Babb Bits - Recruiting Thoughts Pt. 2

What should we make of OSU offering lower-rated players? How's the rest of the Big Ten shaping up recruiting wise? Charles Babb gives some thoughts and opinions on that and more.

OFFERING LOWER-RATED PLAYERS?

Perusing the message boards and talking with recruitniks, there have been more than a few expressing concern about possible ‘poor offers' for young men who are not ranked highly enough.

First, I would like to offer exhibit A. These are players that were either not highly recruited or not ranked as high as the blue-chippers but turned out to be serious contributors to the 25-2 record of Ohio State the past two seasons or are expected to do great things for Ohio State in the near future.

Donnie Nickey

Chris Gamble

Nick Mangold

Rob Sims

Ben Hartsock

Ryan Hamby

Drew Carter

Santonio Holmes

Craig Krenzel

Brandon Mitchell

Nate Salley

Will Allen

AJ Hawk

Mike Nugent

Andy Groom

Kyle Andrews

I don't know about you, but I think that is quite a list.

This is one of the reasons why I am inclined to believe the Buckeye staff over the number of stars the recruiting networks list beside a player's name.

Second, for exhibit B, let's take a deeper look at some players who might not have a star rating as highly as others in this class.

Dionte Johnson – Pepper's son has been recruited as a fullback. Talk about a need position for Ohio State. Whew! Since the departure of Jamar Martin, this spot on the field has been a weakness instead of a strength. Further, unless Stan White, Jr. has officially switched from Tight End/H-Back to Fullback, the Buckeye roster has only two scholarship players here. One of them, Brandon Joe, will burn his final year of eligibility in 2004, and the other, Brandon Schnittker, will complete his career in 2005. Unless fans want to see an 18-year old true freshman at fullback trying to block 23-year old redshirt senior 240 lb middle linebacker, this scholarship is most definitely a need.

Brandon Smith – At 6'2", 235, Smith could end up as a linebacker or maybe even at that size, another fullback. If moved to fullback, Smith would provide serious competition for Johnson that would likely make both of them better players. If you question the need for depth here, just remember that Ohio State played without either of its fullbacks at times this year. Watch those game tapes. Then watch the tape of the Fiesta Bowl. Depth most definitely matters at this position for Ohio State.

A.J. Trapasso – Ohio State needs a punter. While it is tempting to try and rely on a walk-on to earn a scholarship at this position, I would not advise it in 2004. Josh Huston has work to do before he can be trusted with this critical role. Another player who has spent some time punting in practices, A.J. Hawk, is needed as a tackler on special teams. Neither of the two have any serious hang time on their kicks, and they have shown little overall control of where the ball will ultimately end up. This means that if the Buckeyes want to dictate field position with their special teams (as their two All American punters have done the past two seasons), then bringing in a punter is an absolute must in this recruiting class. By offering Trapasso a full ride and bringing him in early, the staff will have eight months to work with him on his strength, technique, etc. This will pay massive dividends come September because coaches can scheme all summer – knowing exactly what they have to work with instead of merely wondering.

Shaun Lane – A cornerback, Lane's size has been questioned at only 5'10", 170. However, it needs to be pointed out that Lane is also a special teams type player who could pay huge dividends in the return game. Over the past two years, the Buckeyes have managed next to nothing in kickoff and punt returns. Even counting Michael Jenkins' touchdown against Iowa, the results have been beyond putrid. If Lane can contribute just as a special teams returner and help boost production in this category (and compete with Holmes and Ginn, Jr.), then he will have more than earned a scholarship.

OSU AND MICHIGAN LAPPING THE FIELD AGAIN…

Once again, OSU and UM appear to be setting themselves for another dominant run much like the 1970's. Their recruiting classes are far and away the best in the conference over the past 3 years.

Athletes like Gamble, Breaston, Holmes, Avant, Clarett, Hawk, Burgess, Crable, Carpenter, Zwick, Jackson, etc. abound on both squads.

In fact, if a decent coach were offered a collection of the second string players from both of these schools, I am confident they could easily place third in the conference. The gap has become that wide with regard to talent.

Don't look now, but it is just getting wider.

Purdue had its best team in a decade (probably better than its Rose Bowl edition) and managed only third place. It is having a typical year for Tiller, but the high water mark for this program has probably been reached. Purdue is not Ohio State and never will be.

Iowa and Ferentz are trying to carry the banner for the recently substandard Penn State Nittany Lions, but even so find themselves on the outside looking in on the party. They have fielded a decent class, a top 20 group thus far, but there are questions. The biggest question is of course – how much longer will Ferentz stay? When the big NFL fish come calling with a good head coaching job and lots of money, will he stay or go back? Or what about the possibility of a top name college program?

Wisconsin uses its home field advantage (and drunken, out of control fans) to the maximum, but it has nowhere near the talent of either traditional power school. Nor do they look to be amassing anything close to them in the immediate future.

Illinios, Indiana, and Northwestern should just drop football. The Hoosiers in particular deserve some sort of award for firing their best coach in the past 50 years, Bill Mallory.

Michigan State continues to pick up scraps from what Ohio State and Michigan would rather not pursue, and thus they can continue to expect the same results in the future. They will have nice 7-5 or 8-4 years. They might get to 9-3 in some seasons if they can cherry-pick some studs from out of the region who think that the Spartans are better than they really are.

Penn State finds itself in a death spiral. Though their recruiting class might end up with decent ratings (possibly even top 15), the carnage of their in-state recruiting is something out of the imagination of Tim Burton. The Lions struck out on the vast majority of top players in their state, including all of its top quarterbacks. Couple those losses with the ones suffered in recent years (Breaston and Jones to name two), and it is not going to get any better until JoPa finally retires. Of course, if he keeps this up he will be coaching until he makes Methusela look like a spring chick.

GOING NATIONAL

Two years ago, the Ohio State coaching staff started going national in trying to recruit top players. Granted, the class of 2002 had little need to venture outside of the state borders, but still Jim Tressel was building bridges.

In 2003, the Buckeye coaching staff continued to work at creating ties with high school coaches around the country in the hopes of landing top players like Michigan has traditionally. However, the lack of name recognition for non Ohio natives and the depth of the national championship team (18 projected starters returning) caused most of the truly big fish to slip off the hook.

Fast forward to 2004.

The attempts by Ohio State to reach into Pennsylvania, get more talent out of Florida, and go national are starting to pay dividends. Of the short list of players the Buckeyes are still in hot pursuit of by state it breaks down:

Florida (9)

Pennsylvania (5)

New Jersey (2)

Ohio (2)

Virginia (2)

Georgia (1)

Louisiana (1)

Maryland (1)

South Carolina (1)

Wisconsin (1)

Couple that list with the players the Buckeyes have made it into the final three with and you can add Colorado, California, Texas.

The Ohio State recruiting machine is going national. It might take a few years before Tressel can consistently haul in top players from outside Ohio, but expect it to happen. It might even happen this year…


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