The annual Ohio State-Michigan game is readying its 109th meeting this Saturday, with plenty of bragging rights and for the Buckeyes, a chance to go undefeated this season. Of course, both teams will be relying heavily on their respective stars. For Ohio State, it comes down to players like Braxton Miller, John Simon, Carlos Hyde, and Ryan Shazier. Michigan is hoping that the likes of Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner are equally (if not more) effective against the Buckeyes.
Every single player to come through the rivalry game has, at one point, been recruited by some of the best coaches in the Big Ten. Some of the most memorable games were decided by the effort of some of those very talented individuals. Everyone has heard legendary announcer Keith Jackson calling "Hello Heisman" when Desmond Howard danced through the Ohio State punt coverage.
It's pretty much impossible to forget Charles Woodson, who is still playing for the Green Bay Packers, when in the 1997 game he dipped and ducked past the Buckeyes on his way to the endzone. Both Woodson and Howard have two things in common. One, they both won Heisman trophies. Secondly, both players were born and raised in the state of Ohio.
Ohio State has had its fair share of Michigan transplants in the recruiting game as well. No one will ever let the legend of quarterback Craig Krenzel die. Krenzel was born in Utica, Michigan, but played for the Buckeyes during their improbable 2002 championship run.
Also of note, Michigan currently has seven starters from the state of Ohio, showing how big of a battleground the Buckeye state plays in recruiting. Brady Hoke has clearly realized what kind of talent lies here and has made a point of recruiting it well. Those seven starters are: defensive end Frank Clark, defensive back Jordan Kovacs, offensive lineman Elliott Mealer, offensive lineman Patrick Omameh, wide receiver Roy Roundtree, linebacker Jake Ryan and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (though he'll miss the next 10-12 months with a nasty ankle injury).
When Urban Meyer was hired at Ohio State, he instantly brought his ferocious recruiting style into the Big Ten conference. Since then, Meyer has managed to not only flip a couple of commitments from Big Ten schools, but has also backed up some of the tactics that drew ire from his peers by producing an 11-0 season thus far. Only two first year OSU coaches have started 11-0. Carroll Widdoes was 9-0 in 1944 and eventually won his first 12 games before a loss. The other was coach Meyer's mentor, Earle Bruce, who posted an 11-0 record to open the 1979 before a Rose Bowl loss to USC.
Currently, Michigan and Ohio State are standing toe-to-toe when it comes to recruiting rankings. Based on 247Sports rankings, both 2013 recruiting classes stand in the top five in the country. Michigan is ranked fourth, while the Buckeyes sit at fifth. The Wolverines have more, numbers wise, with 23 total commitments but the Buckeyes (with 17 commitments) are keeping close behind their arch rivals.
These players determining these rankings are the future of The Game and will have the onus on them to keep the future of the rivalry alive and well. Players like Jalin Marshall, Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, and Tracy Sprinkle look to become the new faces of Ohio State's football legacy. For the Wolverines, commitments like Shane Morris, Dymonte Thomas, DeVeon Smith, and Kyle Bosch want their names to be forever etched in the rich tradition of The Game.
Saturday, the products of the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes will try to make their mark on the legacy of Ohio State and Michigan. The outcome may even decide which recruits go where, as the Buckeyes host an incredible amount of athletes at the Horseshoe.
Only time will tell what kind of impact this and future recruiting classes will have on The Game, but one thing is for certain: It should be a real joy to watch.