Rating a Recruiting Class
Right now the Ohio State fans that follow recruiting are in the doldrums. How bad is it? If Jim Jones was passing out cool-aid, I believe some might grab a glass and swill some down, smack the glass on the table and ask for a second round...
Why in the world should Ohio State fans be so upset over what looks to be a very fine class on paper? Yes, I know the Buckeyes were shut out on signing day from Crable, Bush, McBride, Stearns, and Lee. Yes, I am well aware that the negative recruiting tactics appear to have succeeded with McClover who signed with Auburn after verballing to Ohio State.
I am aware of these things, but I do not believe that this is a poor class.
I really like this class.
I like it as much as a seeing that bewildered look in Lloyd Carr's eyes after Ohio State handed UM a loss for the second straight season...
Several weeks ago, I wrote an article (check it out if you have time) and summed up what was going on with this season's recruiting efforts. The lack of a national name for Tressel, the negative recruiting tactics, the extra time spent in preparation to win the national title (well worth it), the down year in Ohio, the honesty of the coaching staff (a wonderful trait), and a host of items bit Ohio State in the rear end.
It led to a disappointing ending to the recruiting season, nut I submit that Ohio State fans should consider who the Buckeyes landed instead of dwelling on those that their team did not.
For starters, consider that this program just won a national title with multiple "sub-par" recruiting classes. Walk with me for a moment to revisit recent classes that comprised the bulk of the 2002 team…
1999 – The Ohio State program appeared to be loaded and ready to keep OSU in the top
10 every season with this class. Fans were jubilant on signing day and recruiting gurus were lavish in their praise. The problem was that 6 of these 24 recruits never played a down. Ziyear Walker, Shawn Price, and Maurice Harris never made it to campus. Richard Hall, Fred Sturrup, Nate Stead, Matt Zahn, Kelton Lindsay, and Curtis Crosby either played so little as to barely make an official statistician's guide or just never played at all. Ricky Bryant transferred, and Kline (and possibly McNutt if he can't make it back) had to quit football because of health concerns. After all the carnage, this class was left with: Craig Krenzel, Mike Doss, Tim Anderson, Matt Wilhelm, Ben Hartsock, Adrien Clarke, Bryce Bishop, Drew Carter, Scott McMullen, BJ Sander, Fred Pagac, Jr., Pat O'Neill, and Maurice Lee. Only 13 players were present for their full senior season, and out of those there were only 7 starting in 2002. So much for a top five rated recruiting class. Where would the recruiting rankings have placed it in August of 1999?
2000 – This class was also highly thought of in the recruiting rankings. Ohio State
appeared to bounce back after a very disappointing ending to their 1999 class, but the problems continued. Alphonso Townsend, Larry Kinnard, BJ Barre, Terry Pogue, and Corey Adams all either never could keep up with their class work or were never even admitted. Sammy Maldonado (the top RB in the nation according to some), Rick McFadden, Andrew Lee, and Jamal Muhammad transferred out of Ohio State, never seeing significant playing time. Marco Cooper (the top Ohio State linebacker recruit) has seen his life spiral downward and his slot on the team taken away. Greg Jones chose the Seminoles over Ohio State and Florida State in an 11th hour decision. 10 players out of a (hoped for) haul of 27 actually project to don the Scarlet and Gray in 2003. Again, I wonder where recruiting analysts would have rated that class in August of 2000 instead of February. Michael Jenkins, Shane Olivea, Alex Stepanovich, Darrion Scott, Brandon Joe, Will Smith, and Robert Reynolds started from this group. If you are counting that is 7 current starters and possibly Will Allen and Jason Caldwell this coming season. Thomas Matthews, Harlan Jacobs, Bobby Britton, Jack Tucker, Brandon "Bam" Childress, Josh Huston, Jason Caldwell, John Hollins, and Will Allen have provided depth.
