In college football, we like to call the off-season the 'silly season'. Silly because if your team is looking for a new coach, you stay up until 3 in the morning gleaning information from message boards wondering where the university Learjet has filed a flight plan to in FlightAware.
Silly because if you're an avid follower of a team like say, for instance, Ohio State, you follow blogs (not unlike this one) and the darkest nooks and crannies of message boards hoping to glean insider information about where a 17 or 18 year old kid will go to school at.
For Michigan and Ohio State, it's no different. And historically, it's been a bit more personal. Michigan's success, in large part, has hinged on them being able to recruit Ohio. Guys like Charles Woodson and Desmond Howard, both Ohio natives, went to Ann Arbor and found Heisman glory. Michigan native Craig Krenzel came to Ohio State and won a national championship. Also, the original 'Michigan Man', Bo Schembechler,was an Ohio native, was an assistant at OSU, coached at Miami of Ohio, and then landed at Michigan, touching off the 10 Year War.
And it feels almost personal when an Ohio kid spurns the state university to go to their arch rival. Which is a wildly inappropriate way to feel about a kid who you'll never meet going to a school that he feels is best for his academic and athletic future. Almost creepy, actually.
But it's football. So yeah, there's that.
But the silly season really hasn't been all that silly between Michigan and Ohio State in recent years. OSU started to dominate the rivalry, and Jim Tressel locked down the state of Ohio. When Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez, Rich Rod pretty much ceded Ohio to the Buckeyes, and for the most part, only took the guys that Tressel and eventually Mark Dantonio at MSU didn't target.
But that personal side to this rivalry has returned. Brady Hoke is a Michigan Man through and through, even down to being born and raised in Ohio. Urban Meyer – yeah, he gets it, too. Between the hiring of two coaches that really understand what this rivalry means, they've also returned to recruiting the same players. It started in 2011, when Brady Hoke was hired.
Once Ohio State went head first into the chaos of the tattoo scandal and the Tressel suspension/firing, Hoke took full advantage of the situation. Ohio offensive lineman Kyle Kalis, the 6th ranked (Scout rankings) offensive lineman in the country and OSU commit, was flipped by Hoke at the height of the OSU controversy, and Kalis wasted no time in professing his loyalty to the Wolverines. Hoke also put the full court press on RB Bri'onte Dunn, and according to reports, Dunn was on the verge of flipping.
Enter Urban Meyer. Meyer knew the PR hit the program took when Kalis flipped, and Meyer realized that keeping Dunn in the fold was imperative. Not just from a PR standpoint, but OSU really needed a running back in that class. After a couple visits and untold phone calls, Dunn stayed home.
But Hoke still made some serious inroads back into Ohio, grabbing guys like Chris Wormley, Jarrod Wilson, and Tom Strobel, and has gone a long way to re-establishing the Ohio pipeline that made Michigan so good for so many years. And 2013 is no different, as Ohio prep star Dymonte Thomas is a firm Michigan commit, among other Ohio guys.
Yet in this recruiting class, Meyer returned the Kalis favor. Gareon Conley, a longtime Michigan commit and 4 star CB, flipped to Ohio State after visiting Columbus the weekend of The Game. David Dawson, a product of Cass Technical high school in Detroit, a longtime Wolverine pipeline, decommitted from the Wolverines in mid-October, and is being pursued hot and heavy by multiple schools, Ohio State included.
If Meyer were to land him, ii would be as every bit as big as Hoke flipping Kalis last year. But depending on what you read, it seems like Dawson might have regretted the Michigan rebuff, and could well be back in the fold before Christmas.
Recruiting is as much about perception as it is talent and ability. And right now, both Hoke and Meyer are on track to end up with top 5 classes again, and if the rest of the Big Ten isn't careful, they will lap the other 10...no, wait...12 teams in the conference.