Recruiting Battles On Tap For Fickell

It is no secret that Ohio State has been the toast of the town when it comes to Big Ten recruiting in the past several seasons. Now, with interim head coach Luke Fickell leading the program and the threat of possible NCAA sanctions looming, will other schools be able to close the gap?

Luke Fickell might just be the interim head coach at Ohio State, but the impact he will make on the program during the coming months could last for years.

The former co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach has been promised the head job until the 2011 season draws to a close, after which a full search is expected to get underway. In the meantime, one of Fickell's most important assignments must be hitting the recruiting trail and helping the Buckeyes land a solid recruiting class.

To do so, Fickell said he will stress the history and tradition that come with the program.

"We want them to understand that we've got a plan for the future," he said. "That's what we've tried to express to them, to know that it's about something so much greater than just one situation, one player or one coach. We have recruited like that for the last 10 years. We truly believe that Ohio State will continue to attract the best student-athletes around the country."

The Buckeyes have been the toast of recruiting within the Big Ten since Tressel arrived in 2001. Starting with the class of 2002, the first year in the rankings, OSU's average national class ranking is 10.3.

Michigan was not far behind at 10.9 and Penn State was third at 22.7. However, the disparity was even more slanted toward the Buckeyes in recent years. OSU boasted the top-rated class in the conference in three of the last four seasons, capturing the top class in the nation in 2009. During the past three seasons, OSU's average national finish of eighth is higher than the highest finishes posted by the Nittany Lions (10th) and Wolverines (12th) during the same time frame.

Now, suddenly, that run of success is under attack. New Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has made recruiting Ohio a priority, and that has paid off to the tune of seven verbal commitments from the Buckeye State already for the class of 2012. Just one was known to hold an offer from the Buckeyes, however: Tom Strobel, a four-star defensive end from Mentor.

Fickell admitted that recruiting might be more difficult than past years because the deck is stacked against the program from a national perspective. In addition to his own uncertainty regarding his future, the program could be facing NCAA sanctions.

"That doesn't make it any different from any other year with people saying different things," he said. "We're going to be aggressive at what we do."

Throughout the past several years, the OSU coaching staff has preached the importance of getting recruits to visit the campus. Once they are in Columbus, the thought goes, the overall experience and atmosphere will help convince recruits to become Buckeyes.

OSU's interim coach said that approach will remain the same under his watch.

"We've always sold Ohio State and that's what we're trying to tell these kids day in and day out," he said. "It's about something so much bigger than what they read or what they see. We just need to get them here to make sure that they understand that. We still have all the faith and confidence in our coaching staff and the players that are here.

"Yes, there are speculations and what I keep reminding them is they need to get here so that they can meet us and understand and have faith and believe in who we are, what we're about and where we're headed. That's the most important thing for us."

The problem might be getting them to Columbus. The Buckeyes currently boast nine verbal commitments, all of whom hail from within state lines. OSU's last five verbal commitments are all three-star prospects as ranked by Scout rankings and none of them are known to have held offers from the Wolverines.

In addition, five-star running back Brionte Dunn is committed to the Buckeyes but has listened to overtures from the Wolverines and could switch his commitment should OSU be hit with major sanctions.

Fickell has managed to hang onto all the commitments he inherited including five-star offensive tackle Kyle Kalis, who has told multiple media outlets that he will remain solid to the Buckeyes as long as Fickell remains the coach.

The big battles will be fought in the coming months. Five of the top 10 prospects from Ohio hold offers from both OSU and U-M and remain uncommitted. Fickell's hope is that the same pattern will hold true for the Buckeyes as in previous seasons.

"What we've stressed to those kids is we're looking for a few good men, the ones who can stand up and understand what Ohio State is all about," he said. "That's what we stressed to them. It's about something bigger than the situation or it's bigger than the coach. That's what we're going to hammer home with them continually."

Will it work? Only time will tell.

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