Rating Details: Ohio State was undefeated until the Michigan game then lost to the Wolverines as well as Peyton Manning’s Tennessee team in the Florida Cirtus Bowl, but Ohio State was victorious on the recruiting trail when it signed the nation’s No. 1 class according to six out of the seven experts featured in BSB. “There are a lot of happy faces over here today,” head coach John Cooper beamed.
The Big Gets: The Buckeyes inked three consensus prep All-Americans, including Westerville (Ohio) South linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer (USA Today’s national defensive player of the year), Cincinnati Colerain lineman Jefferson Kelley and Spring Valley (Calif.) Monte Vista tailback Michael Wiley. A fourth, Columbus DeSales star Gary Berry, had not made his decision as of signing day but eventually chose to join the fold at OSU.
The Story: The Buckeyes signed eight of the state’s top 10 prospects, including Katzenmoyer, Kelley and Dublin Scioto running back Nick Goings. The coaching staff was just as aggressive outside Ohio’s borders, going into the fertile recruiting area around Houston and landing David Boston while nabbing Wiley from California. No stone was left unturned as Ohio State also got a pair of prospects from Canada – defensive end Brent Johnson and linebacker Clinton Wayne – and signed offensive lineman Joe Brown and quarterback Mark Garcia out of junior colleges in Arizona and California, respectively. Lastly, the Buckeyes stayed in the hunt with highly rated California linebacker Na’il Diggs as well, and Diggs would sign with the Buckeyes after signing day.
How They Did: The class turned out some of the top players in Buckeye history in Katzenmoyer and Boston. The Big Kat lived up to the hype, earning All-America honors in 1997 and three first-team All-Big Ten choices while making 256 career tackles (sixth all-time at OSU) and 50 TFL (most for linebackers) in three years before being a first-round draft choice. Boston, meanwhile, set Buckeyes records that still stand for career receptions (191), career touchdown receptions (34), receptions in a season (85 in 1998), receiving yards in a season (1,435 in '98) and a slew of other marks. On top of that, Diggs became an All-American and had a long NFL career, while Berry, tight end Kevin Houser (Westlake, Ohio), offensive lineman Tyson Walker (Chagrin Falls Kenston) and Wiley were all NFL draft picks and Brown, Columbus OL Kurt Murphy, Ohio kicker Dan Stultz and Wayne all became solid contributors.
Four-Year Record: The Buckeyes went 38-11 with this group including 32-5 the first three years before the whole program took a step back in 1999. With Katzenmoyer added to a dominant, agressive defense in 1996, the Buckeyes were unbeaten going into the Michigan game before the stunning 13-9 loss. Still, that Buckeye squad won the Rose Bowl against Arizona State to close the campaign. OSU went 10-3 the next year and were fully loaded in 1998. Wiley led the team in rushing and Boston in receiving as the Buckeyes were nearly unstoppable on that side of the ball, while Diggs, Katzenmoyter, Berry and Johnson were all huge parts of a defense allowed only 12.0 points per game. But the upset loss to Michigan State kept OSU from a chance at the first BCS title game, though the Buckeyes still did beat Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl. But with Boston and Katzenmoyer gone the next year, not to mention QB Joe Germaine, the team stumbled to a 6-6 record.