"I don't want to redshirt. It's not our plan. We don't recruit and then say let's sit them down for a while. We want to play them immediately."
- Urban Meyer, via Austin Ward, ESPN.com
It's a tradition unlike any other: Ohio State signs ridiculously talented recruiting class, insists they don't want to redshirt them, and then proceeds to redshirt them. There's plenty of reason to be skeptical of Urban Meyer's claim that his 2016 class will compete for playing time and be expected to contribute, given what's happened in the past, but this season could signal a sea change in Columbus.
The loss of nine underclassmen to the NFL draft, as well as a host of talented seniors, means that there are uncertainties up and down the depth chart. While many of the incoming freshmen probably won't start, given the strength of the players ahead of them on the two-deep (many of whom redshirted last season), there are fewer guarantees than last year. Guys like 2016's Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor, and Antonio Williams might very well see quality snaps on offense, while Nick Bosa and Jonathon Cooper will likely be in the mix on defense.
Besides the dearth of experienced players, there's another reason coach Meyer might be less hesitant to blood his new guys in 2016 than in previous years. ESPN's Austin Ward notes the staff's realization that in hindsight, they might have left points and wins on the table by sitting players like Darron Lee, Jalin Marshall, and Eli Apple for a full season. Lee went from high school QB to early-round NFL linebacker with just two years of game experience; while his true freshman year would certainly have lacked polish, it's scary to think that he might have been even better if he had seen game time in his first season.
"Some people think paying attention to recruiting doesn't matter, but when Ohio State signed its 2013 class, that was basically like signing a national championship."
- Ari Wasserman, Cleveland.com
While the above quote doesn't allow for the combination of coaching and circumstance that also helped bring a national title to Ohio State in 2014, it's hard not to agree with on some level. 2013's recruiting cycle brought us J.T. Barrett. And Ezekiel Elliott. And Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell...you get the picture. It would have been even more of an uphill climb to win one without every single one of those guys.
Does 2016's recruiting class have the same shine? It's a tempting comparison to make. The average player rating for guys in Urban Meyer's newest class is actually higher than 2013's, and as discussed above, a number of true freshmen might actually get some valuable on-field experience this year, a luxury not afforded to Barrett, Apple, and others. Hell, there's even another Bosa in this class! Nick, by all accounts, is even more polished coming in than Joey was, which is downright terrifying. There are analogues to be found for everyone from Apple (Wade Davis) to Bell (Jordan Fuller), according to Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman. If he's right, 2017 is gonna be a thrill ride.
Urban Meyer, for his part, is staying mum on the issue. "Every coach in the country is walking up to the podium saying how great their class is," he said, per Wasserman. He's not wrong, certainly, but it's hard not to get excited about what this team might look like 18 months from now.
"Asked whether he would ever consider staying at a recruit's house, Meyer offered a succinct 'no' and did not elaborate."
- Marla Ridenour, Akron Beacon Journal
There's no question that Michigan's football program is back on the rise. After an excellent first year under Brady Hoke in 2011, the team went into a high-profile spiral before Hoke's firing and the return of Jim Harbaugh. The change in coaching created an immediate impact for the Wolverines, who had a great season despite being stomped by Ohio State on Thanksgiving weekend. But it's not just the on-field product that's improving: Harbaugh is a hell of a recruiter, if an, ummm, unorthodox one.
Still, Harbaugh's gamesmanship hardly has the Ohio State recruiters and position coaches shook. On the contrary, they seem both to relish the challenge and to be completely unfazed by it. Per the Akron Beacon-Journal's Marla Ridenour, coach Kerry Coombs, the team's chief recruiter in that state up north, said "we're going to go in there and recruit the very best players from that state...we're going to continue to do very well there."
For the Buckeyes' 2016 class, only one player hails from Michigan, an offensive lineman named Michael Jordan. Still, the pipeline has been good to Ohio State, particularly at Cass Tech in Detroit, where the Buckeyes have pulled current players like Damon Webb, Joshua Alabi, and Mike Weber.