Friday, February 20, 2009

2010 Offensive Big Board Starts to Take Shape

Each Ohio State recruiting season is a unique adventure, based on scholarships available, targets in play and talent interested in the Buckeyes. Last year the dust had barely settled on the Terrelle Pryor drama before a flurry of commitments got the OSU staff off to a fast start. They never hit the breaks, collecting an overwhelming majority of their verbals before the season started en route to a top 5 class nationally.

This year's class will likely be understated compared to the last two. The '08 class was small but featured unbelievable star power, with elite prospects like DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Mike Brewster joining a all-world QB in Columbus. The recently minted '09 may lack a true superstar, but it is very deep and littered with top250 talent. The combined classes look like the best back-to-back effort in the Tressel era, and are the foundation for continued Buckeye prosperity.

So what to expect this year? The Buckeyes will probably have less scholarships open, as the class could be 17 on the low end but might balloon to 20. Ohio State will again focus on a core of top players from Ohio, looking to keep the best and brightest in-state. They'll also search their usual haunts - Florida, Pennsylvania, and to less extent Michigan and Georgia - to try and pick off a few top targets. We've already learned that Coach Tressel does not subscribe to the "mile wide" theory of recruiting; he likes to focus on top talent interested in the Buckeyes, and score a high percentage of those players. So who are the players garnering early interest, and what positions to the Buckeyes need to focus on?

QB (1): There was a bit of hand-wringing than I thought necessary over the Tajh Boyd situation, given that his recruitment only came about because Lane Kiffin basically told him to take a hike. The idea that a 5-star kid was going to follow Pryor seemed hard to swallow at the outset; that sort of thing really only happens at places like USC and Florida. (I'm so happy I never happen to mention this kid ever again.) Having an athletic prospect with upside like Kenny Guiton fall into our laps was a great, but the OSU will definitely want to add another signal caller in this class.

Most experts thought the Buckeyes would extend an offer to dual-threat QB Devin Gardner (MI), who fits the offense and has an extremely impressive offer list. But OSU has their eyes set on a different player with a name you might recognize - Nick Montana. Papa Joe apparently has a healthy respect for Jim Tressel, and Buckeyes have indicated to Montana they aren't recruiting anyone else until he makes a decision. It's a good thing, since Gardner was nonplussed by the situation and is no longer listing Ohio State on his list.

So does Nick have the goods? He hails from Oaks Christian, the same school that produced Jimmy Clausen a few years back. Despite the pro-style passing attack, he's also more of a runner than his Dad was. He claims offers from a host of big schools, including LSU, Florida State, Alabama and of course Notre Dame. Montana recently took and unofficial visit with his Mom, and the coaches hope he will come to the spring game.

Other names to file away include Robert Bolden (MI) and Jeffrey Godfrey (FL). And don't forget Braxton Miller, and '11 prospect that is already a message board favorite.

RB (1-2): Despite the bountiful haul of Berry, Hyde and Jordan in '09, the Buckeyes will be looking for at least one back this year. Even at this early stage, there are a diverse set of candidates. But no player may be more talented that Corey Brown (PA), who boasts offers from Florida, Penn State, Alabama and a host of other BCS powers. But OSU's toughest competition might be Rutgers, where Brown's high school quarterback Tom Savage recently enrolled.

Another out-of-state name to watch is Roderick Smith (IN), a somewhat bigger back gathering interest from around the Big Ten and Big 12. Within the confines of Ohio, two names currently stick out: Erick Howard and Spencer Ware. Howard is the reigning Mr. Football in Ohio, but appears to have some work to do off the field before getting an offer. Ware is a dynamite athlete whose best sport might be baseball. His versatility is something Jim Tressel craves, but the coaches face stiff competition from hometown Cincinnati.

WR (1-2): The Buckeyes are young and deep at receiver, so they'll only be looking to add a truly elite player at this position. Tai-ler Jones (GA) might be at the top of that list, but he has offers from everywhere, and pulling him from the south will certainly be a challenge. With the cupboard somewhat bare in Ohio, a number of other out-of-state targets may receive an offer. Terrence Casper (NJ) is a physical 6'6" receiver, Justin Hunter has great leaping ability, and Kadron Boone (FL) has blazing speed. Which players camp at Ohio State or visit during the spring game will be a good indicator who the staff will pursue.

