COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s not often when Ohio State finds itself the odd man out.
Under the direction of Urban Meyer, it’s been even more rare.
Yet as Alabama and Clemson prepare to square off for the College Football Playoff championship for the second straight year, that’s exactly what the Buckeyes are. Factor in Ohio State’s 31-0 loss to the Tigers in the semifinal Fiesta Bowl and the Buckeyes’ place in college football’s pecking order becomes even clearer.
Right now there’s Alabama, there’s Clemson and there’s everybody else. That’s the reality of having the same two teams play each other for the national title in two consecutive seasons.
“I thought we were going to go compete for the national championship in 10 days — I really did,” Meyer said following the Fiesta Bowl. “I think we have a bunch of good players, a bunch of good guys. And our anticipation is to get back here next year and take a good swing at it and realize we’ve got a lot of work to do, obviously.”
That work begins with recruiting, which Meyer has long referred to as the “life blood” of any program.
Ohio State has undeniably recruited well under Meyer, having signed four top-five classes in the last five years. But against Clemson last weekend, the few deficiencies of the Buckeyes’ past recruiting classes were on full display.
Receivers rarely got open and an early injury to guard Michael Jordan exposed the depth — or lack thereof — on Ohio State’s offensive line. The Buckeyes defense did all it could, but the OSU offense lacked the pure firepower to keep pace.
Make no mistake, roster composition was hardly the sole difference between the Buckeyes and Tigers on New Year’s Eve. Far from it. Against Clemson, Ohio State’s passing attack was once again dismal, just as it was in the Buckeyes’ previous two games.
But any time a team falls short of its goal for a second consecutive season, it’s fair to consider everything. With Alabama and Clemson establishing themselves as college football’s elite, Ohio State now needs to close the gap.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, help is on the way. With less than a month to go until National Signing Day on Feb. 1, Ohio State currently boasts the nation’s second-ranked class in 2017.
On Saturday, the Buckeyes likely will only add to their impressive upcoming haul.
As Ohio State sits at home this weekend, some its future will be on the field in San Antonio. That’s where the annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl will take place, with this year’s game featuring no shortage of future Buckeyes.
Altogether, nine Ohio State commitments will play in Saturday’s game, including QB Tate Martell, DE Chase Young and RB J.K. Dobbins. Two more could also be on their way in 5-star CB Jeffrey Okudah and 4-star CB Darnay Holmes.
Even if the Buckeyes land both highly touted corners, Meyer’s offseason pursuits won’t stop there. In what’s expected to be a smaller class, Ohio State still wants to add a top level defensive tackle and has its eye on 5-star prospect Marvin Wilson.
With six 5-star prospects in tow already in tow, this much is clear: Come signing day, the Buckeyes will receive another annual infusion of talent. All that’s left to find out is if they can catch Alabama, which currently lays claim to the nation’s top-ranked 2017 class.
“As long as you’re keeping score,” Meyer said in 2014, “we’re going to try to win.”
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, that didn’t work out so well last Saturday.
Now we’ll see how much ground they can gain on Alabama and Clemson from the only place they can this weekend.