One of the reasons Ohio State has been so strong historically at college football is because of the quality of players that come out of the state of Ohio. The Buckeyes have a strong tradition going back to the very beginning of them playing the sport of great players coming to Columbus from all over the state.
That trend hit its modern heights under Jim Tressel. Tressel's philosophy was more to always try and fill needs from Ohio first, and go elsewhere only afterwards or if a player's combination of interest and talent was so obvious Ohio State would be foolish not to recruit him. Historically, that's been easier said than done, as OSU has had to fight Michigan tooth and nail for the state's top players.
That's because Michigan sucks. But you knew that. Tressel seemed to get an upper hand on Lloyd Carr the last few years Carr coached in Ann Arbor, and once he retired, Jim Tressel was able to lock down the Ohio borders and take virtually every top talented kid in the state, if he wanted him.
That doesn't necessarily seem to be the case anymore, for a couple reasons. Under Rich Rodriguez, Michigan didn't recruit the same kind of players Ohio State did, and Rich Rod practically ceded the state to Tressel. That changed almost immediately under Brady Hoke, and once again hand-to-hand combat became the norm for the state's top recruits.
Something kind of odd happened in 2013, but not in a bad way. Urban Meyer took Ohio State recruiting national in a way that we hadn't seen in sometime (if ever), and even though he lost some top Ohio kids to Michigan (while others the school never full on recruited), he landed kids at the same position that were as good as or better than the Ohio kid Michigan got.
|OSU Recruit||Rank||POS||Rank||TTUN Recruit|
|Vonn Bell||2||S||9||Dymonte Thomas|
|Trey Johnson||2||LB||14||Ben Gedeon|
|Ezekiel Elliott||5||RB||15||Deveon Smith|
|Mike Mitchell||6||LB||4||Mike McCray|
|Joey Bosa||4||DE||3||Taco Charlton|
(All rankings are 247Composite rankings)
The first and most prominent example was at safety. Dymonte Thomas was one of Ohio's top ranked players as a junior, and his recruitment started to pick up steam right as the previous coaching regime was going through their most turmoil. Hoke swooped in and got a commitment from Thomas, and even though Urban Meyer tried to undo the damage, Thomas stayed firm to the Wolverines. At the time, it looked like a big loss for Ohio State, as Thomas wound up ranked as the #9 safety overall.
No problem. Meyer scored a coup on recruiting day by getting a huge commitment from Vonn Bell. As good as Thomas is, the Georgia native, who many felt was a lock for either Tennessee or Alabama, faxed his LOI to Columbus, and in the process one upped Michigan. Bell is ranked #2, and erases most any memories of losing Thomas.
Up next, linebacker. Hudson, OH product Ben Gedeon was offered by both OSU and Michigan, and although the Buckeyes offered Gedeon first, he committed to UM in April of last year. At the time, it was on the heels of an impressive commitment run by Hoke. Ohio State's coaching staff regrouped, though, and took advantage of the firing of Gene Chizik at Auburn. Trey Johnson, from Lawrenceville, Georgia, was an early Tiger commit and the #2 ILB overall. When Chizik was fired, the Buckeyes contacted Johnson and got him to Columbus on a visit the weekend of The Game. On January 5th, he committed to Ohio State. Once again, Meyer goes out of state and winds up out kicking Michigan in the process.
Let's stay with the linebacker position. Trotwood-Madison prospect Michael McCray committed to Michigan in March, before he even had an Ohio State offer, and was part of Michigan's spring time roll that vaulted them to the top of the recruiting rankings. Meyer offered him a month later, but it was too late. This one seemed to really hurt, as McCray's father Mike had starred at Ohio State in the 1980's, and it was a position of need for the Buckeyes. True to form, Meyer once again looked outside Ohio's border's to parry the UM thrust, soliciting Tom Herman to help nab Mike Mitchell out of Plano, TX, an area of the country Ohio State had rarely ventured to.
Running back was an area that OSU had some depth at, but needed at least one quality recruit. A lot of people thought Warren, OH star Deveon Smith would be a guy that the Buckeyes would target early, and they did. But Smith had reservations about the spread offense that Meyer was installing, and on a March visit to Ann Arbor, he committed. Undaunted, Meyer and staff looked to St. Louis, MO and got Ezekiel Elliott to commit on April 1st. Although there seemed to be some last minute wavering, at the end Elliott became a Buckeye, and once again, Ohio State neutralized a Michigan attack into Ohio.
In 2012, the strength of Ohio State's recruiting class was on the defensive line, but as impressive as the haul was, more was needed. It seemed Pickerington, OH stud and OSU fan Taco Charlton was a guy that was going to be targeted by the Buckeyes, but just like the previous kids we've talked about, Brady Hoke swooped in and got a commitment from Charton in early February. Curiously, OSU never seemed to really pursue Charlton, instead heading to Florida and getting 5-star St. Thomas Aquinas (FL) DE Joey Bosa to commit about one month later.
In past years, losing a top rated Ohio kid to Michigan was generally considered a triple whammy for OSU. For one, they lose an in-state kid at a position of need, which isn't ever a good thing. Second, they went to Ohio State's arch-rival, which makes it even worse. And finally, what Ohio State would usually do is get a second tier in-state kid to fill the void, which at times would really highlight itself on the field.
But with the class of 2013, that has changed. What used to be crippling losses on the recruiting trail, and ones that could reverberate for generations (Charles Woodson and Desmond Howard) are now reciprocated with out-of-state upgrades. While in the past in-state losses meant on to plan b, for almost the first time any of us can remember, it now more resembles reevaluating the entire landscape, and perhaps finishing even better off than where they originally aimed to.