TE (1): The Buckeyes are actually somewhat thin at TE. Jake Ballard is a senior, Jake Stoneburner is more of a receiving threat, and Reid Fragel might turn into a tackle. So Nic DiLillo will be the lone TE in the traditional Tressel mold - a hard-nosed blocker who can also catch passes. Look for the Buckeyes to add at least one tight end, with in-state prospect Alex Smith looking the best right now.

OL (2-3): After years of struggling with lineman recruiting, the Bucks have turned things around in a big way the last two years. And they're already on the board with a commitment from Andrew Norwell, a mauler from Cincinnati. The other top in-state prospect is Matt James, who also hails from the Queen city area. James has a mammoth frame and offers from all over. He'll reportedly take his official visits before making a decision.

The Buckeyes have already extended offers to out-of-state stars like Seantrel Henderson and Chaz Green, but face an uphill battle for those guys. If they can nab James, they'll be selective on one or two remaining players to join the class. An offer to an interior lineman might come if someone impresses at camp.

Next time we'll tackle the defensive side, where the Bucks already have two top in-state players in the fold.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

OSU Starts Fast (Again), Adds Top '10 Lineman

As many fans spent signing day anxiously waiting for some attention seeking-kids to mess around with hats, Ohio State was already back to work on next year's class. It's become a hallmark of Buckeye recruiting that top in-state talent commits early, and this year would be no different. OT Andrew Norwell, considered by some to be the best lineman in the state next year, has already announced his intention to play in Columbus.

Norwell's coach was effusive with praise, claiming he's the best to come out of his school, and has the potential to be one of the all-time greats from the state. His brief recruitment netted him offers from top programs like Notre Dame, Illinois, Cincinnati, Louisville and Stanford. Using his 6'7" 275 lb frame to maul opponents, scouts think Norwell plays a relentless style with a nasty streak.

Norwell is the third commitment, and the first on the offensive player, in a class that should reach 20.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

You Might Actually Get Some Work Done Tomorrow

For recruiting geeks, National Letter of Intent (NLOI) Day is like Christmas. Faxes machines are humming with signed letters, and there are always a handful of top athletes making announcements of where they'll play ball. If a player's recruitment has lasted this long, it's a good bet that a few fan bases are overly worked up after suffering through months of the strange twists and conflicting rumors we've come to expect.

It's also a bit of an odd day for Ohio State fans. More than any other elite BCS team, OSU usually sprints out of the gate each February with top Ohio preps anxious to join the Buckeyes. But that can lead to somewhat of a letdown come January and February, where Ohio State has not always fared well with the type of kids who want the spotlight of signing day. Even last year's amazing triumph - getting Terrelle Pryor - only came after a false start on NLOI day.

But this year is different; there's almost no reason to take off work or skip school to watch 18-year olds hold press conferences. (What do you mean there's no reason to ever do that?) Seriously folks, there's very little action for Buckeye fans tomorrow. There's one possible defection and one low probability announcement. There are no "must have" players, no big duels with Michigan or USC or Florida. You can just check as the signed letters of intent roll in, as Jim Tressel and his staff have delivered another top 5 class.

If you're really interested, check in on WR Marlon Brown (TN), a top 100 player considering Georgia, Tennessee and Ohio State. And maybe follow the saga of CB Justin Green (KY), a speedy DB who may leave OSU in the lurch to play offense in Champaign. In truth, the most exciting moment might come from a big-time commitment...of a 2010 player. We'll be updating throughout the day, and breakdown the Buckeyes impressive class over the next few days.

Top Ohio OL Chooses Buckeyes

The drama - real or imagined - is over for Glenville's Marcus Hall. Considered one of Ohio's top five players and one of the best line prospects in the country, Hall verbally committed to the Buckeyes on Monday. The announcement was a huge relief for OSU fans and cherry on top of a superb recruiting class for Coach Jim Tressel.

Hall was one of the most sought after tackles in the country, boasting offers from Tennessee, Michigan, Miami (FL), Illinois and number of other elite schools. Like most Glenville players, he let the process play out and was in no rush to make a decision. His official visits caused something of a stir, as teams like the Wolverines and Hurricanes would periodically vault into the "lead" for his services. But Ohio State remained the one constant, despite some residual paranoia from Cordale Scott and the threat of teammate Mike Edwards swaying him at the last minute.

