Typically, Ohio State plays at least one really strong non-conference opponent at the beginning of every football season. In years past the Buckeyes have taken on notable programs such as Texas, USC, Oklahoma, and many more to beef up the strength of schedule, and later this week will take on Oregon for the exact same reasons.
Coming down the pipeline, the Buckeyes have plenty of high-quality opponents on future schedules with home-and-home agreements with Notre Dame, Washington, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and the return trip to Oregon that was canceled in 2020. In the playoff era, teams need to enhance their strength of schedule and Ohio State clearly isn’t running away from that reality.
While each of those mentioned non-conference opponents is of course a key game for the Buckeyes in any given season, there’s one program that sticks out a little more than the others, and it might not be the one you’re thinking.
The home-and-home series set with Notre Dame in 2022 and 2023 are the next big games in the line of marquee non-conference opponents, but they are far more important than just that. No, their importance will also have a huge impact on the world of recruiting.
The Head-To-Head History
The Buckeyes have faced Notre Dame a total of six times on the gridiron and hold a 4-2 edge with a current win streak of four. The skinny of it, Ohio State has its last two victories coming in post-season bowl games in both 2006 and 2016. Before that, the Buckeyes once again swept a home-and-home series in 1995-96. Notre Dame’s success on the other hand came in back-to-back years in 1935-36 which, of course, I’m going to assume that not many people reading this article can recall. In all, the Buckeyes have basically owned this head-to-head match-up between two of the most iconic programs in college football.
Now sure, past records aren’t everything, but they’re also certainly worth mentioning, especially when your program has the upper hand. For how important 2022 and 2023’s games are though, they really can help lead to who has the momentum moving forward on the recruiting trail.
As we’ve seen lately, Ohio State and Notre Dame are battling head-to-head for many of the same players. In fact, in just the 2022 and 2023 recruiting cycles, multiple targets for the Buckeyes have narrowed down their recruiting lists to just the Buckeyes and Irish. For that aspect alone, these two upcoming games could have huge ramifications
On The Trail
Notre Dame being the program that they are means that they’ve always been a recruiting foe for Ohio State. Whether it be their short distance from Ohio or their national brand, the Irish have always been formidable on the recruiting trail.
In years past, especially with Ohio Catholic high schools, the Irish have been able to bring their targets to South Bend thanks to the pipelines that they have especially into Cleveland and Cincinnati diocesan schools. As of late though, the Buckeyes have had their way in recruiting against anyone in the region, so they really haven’t had to worry that much about Notre Dame.
Thanks to Urban Meyer and now Ryan Day’s incredible success in recruiting — with few exceptions — the Buckeyes have basically been able to hand pick the guys that they want in each class, and it’s had a direct effect to the on-field product.
Ironically, a key to why the Notre Dame recruiting efforts are getting a little more personal with the Buckeyes is because of first year defensive coordinator, Marcus Freeman. Most probably know, but Freeman is of course from Ohio and had a great career as a linebacker at Ohio State from 2004-08.
After a handful of stops around Ohio and the Big Ten, Freeman became the defensive coordinator for Luke Fickell at Cincinnati in 2017, and after multiple seasons of proven success, he took the Notre Dame job after the 2020 season.
Since Freeman’s arrival, it’s seemed like enemy No. 1 for Ohio State in recruiting has been the Fighting Irish. In the 2023 class, Notre Dame was able to secure an early commitment from Ohio’s second best player, Brenan Vernon out of Mentor. An obvious hit to the Buckeyes who have hung their hat on bringing in elite in-state defensive linemen under position coach Larry Johnson, Vernon being a top 30 national recruit is a huge win head-to-head over Ohio State, and something they hope becomes a trend under Freeman.
As for other battles, Ohio State cannot afford to lose another in-state 2023 player to Notre Dame — especially their top in-state player. Sonny Styles is Ohio’s best for 2023, but also regarded as the eighth best player nationally and the top safety in the country for his class. Easily the top priority in the entire class for the Buckeyes, Styles becomes that much more important knowing that his older brother, Lorenzo Styles Jr., is currently on Notre Dame’s roster, even though their father — Lorenzo Sr. — of course is a former Buckeye himself.
Ohio State will obviously do everything possible to fend off the Irish when it comes to Styles, as he is undoubtedly one of, if not the top priority in this class. Keeping the top player at home is always a goal, but when he has Notre Dame ties, it just becomes an absolute must. Fortunately, signs have been trending in a good way for the Buckeyes, and the staff will look to keep it that way as we approach the early signing period.
In addition to just those two names, there’s more top targets being pursued by the two programs. In the 2022 class, the Buckeyes have made Iowa native Xavier Nwankpa a huge priority for their defensive secondary and rightfully so. The third best safety in the country, Xavier is also the 45th best player nationally per the 247sport composite grades. Though he named a top-seven schools in May, most have this down to — of course — Ohio State and Notre Dame. Again, the Buckeyes are in a solid spot, but can’t rest easy until he’s fully committed in the class.
Looking ahead to the 2023 class, arguably Ohio State’s top receiver target in the cycle is IMG Academy product, Carnell Tate. Originally from Illinois, Tate is ranked as the ninth best at his position and a player that Brian Hartline has singled out from the beginning. Once again, his recruitment is down to both the Buckeyes and the Irish, with a decision coming in October. We’ll soon see who wins this head-to-head battle, but Tate is just one of several who have these two programs atop of their list as they near a final decision.
As mentioned, the on-field results may not be everything, but if Ohio State can continue their winning ways over the Irish in the next two seasons, it just might further help cement why the Buckeyes are still the top program in the Midwest, with Notre Dame playing second fiddle.
Recruiting wise, those wins on the field would speak volumes to the top players deciding between the programs. Fortunately, Ohio State continues to have rising momentum on the recruiting trail and look to be in great spots for many of the prospects they are battling the Irish for. The Buckeyes are the more talented team overall too, so come 2022 and 2023, they’ll look to prove once again that they’re the top dog in this fight.
It all matters. What these two games mean looking ahead for recruiting is exactly why I believe that they are the most important games on a very tough future non-conference slate.