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Should Ohio State fans be concerned that Michigan is landing in-state prospects?

Ryan Day’s track record with top in-state talent is actually better than I thought it was.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK
Matt Tamanini Matt Tamanini is the co-managing editor of Land-Grant Holy Land having joined the site in 2016.

On Tuesday, four-star running back Jordan Marshall from Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati committed to play football at the University of Michigan. On Wednesday, three-star offensive lineman Ben Roebuck from St. Edward’s in Lakewood, Ohio pledged to play his college football for the Wolverines. Back-to-back days with a native Ohioan choosing to leave the state to continue his football career and back-to-back days of a player breaking through the proverbial fence that Ohio State prides itself on putting up around the state borders.

Marshall is the No. 91 player in the country and was high up on the Buckeyes’ wish list for the 2024 class, though Roebuck had garnered interest from OSU, he had yet to receive an offer from his home state’s flagship institution. Nonetheless, this burgeoning trend of players picking the Buckeyes’ rivals has been concerning for some who fear that Ohio State coach Ryan Day and his staff still don’t fully appreciate the importance of keeping homegrown talent in state.

Joining Marshall and Roebuck in Jim Harbaugh’s (also an Ohio native) 2024 class is the No. 338 player in the country Luke Hamilton from Avon, Ohio, and Ted Hammond, the No. 390 player in the country from Cincinnati’s St. Xavier. Now, of course, other than Marshall, the players that have thus far defected from Ohio to that state up north during this cycle have not been the highest-profile recruits from the state (neither Hamilton nor Hammond held offers from the Buckeyes). Despite that, the trend is concerning to some, not just that these players picked Michigan, but the belief that the state’s best players are increasingly not the focus of OSU’s recruiting efforts; something that would have been sacrilegious in the Jim Tressel, Earl Bruce, and (obviously) Woody Hayes eras of program history.

The idea of putting a fence around the state was been integral to Ohio State’s recruiting and on-field success for generations. Of course, times have changed since the days of Hayes, Bruce, and Tressel; heck, times have changed since Urban Meyer’s tenure.

For reasons far outside the control of the Buckeyes’ football program, the amount of top-tier talent in the state of Ohio — and all northern states — has been on a steady decline for a few decades. As the United States population has migrated south, as proof of the theory of large numbers, so has the high school football talent. Coupled with the fact that the Ohio High School Athletic Association has still not authorized spring football or 7-on-7 leagues, you can see that there is a bubbling issue in focusing too heavily on in-state talent.

But, thanks to Meyer’s success and reputation, the Buckeye football team has gone from being nationally known to being a national brand, allowing its coaches to have a legitimate shot to land any prospect from any state in the country. In recent years, OSU has had success nabbing top talent from Florida, Georgia, Texas, California, Washington, and more. So, with that ability to land prospects from across the country, a somewhat declining in-state talent base can be supplemented.

Given the general narrative around the program, I just kind of assumed that there has been a demonstrable move away from Ohio high school players by the Buckeyes in recent years, especially under Day’s leadership. That would explain why a top player in the state like Marshall chose to go elsewhere.

So, I decided to dive into the numbers from 247Sports’ Composite Rankings to see what Ohio recruiting has been like during the Ryan Day Era in Columbus. Currently, 247 does not have a comprehensive list of the top players from Ohio in 2019, but Day only took over as head coach after the early signing period, so I’m not sure that including that data would really be fair.

Therefore, in looking at Day’s four completed recruiting classes gives us a decent idea as to his philosophy in terms of recruiting Ohio’s top talent, and, I have to be honest, he's done better with top in-state talent than I thought he had. Of course, everything in recruiting is cyclical and there won’t be the same amount of OSU-ready talent in Ohio in every year, but four years feels like a decent enough sample size to draw some conclusions from.

I looked specifically at the top-10 players in the state for each of Day’s four recruiting cycles. Of those 40 prospects, 20 have signed with the Buckeyes (for a very obvious 50% average). However, not all of those top-10 players received OSU offers. Thirty-one of the 40 players highlighted did earn offers — whether they were committable ones or not — meaning that those 20 that signed represent a 64.5% success rate for the Buckeyes.

Day’s stats get even better when you focus just on the Ohio players ranked in the top 200 of 247Sports national composite rankings. Of those four and five-star prospects, 15 of 22 (68%) have signed with the Buckeyes since 2019; however, if you throw in 2019’s No. 12 national player Zach Harrison — who committed two weeks after Urban Meyer announced his retirement — that brings the total up to a very nice 69.56% (technically that would round up to 70%, but that would ruin the bit).

Of the top-200 players that Ohio State missed out on are guys that honestly seem like the team didn’t really have a spot for. Quarterbacks Drew Allar and Evan Prater went to Penn State and Cincinnati respectively because the Buckeyes landed higher-priority prospects in their cycles (it’s complicated with Allar because of Quinn Ewers’ reclassification, but the point remains).