Hall is a top 100 player for both Rivals and Scout, and gives the Buckeyes one of the best line classes in the country. He is joined by C Jack Mewhort, G Corey Linsley and T Sam Longo. All four are from Ohio, and replenish a line that loses three starters to graduation.

(photo by

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Buckeyes Add QB As Signing Day Approaches

With National Letter of Intent (NLOI) signing day next week, the 2009 Ohio State has only a few targets left on the board. A big piece of the puzzle was in quasi-satisfactory fashion this past week, when the Buckeyes added 3-star dual threat QB Kenny Guiton (TX).
Guiton is visiting this weekend and expected to make his verbal commitment official. His addition caps a whirlwind week for OSU's quarterback situation.

The Buckeyes were actually hoping to add 4-star Tajh Boyd early in the week, and things looked promising on Sunday. Numerous insiders were confident that Boyd would become a Buckeye on Monday, though Oregon and Clemson were in hot pursuit. It's not clear at what point things broke down, but the Monday press conference was bumped to Tuesday, and then Boyd was suddenly a Tiger.

I don't enjoy the drama aspect of recruiting, so I won't waste much more time on a player destined for a mid-level ACC school. But from all reports, Boyd may have actually told coaches from all three schools he was headed for their program. If so, that's a truly classless act. I've got no issue with kids having a hard time deciding, or even changing their mind. And fans that berate 18-year-olds for their choices are terrible, in my opinion. But some level of maturity and decency is also required, so I honestly hope the stories aren't true.

In any event, the Buckeyes immediately turned their attention to Austin Boucher, an Ohio kid they've been scouting for quite awhile. Though only listed as a 2-star, Ohio State coaches were very impressed at the games they attended this past season. He was offered and seemed like a real possibility, but in the end could not be swayed from his commitment to Miami (OH). You may be thinking "ouch", but his brother does also play for the Redhawks. And you can't really blame someone who was likely to be sandwiched between to elite QB prospects his whole career.

That brings us to Guiton, one of the few uncommitted dual-threat QB's. He reportedly held offers from schools like Kansas, Northwestern and Rice, and drew significant interest from Purdue and Kansas State. He played at a high level of Texas high school football and acquitted himself quite well, displaying great scrambling skills and the ability to improvise on the run. He definitely needs some time in the weight room, and Rivals indicated that he must improve his release mechanics.

All in all, the quick recruitment should be considered a relatively successful outcome for the Buckeyes. Only a couple of schools seem capable of piling up 4-5 star QB recruits every season, and they have a high attrition rate if they don't win the job. Guiton is a solid prospect with good upside, and adds much needed depth at the position. He looks similar to - but probably a step up - from 3-star Antonio Henton in 2006. And the Buckeyes will surely go hard and heavy after 1 or 2 QB's in the 2010 class.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fiesta Hangover

It's been almost two days since Ohio State lost a last second thriller to Texas in 2009 Fiesta Bowl. Fans and the media swiftly divided into two camps, with blistering the Buckeyes for another BCS loss that cemented the legacy of this senior class. The other lauded OSU for a great game against an elite team, and credited the coaches and players for scaring the daylights out a team that was thisclose to playing for the national title.

As usual, I think the truth belongs somewhere in the middle. For Buckeye bashers, does this game even remotely resemble the embarrassing losses to USC, LSU or Florida? Ohio State stared down the Longhorns powerful offense, led at half, led with two minutes to go, and just ran out of gas at the end. Who would you have preferred here - Boise State? And don't forget in a season of declining bowl ratings, the Feista Bowl scored an outstanding 11.6 overnight rating.

For the scarlet and gray apologists, there's got to be some soul searching. Yes, this program is the class of the (down) Big Ten and is dominating its (down) rival Michigan. But you can make a persuasive case that Ohio State has lost six consecutive big games, including three bowl games in a row. We some some offensive innovation, but we also saw some mind-numbing play calls, including repeated momentum killing runs after big plays in the first half. This had all of the elements of past losses to Texas and Penn State, trying to win with field goals and not capitalizing when opportunities are there. Ohio State dominated the first half but led just 6-3. That trick might work against Minnesota or Purdue, but against top competition, OSU needs to step on their throats when they get the chance.