2001 – With John Cooper fired in January and Tressel not even hired until several
weeks later, Ohio State's recruiting class was expected to suffer. It did in the rankings, but I like how it is shaping up for the future. Buckeye assistants scrambled like a crowd during a riot trying to keep their verbals and land a few more. Quinton Thomas failed to qualify, JaJa Riley has now departed after never sniffing the field, and Chattams may or may not depending on how he handles his legal woes. So that leaves 16 out of 18 (again, one in legal trouble) still in the class and enrolled at Ohio State. Of this crew, Gamble, Fox, Ross, Hall, Fraser, Schnittker, Vance, and Nugent all started at one point or another in 2002. Andree Tyree, Adam Olds, Reggie Arden, Ryan Cook, Ryan Hamby, Marcus Green, and LeAndre Boone are all on the roster awaiting their shot. This was not a top 10 class in February of 2001, but the contributions of Hamby, Gamble, Fox, Ross, Hall, Schnittker, Vance, Fraser, and Nugent helped propel this team a national championship.
2002 – This was truly a great class. Out of 25 players, only one never made it – Derek
Morris. This group is already paying dividends. Clarett started from day one, Hawk and Kudla played extensively, Sims and Mangold both played minutes in the Michigan and national title games, Everett and Salley played minutes early in the year, D'Andrea and Carpenter helped out on special teams, and Underwood initially started after McNutt was forced to give up football following the Northwestern contest. The kicker here is that the redshirt list on the roster is every bit as impressive as those that played. This year should see playing time for Smith, Pitcock, Zwick, Holmes, Hall, Coleman, Penton, Datish, Richardson, Downing, etc.
So – a quick review? Of the recruiting classes from 1999-2002, only one was legitimately rated highly. That was the class of 2002. Yet, Ohio State still managed to win a national title? They emerged over such teams as Miami, Texas, Oklahoma, UCLA, Florida State, Florida, Tennessee, etc. who all had highly rated recruiting classes during that same period?
Winning is Not Just About Who Lands the Top Recruits
What in the name of recruiting fantasies is going on here?
I have a little theory to share. Want to hear it?
I knew you would.
Winning takes three items:
- Talent and Depth. You need a minimum level of talent just to stay on the field with the other top programs. OSU has it. Actually, most top 20-30 programs have it. Really. They do. This is why on any given day you see Texas Tech upset Texas or Colorado get beaten by Wisconsin. The key is landing enough athletes that you can shift them around to positions that maximizes their abilities while giving the opponent headaches. If a school is careful not to land a passel of benchwarmers that look great in High School but are not good enough to play D-IA football, then they will have solid depth. This ensures not only the baseline of talent but also the ability to overcome injuries that inevitably occur during the course of a season. Ohio State gets a C (for too many misses) in this department from 1999-2000 but should be given an A- for 2001 and the early showings from 2002. With or without Bush, Crable, Lee, etc. – Ohio State landed talented players in this recruiting class. With or without Burgess, Sears, McClover, Ohio State has the needed depth to overcome possible injuries in 2003. Ohio State fans should not worry about talent nor depth for 2003 because Ohio State has it.
- Player Development. Here is where the stakes are raised. It is not just who is rated the highest by the recruiting rankings but rather who develops as they should. Who can the coaches find and bring to a new level? Will the staff (and the young man) be motivated enough to push beyond the envelope and reach a new level? Most programs are not doing as well as they should in this area. Butch Davis was a master at this before leaving Miami. Bob Stoops and his staff took an Oklahoma team with solid athletes and developed them as football players to win a national title. Though he has had his issues on defense, Bellotti is reportedly so adept at this that he has been known to ask his players not to publicize Oregon's offer because other programs then swoop in and try to steal away his verbals. After watching Ohio State the past two seasons, the coaching staff in Columbus should be added to this short list. Ohio State's coaches have done a fabulous job in this area. Andy Groom, Mike Stafford, Mike Kne, Chris Conwell, and Jason Bond are all walk-ons who have seen the field since Tressel took over. Andy Groom made several All-American teams and was arguably the best punter in the country. Peterson, Thompson, Wells, Doss, and even the much maligned Steve Bellisari all showed marked improvement from the time when this staff was assembled. The point? The point here is that Ohio State's coaches are motivating players to reach and exceed their projected potential. This speaks highly for the future of those "under-rated" and "project" recruits as well as the super-duper, can't miss, All-American types.