Similar situation with wide receivers Lorenzo Styles Jr. (Notre Dame) and Kaden Saunders (PSU) and running back Corey Kiner (LSU). They were good in-state players, but the Buckeyes landed the No. 1 WR and No. 1 RB in 2021 (Styles and Kiner’s class) and still had a glut of receiving talent in Saunder’s cycle.

The only top-200 Ohio prospects that you could argue OSU really missed out on during the Day era were 2022 offensive tackle Aamil Wagner (No. 112) and 2023 defensive lineman Brenan Vernon (No. 200), both of whom signed with the Fighting Irish. So, all-in-all, that’s a pretty good track record, and honestly, much better than I had given the head coach credit for.

Does that erase the disappointment of losing a guy like Marshall to your rival? Of course not. That one stings. But, it could be for not if the No. 69 player in the country, San Antonio, Texas running back James Peoples ends up committing to the Buckeyes instead. He is slated to be on campus this weekend and the On3 Recruiting Prediction Machine gives the Buckeyes a 94.1% chance to land him. I like those odds.

Now, none of this is to say that the job Day and his staff has done has been close to perfect, far from it. But, I do think that it is good perspective to have when folks assume the sky is falling because two Ohio players (only one of whom had an OSU offer) decide to play for Michigan. If more and more in-state talent that the Buckeyes legitimately want ends up opting to play for the Wolverines, Fighting Irish, or anyone else, then I am all for hitting the panic button, but for now, it seems like this is a bit of a tempest in a pot of tea.

Take a look at the top-10 Ohio prospects in each of Ryan Day’s four full recruiting cycles:

2023 State of Ohio Player Rankings

Rank Player National Rating Position Ohio State Offer School
Rank Player National Rating Position Ohio State Offer School
1 Jermaine Mathews No. 51 CB Yes Ohio State
2 Luke Montgomery No. 92 IOL Yes Ohio State
3 Malik Hartford No. 150 S Yes Ohio State
4 Brenan Vernon No. 200 DL Yes Notre Dame
5 Arvell Reese No. 209 LB Yes Ohio State
6 Joshua Padilla No. 226 IOL Yes Ohio State
7 Will Smith No. 244 DL Yes Ohio State
8 Austin Siereveld No. 298 IOL Yes Ohio State
9 Braedyn Moore No. 319 ATH No Wisconsin
10 Nigel Glover No. 333 LB No Northwestern

2022 State of Ohio Player Rankings

Rank Player National Rating Position Ohio State Offer School
Rank Player National Rating Position Ohio State Offer School
1 C.J. Hicks No. 7 LB Yes Ohio State
2 Sonny Styles No. 12 S Yes Ohio State
3 Drew Allar No. 32 QB Yes Penn State
4 Kaden Saunders No. 56 WR No Penn State
5 Gabe Powers No. 101 LB Yes Ohio State
6 Tegra Tshabola No. 104 OT Yes Ohio State
7 Aamil Wagner No. 112 OT Yes Notre Dame
8 Jyaire Brown No. 192 CB Yes Ohio State
9 Blake Miller No. 208 OT Yes Clemson
10 Alex Afari No. 272 Ath No Kentucky

2021 State of Ohio Player Rankings

Rank Player National Rating Position Ohio State Offer School
Rank Player National Rating Position Ohio State Offer School
1 Jack Sawyer No. 5 DL Yes Ohio State
2 Michael Hall Jr. No. 53 DL Yes Ohio State
3 Reid Carrico No. 87 LB Yes Ohio State
4 Jayden Balard No. 99 WR Yes Ohio State
5 Lorenzo Styles No. 115 WR Yes Notre Dame
6 Ben Christman No. 124 IOL Yes Ohio State
7 Corey Kiner No. 162 RB Yes LSU
8 Devonta Smith No. 250 CB Yes Alabama
9 Jaylen Anderson No. 327 RB No West Virginia
10 Markus Allen No. 376 WR No Wisconsin

2020 State of Ohio Player Rankings

Rank Player National Rating Position Ohio State Offer School
Rank Player National Rating Position Ohio State Offer School
1 Paris Johnson Jr. No. 9 OT Yes Ohio State
2 Darrion Henry-Young No. 154 DT Yes Ohio State
3 Evan Prater No. 174 Dual QB No Cincinnati
4 Michael Drennen No. 248 RB Yes Kentucky
5 Daemonte Trayanum No. 285 RB Yes Arizona State (transfered to OSU)
6 Jaheim Thomas No. 341 OLB Yes Cincinnati
7 Luke Lachey No. 382 TE No Iowa
8 JuTahn McClain No. 394 RB Yes Kentucky
9 Joe Royer No. 413 TE Yes Ohio State
10 Torrence Davis No. 492 RB No Kentucky