Two things are both true.
First, Ohio State signed another elite recruiting class today. At the time of this writing, it was actually the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, and whether it stays that way or if Georgia pulls ahead, it’s one of the very best recruiting classes in Ohio State history (on paper, anyway). Nearly every member of the 2018 recruiting class is a blue-chip prospect according to multiple recruiting services, and several, like defensive tackle Taron Vincent, safety Tyreke Johnson, and center Matthew Jones, are considered to be the best, or near the best in the country at their respective positions. This class solidifies elite talent at every position group at Ohio State, and will put them in a position to potentially compete for championships over the coming years.
Second, all of that was true for Ohio State last season, and a team full of lightly recruited two and three stars at Iowa beat them like a drum. If you’ve forgotten about this, just tweet about Ohio State recruiting today. I promise an Iowa fan will remind you.
It may seem like these two facts are incongruous with each other, incapable of existing in the same universe. But if we take some time here to be honest about what exactly today means, and doesn’t mean, I think it will all make a bit more sense.
First, let me be clear about something. Recruiting rankings matter, and anybody that tries to tell you otherwise either doesn’t understand recruiting, math, or is an Iowa or Nebraska fan. Only teams that recruit more blue-chip players than non-blue chip players win national titles. A blue-chip player is about 1,000% more likely to get drafted in the early rounds of the NFL Draft than a two-star. Five-stars are about 33 times more likely to be All-Americans in college than two-stars, and there are a LOT more two-star college football players. Teams with better recruits generally beat teams without elite recruits. The data goes on, and on, and on.
Yes, you can probably think of a few players in the NFL right now that were lightly recruited. Yes, there will probably be some awesome college football players next year, even some in the Big Ten, that were lightly recruited. But a few anecdotes doesn’t change the cold, hard, data. College coaches kill themselves and risk breaking every dang rule in the book to bring in elite recruits because the best way to make sure you keep winning games is to have elite recruits.
Ohio State does this, and they’re constantly in contention for a national title. Iowa doesn’t do this, which is why they’ve had two seasons of consequence over the last decade. Other schools who recruit at a similar level don’t even have that.
Signing talent like Ohio State’s 2018 class, or their loaded 2017 class, is the prerequisite for national title contention. But it’s not the only requirement.
This should go without saying, but maybe lately, it’s worth explicitly reminding folks about. Signing elite classes is not a guarantee of success. In fact, let’s take a quick look at the teams who have signed the top ten classes in this cycle. Ohio State, Georgia, Texas, Penn State, Miami, Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson, Notre Dame and Auburn. If recent history is any indication, that’s probably not your postseason AP Poll. In fact, one of those teams could dramatically underperform. After all, Tennessee, Florida, Florida State and Texas have all recruited at a high level over the last few years, and all of them have sucked in recent memory.
Part of this process is luck. You need to stay healthy, your players to stay academically eligible, and enrolled in school. You can sign all sorts of great recruits, but if key players at key position groups get hurt or bail, there’s no guarantee of elite results. Ohio State has been relatively fortunate in this regard. It’s relatively rare that a player projected to make an immediate impact on the two deep has left campus, and while injuries have happened, they haven’t obliterated depth charts like at other programs. Maybe this continues. Maybe it doesn’t.
Part of the process is coaching. At a program like Ohio State, where assistants are constantly being poached, maintaining that success becomes even more difficult, as you need to make strong hires year after year. We’ve seen the Buckeyes struggle with this at times, and it gave us an offense too talented to sputter out in third gear against good defenses multiple times. Now, the Buckeyes have two offensive coordinators, have an important position coach opening on the defensive side of the ball, and might need to replace another eventually, even though reports today indicate that’s not likely to happen this year. Missteps can compound over time and can undo or hamper excellent recruiting.
And part of the process is culture. Can you deprogram a group of kids who have been told they’re amazing over the last several years, and teach them to compete in an environment where nearly everybody else on the depth chart was as celebrated of a recruit? Can you teach players who didn’t necessarily grow up rooting for the program, who may not have that built-in emotional investment, to create it? In a meeting room where everybody, from players to assistants, could feasibly eye a looming payday, can you keep everybody focused on the task at hand, and playing for each other, even when adversity strikes?
That’s the key question. At Florida, Urban Meyer assembled recruiting classes just as good as the ones he’s building now at Ohio State, only to have No. 2 and No. 3 erode much of what he built with that talent acquisition and development. It’s why the Jimbo Fisher era ended at Florida State. That maintenance is very hard to do.
Can Ohio State take another step forward this season? We won’t know in February. There are still hires to make, after all, and a slew of things will need to happen this offseason.
But Ohio State fans can celebrate knowing that players with enormous potential, championship potential, will be headed to Columbus.
The road to another championship starts on Signing Day. Without the right players, you can’t get there. Ohio State passed that first step today, just like they did last year.
But nothing is guaranteed. Without that luck, without the coaching, and without that culture, there are no guarantees. Anything can happen on any given day.
Just ask Iowa.
Ohio State’s Class of 2018
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