- Coaching. My father used to tell me (and was right as usual) that in any given game, the coaching staff would account for at least half of the production of the team on the field. Their schemes, their plans, their ability to instill toughness in their players, their teaching prowess during the week would determine the difference between winning and losing. A great coaching staff will take a less talented roster and beat their opposition like a rug in the springtime. The puffs of dust that fans see are not caused by a broom, but they will result in a sweep of the polls if the team can be consistent in carrying out their coaches' commands. Miami had a more talented roster on January 3, but they lost to Ohio State. Miami had more talent back in 1993, but they lost to Stallings and Alabama. Florida State had more talent than Oklahoma, but they too lost. If Ohio State's coaching staff stays on top of their game and pushes the young men in the program, devising schemes that trouble the opposition, OSU will be a perennial fixture in the top 10.
Why Fans Should Ultimately Embrace This Class
First, this class met the needs for Ohio State. In August, it looked like Ohio State would lose Smith (early to the draft), Peterson, and Thompson on the defensive line. What did the coaches do but land Maupin, Patterson, Frost, and Cotton to replace them. Cornerback has been a defensive liability for Ohio State for several years now. Throw in the loss of 4-year starter Donnie Nickey and 3 time All-American Michael Doss, and there had to be chills up the spine of the Buckeye defensive coaches. So, Ohio State went out and landed Whitner, Hiley, Youboty, Guilford, and Gonzalez. Running back depth took a serious hit after the departure of Riley, but lo and behold Guilford can play running back in a pinch. Despite last season's haul at linebacker, Ohio State's depth took a hit with the loss of Wilhelm and Grant. So, the staff corralled Smith (a possible diamond in the rough according to those who saw him play) and Schlegel. The showing on the offensive line and the decommitment by McClover were disappointing to see – yes. I am not about to say that fans do not have a right to feel down about those two events. However, the pressing needs for this class were on the defensive line, linebacker, and cornerback slots. All three were filled by at least one top level blue-chip recruit if not several.
Second, this is a very talented class when your team returns 16 starters from a national championship squad. Rivals around the nation called Ohio State commitments and told them that there was no way they would see the field this season for the Buckeyes. Yet most of the verbals were true to their word. They signed, and Buckeye fans should be glad they did. Any team in the country would have been happy to land Hiley, Maupin, Patterson, Whitner, and Irizarry. Guilford was a serious steal from New Jersey as was Youboty from Texas. Gonzalez, Cotton, Frost, and Jordan had nice offer sheets and could have attended Florida, Iowa, and a number of top flight schools around the country. Only Barton (McCallister's top rated offensive line prospect in the state this year), Smith (again - underrated according to those who have seen him play), Lukens (offered at camp after the coaches watched him play), and Evans Desir (a JUCO lineman out of Florida) are not considered "great" recruits by those outside of the program. For the record, the Insiders Network has Ohio State's class in the top 10 and even if it drops down to the top 15, pound for pound – this group stacks up against most any recruiting class in the nation. (the only real drawback being the lack of numbers). Further, Anthony Schlegel – maybe the top linebacker prospect in the country this year – is not even rated in this class. Maybe Ohio State lost Crable, Woodley, and several others, but they landed a team captain from the Air Force Academy. All Schlegel did last season was lead the team with 118 tackles, make the Mountain West All Conference team (as a sophomore), and have his biggest games against Notre Dame (19 tackles) and Virginia Tech (12 tackles) in the Falcons' bowl game.
Third (and most importantly), Buckeye fans must remember – It is not who you lose but what you do with who you land that matters. So what if Ohio State's class was rated higher early in 1999 and 2000? In the end those classes saw less than 16 players suit up for the Scarlet and Gray. Yet Ohio State still won a national title with what was left over from those groups and the upstart 2001 and 2002 classes. This is why I referenced coaching and player development above. Ohio State is in excellent hands in this area. I fully expect 8-10 of the newly signed players to have a significant impact for the Buckeyes. Some will likely make their presence felt as early as 2003 (Whitner, Irizarry, and Patterson). Others might take a bit longer to reach their potential, but I believe this staff will unlock it. They have done so repeatedly in the past two seasons. What reason is there to believe that this trend will not continue?
So at the end of the day, I believe Buckeye fans should be happy with this class. It is small, but it is chock full of quality. Every one of these young men wanted to be a Buckeye. Every one of these young men appears to have a future on the field.
And so what if Ohio State did not win the Mythical National Championship in recruiting circles? Oh well. I guess Buckeye fans will just have to console themselves with that measly Circuit City National Trophy and the first Unanimous National Championship for the Big Ten since 1968…