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Cincinnati isn’t really about to become a recruiting threat to Ohio State, right?

The Bearcats are making some moves on the recruiting trail.

Colorado v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

You know the teams Ohio State typically battles with on the recruiting trail, especially for players in the Midwest: Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State. Even sometimes Michigan State. Then there are the other major national programs, like Alabama, USC, Clemson, Florida State, and Texas. With Ohio State going after the very best of the best across the country, it makes sense they’ll regularly go against the top programs in the country.

Conspicuously absent from that list? Any other in-state school. Like say, Cincinnati.

The Buckeyes dominate in-state recruiting unlike nearly any other program in the country. They don’t share Ohio with another power program, and outside of Notre Dame’s efforts at parochial high schools, it is rare that an in-state kid that Ohio State really wants goes anywhere else, let alone to another Ohio school. Even LSU, who dominates their state like OSU does, loses a kid to Alabama occasionally.

But that might be changing.

Cincinnati is doing some work on the recruiting trail this season. If you hadn’t noticed, the Bearcats have the highest ranked class in the AAC right now, and the second highest ranked in all of the Group of 5, with their 37th overall ranking just trailing BYU, who has more commits. Cincinnati isn’t just ranked highly because of high volume. Their 2018 class currently has just seven verbals. But all seven are at least three-star players, and two, tight end Josh Whyle and defensive end Malik Vann, are four-star kids. And both are from Ohio.

Whyle didn’t have an Ohio State offer, but lots of Big Ten programs, along with schools like Tennessee and TCU, had offered. Vann didn’t either, but Alabama reportedly had offered, along with other Big Ten programs. They’re both solid players who are more than good enough to play for programs a bit higher profile than Cincinnati.

But the Bearcats are trending towards a few other Ohio targets. Four-star defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins is a player that Ohio State does seem to want. They’ve offered, and defensive line coach Larry Johnson went through the trouble of making a detailed, personalized recruiting plan for him. But based on the 247Sports Crystal Ball, Cincinnati is actually the favorite for Hawkins right now. Seven of the last eight predictions have been for the Bearcats. Hawkins has a family connection to Cincinnati (his dad played there), and he plays for Cincinnati Moeller. That the Bearcats could get momentum in this race isn’t out of left field.

Christopher Oats, a four-star linebacker out of Winton Woods, also has an Ohio State offer, and the Buckeyes remain the CB favorite. But three of the last four CB predictions from recruiting expert have Oats headed to Cincinnati instead. It’s clear the Bearcats have some momentum here.

So what’s going on here?

On one hand, there’s only so much space at Ohio State, and the Buckeyes are going hard after elite, five-star caliber players at nearly every position. That may mean that lower four-star kids who might have been Buckeye locks under say, Jim Tressel, may not be recruited quite as hard under Urban Meyer. That would open up spots for a Cincinnati, or a Kentucky, or a Michigan State, to make up ground. Sometimes Ohio State is able to swoop in later in the recruiting cycle and still win those battles. But maybe not forever.

But there’s other factors to consider, too. Cincinnati’s new coach is, of course, former Ohio State assistant (and one time head coach) Luke Fickell, one of the best recruiters on Ohio State’s staff. Fickell can sell that he’s trying to build a culture similar to what made Ohio State successful, but with a much less crowded depth chart to recruits. A low four-star kid will have a much easier path to starting for the Bearcats after all, and making an impact in the AAC.

There’s a long way to go in this 2018 recruiting class. But this is a storyline worth monitoring, especially as Ohio State looks to bring in more Ohio kids after a particularly small group last cycle. Ohio State currently has just two commitments from Ohio players in 2018, and while they’re favored in at least three more, a very large and deep Ohio class doesn’t look as likely. As Ohio State basketball recently learned, that can have potentially dangerous side effects later on.

Is Cincinnati going to beat Ohio State for the truly elite kids in Ohio? Almost certainly not, even if they’re from Cincinnati. But could they start creeping up and grabbing kids that Ohio State would like by making them a bigger recruiting priority? That’s certainly possible, especially if the Bearcats are able to string together some early success, and Ohio State continues to look nationally.

And while that might be kinda bad news for Ohio State, it’s really bad news for programs like Michigan State, Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana, schools that really need to be able to come to Ohio and recruit very good kids that don’t end up in Columbus. The more of those that leave the conference, the worst their depth gets.

It is very early, but those early returns are positive for Cincinnati. If this continues, recruiting in the southwest part of the state could get a bit harder for the Buckeyes in the future.