To have sustained success in college football, you’ve got to recruit like a champion. Whether you’ve got a nationally-ranked class or you’re pulling up the rear in your own conference, every class has hits and misses that ultimately define it.
Who have been the biggest surprises – good and bad – in your favorite school’s recent classes?
Today we start a new recruiting series with Ohio State, and we’ll look at a team a day. (Tuesday is Michigan.)
Ohio State’s 2014 recruiting class ranked as the third-best nationally according to 247Sports.com. The class, ranked as the Big Ten’s best, consisted of 23 signees and included one 5-star prospect, 15 4-star talents and seven 3-star signees.
In their two years on campus, the 2014 Buckeyes class has won a national championship, a Sugar Bowl and a Fiesta Bowl and have been a part of one of the most successful runs in college football history. While many of these players will get their first real crack at stardom during the 2016 season, a number have become key contributors for Urban Meyer and Ohio State already.
Which players have met or exceeded expectations and who has fallen short of their lofty ranking?
Who has stood out
There are a few big names from the 2014 recruiting class – dubbed the “Dream ’14” by director of player personnel Mark Pantoni. Here are three who have stood out the most:
The lone 5-star prospect in the Dream ’14, McMillan has been a leader on and off the field since he arrived in Columbus in January 2014 as one of seven early-enrollees. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Buckeye captain started every game at middle linebacker as a sophomore, earning second team All-Big Ten honors after recording a team-high 119 tackles.
McMillan, from Hinesville, Ga., is projected as first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft, if he decides – as he’s expected – to leave college after his junior season.
Although he entered college as a tight end, or a linebacker, or a defensive back – no one really knew for sure – the 6-foot-6, 270 pound Hubbard has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s most feared defensive ends. The Cincinnati Moeller product burst on to the scene in the Buckeyes season opener at Virginia Tech, notching four tackles and a sack in his college debut.
Now an unquestioned starter and team leader, Hubbard will be counted on to replace the productivity of NFL first-round pick Joey Bosa and many expect that the redshirt sophomore will follow Bosa’s footsteps by finishing up his college career after three years.
The Buckeyes have had no shortage of offensive weapons in the last two years but none have proved quite as versatile as the Brooklyn native, Curtis Samuel. He’s lined up at running back and wide receiver, he’s returned kicks and he’s made an impact at every spot he’s taken snaps.
As a sophomore, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Samuel averaged nearly 8 yards per carry in relief of Ezekiel Elliott and he finished fourth on the team with 22 receptions. As a junior, expect the former Erasmus Hall Dutchmen to be the primary option for Ohio State as he lines up all over the field.
Who hasn’t lived up to the hype
Because of the depth and talent on Urban Meyer’s roster, a number of the biggest recruits in the 2014 class haven’t had a chance to shine yet in Columbus. While there’s only so many minutes available, there are definitely a few players who were expected to make an impact for the Buckeyes that haven’t yet.
The first member of the 2014 class, Jones committed to Ohio State on Christmas day in 2012. As one of the early-enrollees in the class, he had an opportunity to come in and make a good early impression on the Buckeyes coaching staff but failed to stay out of Urban Meyer’s doghouse.
He was one of a very small number that saw early playing time as a freshman, but fell out of favor in Columbus quickly and became the first member of the 2014 class to leave the school, opting to transfer from Ohio State in June of 2015. Jones transferred to Kentucky and was dismissed by the Wildcats a month later.
One can end up on the “not living up the hype” list for a number of reasons and for defensive back Marshon Lattimore, it’s the result of a repeated injuries that have kept him off the field. A “freak” of an athlete, Lattimore has struggled to find his spot in the lineup as he’s dealt with lingering leg issues. Lattimore appeared in six games as a redshirt freshman, breaking up three passes and picking up five total tackles.
With the departure of Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell, Lattimore should be a top contender for a starting spot in the secondary this fall. If he fails to lock down a starting spot this year, you have to wonder if the talented Cleveland native will ever make his mark at Ohio State.
For whatever reason, the 6-foot-6, 300 pound Trout, a personal favorite of then offensive line coach Ed Warinner who recruited him, hasn’t been able to turn potential into productivity with the Buckeyes. Selected for Nike’s The Opening after a big camp performance in Columbus, Trout hasn’t seen the playing time his counterpart in the 2014 class, Jamarco Jones, has.
Isaiah Prince, a 2015 signee, has passed him on the depth chart and it seems that the chance for the Lancaster (Oh.) lineman to make an impact with the Buckeyes may be drawing to a close.