He had rings and trophies to show from his time at Utah and Florida, where he won early and often, but Ohio State – for all its tradition and past successes – still presented some challenges that didn’t make quick winning a guarantee.
Any doubts or hesitations evaporated pretty quickly, though.
It took just one try for Meyer to run the table, going 12-0 in 2012. A couple of months after the end of that season, he signed Scout.com’s No. 1 class in the country. That group included guys like five-star safety Vonn Bell, a Chattanooga, Tenn., native. Meyer pulled him from the deep South over the likes of Alabama by promising Bell that he’d want to be on Meyer’s side when Alabama and Ohio State met.
“Me and Coach Meyer, we had a deal,” Bell said. “He said, ‘I’ll either see you on that sideline or with me.’”
Meyer’s statement oozed confidence and won over Bell, but at that point he was still selling a dream. It became a reality less than two years later, when Bell picked off Alabama quarterback Blake Sims and the Buckeyes took home a 42-35 victory. Two weeks after that, Meyer was holding up the CFP trophy after easing past Oregon, 42-20.
Now, for Meyer, the fun starts. At a press conference the day after the Oregon win, a smile crept across his face when he spoke about the impending end of the recruiting dead period and what the future held for him on the recruiting trail.
“The door's open. You move to the front of the line,” Meyer said. “(If) you can't recruit to this now, you're officially a bad recruiter, and not just because of the championship.
“There's just so much going on in our program right now on the positive side, and it's not theory, it's testimony, and the greatest testimony is right over here. Those are our biggest salesmen – not just football, but the whole life after football approach we take, all the leadership training, all the cutting-edge stuff that this program has taken on.”
Only a miracle will allow the Buckeyes to ink a top-five class in 2015 – a group that went nearly six months without a commitment that stuck following back-to-back losses – but OSU will be the odds-on favorite to sign the No. 1 class in 2016 and should be a powerhouse going forward.
“They’re going to use this capital on the 2016 class, Scout.com recruiting analyst Bill Greene said. “They’re going to have the No. 1 class in the country in 2016. I feel pretty strongly about that. They’ll have a class that ranks somewhere around No. 5, No. 6, No. 7 this year, but next year is where you’ll see the benefit of winning the title and having the buzz and the hype and all of that.”
It’s already starting to show. The 2016 class has six commitments, all of which rank in the top 250 in the country. The list includes Wayne (N.J.) DePaul Catholic five-star running back Kareem Walker (No. 14), Hubbard, Ohio, four-star running back George Hill (No. 41), Cincinnati Moeller four-star tight end Jake Hausmann (No. 80), Gahanna (Ohio) Lincoln four-star linebacker Jonathan Cooper (No. 100), Bradenton (Fla.) IMG four-star offensive guard Tyler Gerald (No. 183) and Maple Heights, Ohio, four-star tight end Kierre Hawkins (No. 250).
The six-member class already has more top-100 prospects (four) committed than the 24-member 2015 group (three). The 2015 class didn’t even receive its sixth commitment until June of 2014.
The 2017 class recently added an in-state five-star commitment in the form of Miamisburg offensive guard Josh Myers. The 6-5, 285-pound high school sophomore is one of three players in his class to already attain five-star status. OSU’s 2017 group also has a pair of four-stars with Massillon (Ohio) Washington QB Danny Clark and Cocoa, Fla., running back Bruce Judson. The fourth commitment, Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian cornerback Shaun Wade has not yet been rated by Scout.com.
Of the 10 players committed in those two classes, half have come since Jan. 12 – the day the Buckeyes beat Oregon. That success is just a taste of what’s to come now that Meyer has an Ohio State title ring to show alongside the ones he won at Florida.
“I think it makes a tremendous difference,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Allen Trieu said. “His résumé coming in spoke for itself. But now that he’s done it at Florida and Ohio State, done it in the SEC and the Big Ten, I think that’s a tremendous validation of who he is as a coach and what he’s able to do. Obviously I think they were recruiting well before, but being able to show the rings is a burst for both him and Ohio State that is beyond huge.”
Meyer said the upcoming classes will still be assembled in the same way as previous ones. That means a focus on Ohio starting out before branching into feeder states like Florida, Georgia, Texas and New Jersey. After that, though, the Buckeyes tend to wade into unfamiliar areas if a prospect there catches their eye. That was the case when OSU went into South Dakota and Utah for the class of 2015, and it will still be the same going forward. However, the ability and success rate may grow now.
“Ohio State is a national brand,” Meyer said. “I think it's always been done there. Of course it's been a national brand and a national recruiting base, but we're always going to attack our local areas first. I think you see that when you see a breakdown of the class, you'd like to have 50 percent or more from the state of Ohio or within the footprint, and then you're going to go cherry pick.”
As for expectations of where the 2016 class can finish, Trieu seemed to agree with Greene that it will find its way to the top of the rankings.
“I don’t think Ohio State has had a class finish lower than eighth in the last five or six years, and he’s had No. 1 classes at Florida and Ohio State,” Trieu said. “So when you have Urban Meyer and Ohio State together, I think a No. 1 class is always possible and on the list of goals. I think it would be a disappointment if the 2016 class wasn’t in the top 5 nationally and didn’t challenge for No. 1 throughout the year.”
That’s the scary part for opponents. Armed with a national title, Meyer’s best recruiting work in Columbus is still ahead of him.