players from Ohio in the past three years, but two were specialists and one was rated outside the top 50 prospects in the state.
Harbaugh’s staff has been working to find more success in Ohio with the 2018 class. Leonard Taylor from Springfield and Antwuan Johnson from Dayton committed to Michigan early in the process. Both, however, have since de-committed.
Combine Harbaugh’s attention being drawn elsewhere with down seasons for Notre Dame and Michigan State and Ohio State’s ability to pick the prospects it wants has grown.
Purdue is known as the “Cradle of Quarterbacks” because 12 Boilermakers passers have played in the NFL, including two Pro Football Hall of Fame members (Len Dawson, Bob Griese) and a future one (Drew Brees). Those quarterbacks came from nine different states, including two (Dawson, Mark Herrmann) from Ohio.
Ohio State has enjoyed plenty of success with in-state quarterbacks, including recent stars Troy Smith, Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones. But quarterback is one position where it’s not always possible to get every prospect a team wants, especially if the current roster is filled with talented options.
There have been a lot of talented quarterbacks in Ohio the past six recruiting cycles, and Joe Burrow is the only one who has ended up in Columbus. Landing Miller and Jones in the 2011 class played a role in that. Ohio State has also looked elsewhere — landing out-of-state QBs J.T. Barrett (Texas), Dwayne Haskins (Maryland) and Tate Martell (Nevada).
Half of the Big Ten has signed a quarterback from Ohio in the past six years, and several others have become stars elsewhere.
2012: Maty Mauk, Missouri; Tyler O’Connor, Michigan State; Austin Appleby, Purdue
2013: Malik Zaire, Notre Dame; Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
2014: DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame; Chayce Crouch, Illinois
2015: Joe Burrow, Ohio State
2016: Messiah deWeaver, Michigan State; Peyton Ramsey, Indiana
2017: Sean Clifford, Penn State; Danny Clark, Kentucky; Andrew Marty, Northwestern
Mauk and Appleby (who transferred to Florida) have both started an SEC championship game. Trubisky and Kizer could be first-round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Clifford is the first blue-chip Ohio prospect at any position to choose Penn State since before the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Clark was a longtime Ohio State pledge, but Martell’s commitment drove him away and he landed at Kentucky.
New threats for other Big Ten schools
Ohio State is the biggest program throughout the state, though the Buckeyes dominate the state’s Northeast and Central regions more than others.
Northwest Ohio is the halfway point between Ohio State and Michigan, and many maize-and-blue flags can be found in the Toledo area. Southwest Ohio includes Cincinnati, home to a lot of Catholic schools that Notre Dame coaches enjoy visiting.
Here’s a look at where Big Ten prospects in Ohio have come from since 2012. Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown are in the Northeast. The Southeast is the state’s largest area, but has the fewest high-level prospects.
|REGION||B1G RECRUITS||OHIO STATE|
Penn State’s return to national prominence could shake up some the battles for players in Ohio. The same thing could happen if Michigan re-commits to recruiting the state.
For the schools chasing players who are a tier below the elite targets, there are two relatively new threats. One is Kentucky. Wildcats coach Mark Stoops and his staff have realized that it’s hard to beat established SEC programs for players in the South, so they’ve turned their collective gaze north. Cincinnati is about an hour north on Interstate 75, but the Wildcats have offered players all over Ohio, hoping the allure of the SEC will lead them to Lexington.
The other threat is Cincinnati. Longtime Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell is in his first year with the Bearcats and could make them a formidable foe on the recruiting trail.
If Fickell’s staff helps return the Bearcats to consistent success, plenty of those mid-tier Big Ten programs are going to be fretting about Ohio kids deciding to stay closer to home and play for an American Athletic Conference contender.