A lot of digital ink has been spilled praising Ohio State’s recruiting as of late, and with good reasons. The Buckeyes are positioned to have a historically strong 2017 recruiting class, and multiple elite classes in a row have allowed them to replace tons of NFL draft picks without missing a beat. Outside of Alabama, nobody has earned more praise for recruiting and the sheer accumulation of talent than Ohio State.
But the Buckeyes aren’t actually the second most talented roster in the country. Judging from the recruiting rankings via the 247Sports Talent Composite, the Buckeyes are actually third.
The top team isn’t a surprise. Having the top ranked recruiting class every year since Obama’s first term will do that.
But number two? That’s USC. The Trojans currently have five times as many five-star players on their roster as Ohio State.
What’s going on with USC right now? Well, they got absolutely nuked by Alabama to open the season, and never really threatened Stanford in a Week 3 loss. They’ve scored a combined 16 points against Power 5 competition this season, and just changed quarterbacks. The Trojans finish the season with games against Oregon, at Washington, at UCLA, and with Notre Dame, meaning a bowl bid this season is hardly assured.
And yes, their head coach is now having to deny getting punched in the face by one of his players. So everything is going great in Troy right now.
This season’s struggles may be especially dramatic, but they aren’t exactly an aberration. The Trojans have just one finish above the AP Top 20 since 2008, the end of the Pete Carroll era. They haven’t won anything more prestigious than the Holiday Bowl in years.
NCAA sanctions that crippled the team’s depth obviously have some to do with that, but even in the face of scholarship reductions, the Trojans haven’t had a problem recruiting elite talent. The program’s history, location and resources make it a highly attractive destination for top recruits. But the results just haven’t been there.
USC is perhaps the most prominent case, but they’re hardly the only one. Auburn sits seventh in the talent composite, and they may also be fighting for their bowl lives too. Texas is 11th, and would consider winning eight games to be a successful season. Other programs that have recruited very well, like UCLA, Texas A&M, and Tennessee, among others, have yet to match those star rankings with on the field results.
This isn’t to say that recruiting isn’t important. The data shows that recruiting at an elite level is basically a requirement for national championship contention. A closer look at data shows a near linear relationship between recruiting rankings and wins. We cover it so closely on this website because it’s clear that recruiting matters a great deal. You can’t be an exceptionally successful program on a consistent basis without bringing in elite talent. And Ohio State has unquestionably hit that benchmark.
But it’s important to remember that’s not the only part of the equation here. Coaching, evaluation and development matter a great deal too.
And in case there was any doubt, Ohio State is doing just fine in that department as well.
One thing that speaks well to the evaluation and development of a coaching staff is the performance of lower-ranked recruits. Ohio State turned three-stars like Michael Thomas, Darron Lee and Cardale Jones into draft picks, and the early returns on the next batch of underrated Buckeyes look strong.
After all, one of the best centers in the country, Pat Elfein, was a three-star. Perhaps Ohio State’s biggest playmaker on defense this season, Malik Hooker, was a three-star. Noah Brown and Sam Hubbard were lower ranked four-stars, high upside recruits whose exact positional fit in college seemed up for debate. They’ve both already highly productive college players. And two of the lower ranked recruits that Urban Meyer has signed at Ohio State, defensive tackles Robert Landers and DaVon Hamilton, have shown they can play against elite competition.
Not every program can do that. The ability to project how a high school player will perform at a different position can be an inexact science. With a sea of elite prospects on the depth chart, keeping everybody motivated and engaged can be tricky too.
The fact that Ohio State has been able to do that is exceptionally impressive, especially as the Buckeyes have lost multiple assistants over the last few years. It’s also very rare.
It’s smart to focus a lot on recruiting. Ohio State is able to reload so quickly because they have a plethora of NFL-caliber prospects at most position groups. But they’re not the only program that can say that. Today it’s USC, but tomorrow, there may be another sterling example of a program that has figured out the talent acquisition part of the puzzle, but hasn’t figured out the rest that goes into building an excellent program.
Ohio State fans should enjoy what they have going while they can. It’s hard to put everything together all at once.