There has been a lot of big news for Ohio State on the recruiting trail during a busy month of June, but perhaps none bigger than what we learned on Friday.
The Buckeyes have long been in pursuit of five-star defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau. The highly-touted 2021 prospect out of Sammamish, Washington is the No. 2 DL and the No. 3 overall player in the class in the 247Sports Composite, as well as the No. 1 overall player according to 247Sports’ own rankings. He is one of the only remaining blue-chip high school seniors who have yet to commit to a program, and as a player of his caliber, he is certainly of massive importance to the schools still in contention for his services.
Speaking of those schools, that list got a bit shorter on Friday, as Tuimoloau told 247Sports’ Brandon Huffman — the only media person the prospect really talks to — that his scheduled visit to Alabama has been cancelled. Tuimoloau was supposed to head to Tuscaloosa this weekend, but after making his first four official visits, he has decided to begin the deliberation process and has removed the Crimson Tide from consideration altogether. Instead, he will focus on those four programs who he just recently met with: Washington, USC, Oregon and of course Ohio State.
The Buckeyes have had the edge for a while now, and with Alabama now off the table, it is without a doubt a huge boost to Ohio State’s chances of landing the stud lineman. It seems as though his top two choices are between OSU and Oregon, so regardless there is a good chance you will see Tuimoloau in Columbus on Sept. 11 — but it is uncertain right now which team’s jersey he will be rocking. Still, all four schools in his top four are currently in the running, so let’s take a look at Tuimoloau’s potential destinations this fall.
Pros: NFL Draft success, CFP appearances, National titles, Larry Johnson
Cons: Far from home
There is a reason that Ohio State has been in the lead for Tuimoloau for so long, and that is largely due to defensive line guru Larry Johnson. Not only does Coach LJ recruit with the best of him, but he has been able to develop talent at the position like nobody else in the country, resulting in numerous first round NFL Draft picks and massive success both at the collegiate and professional level. If any program in the country could hand pick a defensive line coach to add to their team, nearly everyone would choose Larry Johnson.
If Ohio State’s recent NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year winners in Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa and Chase Young aren’t a good enough selling point for you, then maybe winning is what you are looking for. Ohio State has appeared in the College Football Playoff four times now — more than any school not named Alabama or Clemson. The Buckeyes are the biggest brand in the Midwest, and one of the top three college football programs in the country on a yearly basis. Especially with NIL opportunities coming down the pipe, the marketability of a place like Ohio State can’t be ignored.
Pros: Nike, Best in Pac-12, Close to home
Cons: National titles, Weak P5 conference
Oregon has really come on late in Tuimoloau’s recruitment to replace Alabama as the biggest threat to Ohio State. After taking his visit to Columbus from June 17-20, he hopped right back on a plane towards Eugene for a visit with the Ducks from June 20-23. Oregon now has the advantage that the Tide were previously going to have of being the last school Tuimoloau visits and being fresh in his mind. However, only time will tell if his latest trip will be enough to unseat all of the work Ohio State has done up to this point.
While not considered one of the elite programs in college football, Oregon can at least say they have made a CFP appearance — where they were thoroughly beat down by Ohio State in the National Championship. They are without a doubt one of if not the top program in the Pac-12, and they are also much closer to home for Tuimoloau than the Buckeyes are. They have produced a pair of first-round defensive linemen in DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, but they haven’t done much outside that pair and they haven’t put out a first-rounder at the position since Buckner in 2016.
Tuimoloau doesn’t seem to be an overly flashy guy, but Oregon does also have all its cool Nike apparel going for it with the brand’s headquarters located in shouting distance.
Pros: Hometown program, previous CFP appearance
Cons: New head coach, NFL Draft success, Weak P5 conference, National titles
A few years ago Washington may have been a much bigger threat in this recruitment, but it’s tough to see a player of Tuimoloau’s caliber ending up with the Huskies in their current state. Chris Peterson was able to put together a pretty decent program on the West Coast, but he has since moved into an advisory role and Jimmy Lake just finished his first season as the headman with a 3-1 record in a weird shortened Pac-12 season. Washington seems to have fallen down the pecking order in the conference a bit over these last few seasons, and this will be Lake’s first true season at the helm.
The Huskies got the first crack at Tuimoloau as the local school, and you can’t just toss aside the convenience of playing close to home and getting your family and friends to watch you play every game. Like Oregon, they can also boast a prior CFP appearance after making the postseason field in 2016 before losing 24-7 to Alabama. Unlike Oregon, however, is their NFL Draft success — or lack thereof. Washington produced a first-round DT in 2018 in Vita Vea, but he is the only first round defensive lineman from the school in the last six years and one of only two in the past decade.
Pros: Historic brand, close-ish to home
Cons: Pretty much everything else
To be honest, USC should thank their lucky stars they are even considered in this recruitment, because it is tough to compare the things they have to offer Tuimoloau with the other programs on his list. The Trojans are one of the most iconic college football programs in the history of the sport, but in a world where everything is ‘what have you done for me lately’, USC isn’t exactly a national power like it was in the days of Reggie Bush and Troy Polamalu. On top of that, they’ve produced just one first-rounder at defensive line in the last decade-plus, and that was Leonard Williams in 2015.
To their credit, Clay Helton seems like he’s slowly starting to put things together. They finished 5-1 a season ago and fell just short in the Pac-12 Championship game to Oregon. They have the No. 7 recruiting class in the country in 2021 without Tuimoloau in the fold, which is a huge step up from their 2020 class that finished at No. 64. USC is certainly heading in the right direction, but I don't think they are close to competing for a CFP spot just yet after not having made it through the first seven years of the playoff. They have to be taken seriously since they have been included in Tuimoloau’s top four for a reason, but I would be stunned if he winds up with the Trojans.