COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two hours after Nike released the first images of the alternate uniforms his team will be wearing this weekend, Urban Meyer couldn’t remember whether he’d seen Ohio State’s new threads.
“I’m anxious to see what they look like,” the Buckeyes coach said before correcting himself. “I remember seeing them [in the summer]. I forgot them. I’m going to check them out today, though.”
Truth be told, it’s irrelevant whether Meyer has seen, or even likes, the 1916-inspired throwback getups. All that really matters is that they reach recruits.
By the time I asked Meyer on Tuesday about the alternate uniforms, thanks to the power of social media, these uniforms had already reached recruits.
“I like the uniform,” 2017 4-star quarterback and Ohio State commit Tate Martell told Land of 10. “I’m with anything that stands out and makes it a little different than normal.”
Martell may already be committed to the Buckeyes, but the Ohio State coaches are counting on his infectious attitude working to their advantage this weekend. Along with upward of 60 fellow recruits — many of whom are currently uncommitted — Martell will be in Columbus on Saturday for the Buckeyes’ primetime battle with Nebraska.
And it’s no coincidence that on what will be one of its biggest recruiting weekends of the year, Ohio State will be rocking new duds.
“It’s a tradition that’s been going on here a few years,” Meyer said. “Fans love it.”
And, more importantly: “Recruits love it,” he added.
The debate among generations of fans regarding the value of alternate jerseys has lived on message boards for more than a decade. On the surface, the pro-alternate argument admittedly seems crazy. As irrational as 17 and 18-year-olds can sometimes be, none would ever choose a school based on a jersey.
“Whether it’s they like the colors and think they look better in blue than they do in orange or whatever, you can never underestimate what might tip the scales,” said Rivals.com national recruiting director Mike Farrell.
Take, for instance, the success Michigan has found with its partnership with the Jordan Brand. Or what about the identity Oregon has forged with its closet full of uniform combinations? A wardrobe advantage may not deliver a prospect on National Signing Day, but there’s something to be said for the aura it can add to a program — even if just for a single game.
“I like ’em a lot,” 4-star linebacker and Buckeyes commit Antjuan Simmons told Land of 10. “I used to use those uniforms when I used to play NCAA football [the video game].”
Ironically, Meyer is more of a traditionalist, but he’d change the Buckeyes’ color scheme if it gave him a better chance at landing a given recruit. Heck, last year, he practically did. For the first time in school history, Ohio State donned black uniforms in a primetime matchup against Penn State with a plethora of prospects in attendance.
Technically, black is an official school color. But it’s also a far cry from the Buckeyes’ traditional scarlet and gray getups — not that it mattered to Meyer
“I love tradition,” Meyer said on the Buckeyes Cruise for Cancer in 2013. “But I love recruiting better.”
As a result, Ohio State has been more than willing to keep up with the Joneses, although the Buckeyes’ affinity for alternates already existed when Meyer arrived in Columbus in 2011. In each season since 2009, Ohio State has worn some sort of throwback or alternate uniform at least once.
It’s no coincidence such occasions have come in games heavily attended by recruits.
“The uniforms are nice,” says 2017 4-star offensive tackle and Buckeyes commit Jake Moretti. “I think they’re doing it right [with] just the occasional change up.”
Fan reaction, however, hasn’t always been as enthusiastic.
“I got a couple e-mails from people saying, ‘We’re not Oregon.’ You’re right, we’re not Oregon,” Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith said, explaining last year’s polarizing all-black unis. “We’re Ohio State University. And we’re going to pick one game every year where we try to do this.”
As opposed to past years, this year’s uniform should appeal to traditionalists and millennials alike.
Paying homage to the Buckeyes’ first undefeated team, this year’s alternate is even more of a throwback than most. Featuring vertical striping on the front panel and shoulders, the jerseys feature an old school look — the same one worn by Ohio State’s first superstar, Chic Harley.
The chrome matte black helmets, meanwhile, provide a modern twist. Unfortunately for traditionalists, actual leather helmets wouldn’t have sufficed.
Judging by the social media reaction, Nike appears to have appeased two groups of uniform lovers who often find themselves at odds.
But if Meyer could only pick one, it wouldn’t be hard to figure out who he’d side with.
And some of you think recruits don’t care about this stuff?