COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer had plenty to celebrate on National Signing Day in 2015.
He’d just won four tense battles in the final days of the recruiting period. He beat out Alabama for players like wide receiver K.J. Hill and offensive tackle Isaiah Prince, both 4-star prospects. He kept 4-star running back Mike Weber from flipping to Michigan and also held on to 4-star receiver Torrance Gibson.
That closing ability left Meyer with a top-10 recruiting class and a handful of high-profile gems. However, the class as a whole still paled compared to every other Meyer group at Ohio State. It’s the only non-top 5 class he’s ever signed, and it featured 10 players who were rated 3-star prospects.
Thus far, the group labeled “Elite 15” during its recruitment has had a tough time living up to the billing. Only four of them — Baker, Glover-Williams, Ward and Prince — saw the field as true freshmen, and it was almost exclusively in a special teams role. Dean left without ever practicing after Ohio State medically disqualified him. Schmidt transferred to Cincinnati after his freshman season. Gibson, whose promise tantalized Ohio State fans unrelentingly, followed one year later after a university-imposed suspension. None ever played a snap for the Buckeyes.
The class as a whole has struggled to make an impact in the lineup. Baker and Weber have been the two big contributors thus far. Also, McCullough spent last season as the starting long snapper without incident. Guys like Hill, Jones, Prince and Ward have also had their moments, but it’s been an up-and-down two years thus far.
This group walked into a tough situation in terms of the depth chart, however. Ohio State returned nearly all its starters from a team that won the College Football Playoff. From the outset, the odds were stacked against anyone making an immediate impact because of a lack of opportunity.
On National Signing Day in 2015, Meyer was already cautious when asked about the chance of true freshmen seeing the field.
“Next year will be a very competitive group,” he said. “A bunch of starters coming back.”
When 21 of the 25 players redshirted, it further hurt their odds of getting on the field in the future. A whole new class came in on virtually equal footing the next year, giving the Buckeyes more than 40 players with freshman eligibility. There’s something to be said for having a year of practice experience, but they entered last fall having shared the same amount of in-game experience with the more heralded class of 2016.
From a numbers standpoint, this group projects to have perhaps the fewest amount of impact players of any Meyer class at Ohio State. All is not lost, however. Weber looked tremendous as a redshirt freshman, and Hill also fits the mold of a big-play wide receiver. Others could recover from injury problems and shine the same way Marshon Lattimore did last year. A position change, like Glover-Williams’ move from cornerback to H-back or Berry’s switch from tight end to defensive end, could prove fruitful.
What’s clear, though, is that this spring could be critical for a group that’s running out of time. The 2016 class, for the most part, looked great as true freshmen. The 2017 class is Meyer’s most top-heavy ever at Ohio State in terms of talent. Furthermore, half that group is already enrolled.
It’s not going to get any easier for the 2015 guys, and the clock is ticking.