The Ohio State Buckeyes have eleven commitments in their 2013 recruiting class. Scout currently has the group ranked 9th in the country, while Rivals penciled OSU in at 10th. That’s an excellent start by any standard. But the Buckeyes haven’t received a fresh commitment in almost two months, since Buckeye commit Joey Bosa committed on April 23rd. The most recent movement in the class’ composition has actually been loss, not gain. On May 1st, DE Lewis Neal decided to put his name back on the open market, a decision which irked some in the Ohio State football community. Three days later, OLB Alex Anzalone followed suit, albeit for better, creepier reasons.
Next, the expectations.
The final two months of the 2012 recruiting season raised fan expectations to meteoric heights. Head Coach Urban Meyer’s success during the early part of his Ohio State tenure was the stuff of legend. He took a middling Buckeye class and turned it into his first major victory, landing a top five national ranking by National Signing Day. This year’s group started equally well, with the blue-chip Ohio tandem of CB Cam Burrows and ATH Jalin Marshall committing early. Since then, a steady flow of highly ranked recruits committed, nine total over the course of two months. The current hiatus followed.
By any reasonable standard, this year has seen equally promising success. The class has hardly been completed and many of the holes the Buckeyes absolutely needed to fill coming in to this year have been addressed.
Percy Harvin role: check. Burning running back: check. Quarterback of the future: check. Reinforced front seven: check.
However, there’s also a palpable sense among the Ohio State fan base that things have slowed down. In the absence of fresh news on the recruiting front, the University’s football-related headlines have featured sex offenders and trivial NCAA violations, topics that are both below Ohio State and unique to college football royalty. At the same time the Buckeyes’ athletic department has been putting out minor fires, That Team Up North has enjoyed a period of plenty. Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke has reeled in 21 commitments to date, with three coming since the beginning of the month. So perhaps expectations have waned.
Finally, the reality.
I would argue that a more realistic view of the Buckeyes’ recruiting future is healthy. The first months were both frenzied and addictive, but unsustainable. A lack of public action doesn’t mean that Meyer has private problems on the recruiting trail. It’s a process that needs to be respected and the coach has given us no reason to doubt his gifts.
All of this begs the question of why we care so much about recruiting in the first place. It’s an interesting query, and one that can probably only be written about in June, so let’s tackle it here.
One thing’s certain: there’s nothing quite like college football recruiting anywhere else in the sports world.
First, it captures the imaginations of the fans. Each commitment that a team receives is a mini-referendum on the current state of the program. Social media and message boards explode. Coaches and fans take their kids out for ice cream. Everyone’s jazzed.
National Signing Day is another beast altogether. Fans take the day off of work. Coaches spend the morning waiting by the fax machines for sign letters of intent to roll out. Live feeds of indulgent commitment ceremonies hosted by small regional newspaper break down because of the sheer volume of viewers.
But the reality of college football is that, as fun as recruiting is, player development is at least as important, if not more so. Great programs bring top 20 recruiting classes in, but elite programs develop their players into stars. Meyer recognizes the symbiotic relationship between the two in his emphasis of the crucial roles that strength and conditioning guru Mickey Marotti and recruiting point man Mark Pantoni play in his team’s success. It’s part of the reason he’s been so wildly successful as a Division I head coach. But what Marotti does in the weight room, while fascinating, wouldn’t sell monthly subscriptions to Rivals, 24/7, and Scout (some of the best money I spend every month).
Recruiting captures the imagination of the fan base because these kids are a blank canvas. High school recruits don’t get picked apart like the players entering the NFL Draft. The extent of what most well-informed fans know about them is based on eight-minute YouTube highlight reels and the usually glowing opinions of recruiting experts paid to give opinions about kids that are all among the best in the country at what they do. Every commitment has the potential to yield huge results. Every player has a chance to be the game-breaker in the fourth quarter against That Team Up North. In short, unbridled positivity comes easy.
So does comfort from rejection. It’s an oft-made joke among the Buckeye faithful this offseason that, when Ohio State lands a commitment, Brady Hoke must have “cooled on him.” As funny as that is, the underlying Michigan mindset that birthed the joke is shared among all major programs’ fan bases. When a Buckeye prospect commits elsewhere, it’s easy to look ahead. Maybe Meyer knew something we didn’t and never really wanted him anyway. Even if he wanted him, there’s 10 uncommitted four-stars at his position waiting to take his place. Who knows? Those guys might be a better fit for the program, anyway.
So maybe recruiting is so interesting because there’s rarely a reason to be anything but optimistic about its results (assuming you’re not, say, Indiana). There aren’t many things in the sports world that share that quality. However, during this recruiting lull and during times of plenty, it’s important to remember that it’s a step in the journey, and the first one at that. What really matters is the wins on the field. Those will come. Starting on September 1st.