I don't have the heart to rewatch this game for a real breakdown. Things I'll take away:

*I'm happy for Todd Boeckman and glad he got to play a big role. it would have been fitting for a classy captain to go out as the hero. But here's hoping he's got a little Matt Cassel in him.

*If Beanie Wells goes pro, which seems like a foregone conclusion, he career had a fitting end. He was the most dynamic force on the OSU offense, and should never EVER be lumped into any conversation about how the Big Ten doesn't have the athletes to compete with the SEC. But after 100+ yards in a little over a half, he got injured. I hope he can stay healthy for a few years and really strut his stuff in the NFL.

*The offensive line played better than it had in other big games. But there were still struggles with speed rushes off the edge, and they have a very hard time getting a consistent push on interior runs. It will be interesting to see the revamped line next season, with as many as four new starters.

*Terrelle Pryor played a lot like you would expect from a stellar freshman - poised at times, and showing his youth on others. Some of his scrambles were dazzling, even when he inexplicably ran out of bounds (twice) when more yardage could have been gained. His development as a passer will be THE story of the offseason in my opinion. We have talent in spades at receiver, but he needs to improve on reads, accuracy, and touch.

*The defensive line got pushed around against USC and LSU, but that was not the case against Texas. The Buckeyes pressure McCoy much of the night, but seemed just a step short on most blitzes. Still, you can't fault the effort of players like Nader Abdallah, Thaddeus Gibson and even Nathan Williams.

*Chimdi Chekwa will probably want to forget this one as soon as possible. With Malcolm Jenkins on the other side, Texas picked on him quite a lot. To be fair, OSU's defense is designed to allow a lot of 7-9 yards gains rather than giving up the big play (hear that Anderson Russell?) But if Chekwa is really going to be the projected #1 CB heading into next season, as seems possible, it could a long year defending the pass.

*I hate fans who endless complain about the officiating (yes I mean you, Penn State supporters). But virtually every close call went against Ohio State. Do you seriously expect me to believe Texas passed 59 times and never held once? The second roughing the passer call against Thaddeus Gibson was extremely weak as well...the spot on the fourth down goes on and on. If OSU wins, these plays are forgotten before dawn. But when desperately need some good luck, it really stung. Thanks a lot Big East.
We'll check in on the '09 recruiting class and start sizing up next year's Buckeyes in the next few days.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Elite Junior Commits to Buckeyes

While Ohio State is working hard to secure the top class in '09, they're already off to a nice start in 2010. Today Ursuline defensive end Jamel Turner committed to the Buckeyes. Turner made the announcement at a press conference at his school in Youngstown, OH.

He becomes the second member of the '10 class, joining another Youngstown native and defensive lineman, J.T. Moore. Turner already reported offers from over 20 top programs, including Notre Dame, Michigan, Illinois and South Carolina.

Turner led his team to the Division V state title, and has flagged him as one of their top 250 to watch. Various scouting sites believe he may be the #1 player in the state of Ohio next year, as Jim Tressel continues to keep quality talent at home.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recruiting Big Board's Triumphant Return

Ohio State's tidal wave of recruits this spring left Buckeye fans trying to catch their breath and keep up with the unreal talent lining up to play for Coach Tressel. But with 24 commits already in the fold, there are precious few spots left. And it's made for an odd fall season, with very little movement on the recruiting front. But with a huge visit list on tap for this weekend, it's time to re-examine the players that could finish out the '09 class.

QB: There are some that feel Ohio State must nab a QB in this class, since just two will be on scholarship for next season. The main target at this point is Tajh Boyd (VA), one of the top dual-threat signal callers in the nation. Boyd has already had quite ride, committing to West Virginia, then Tennessee, and re-opening his recruitment after new Volunteer coach Lane Kiffin indicated that Boyd wasn't right for his system. Boyd is visiting Columbus this weekend, and the Buckeye coaches will definitely try to make for lost time.

Boyd was recently added to the U.S. Army All-American game, so a decision could come then. It will be interesting to see what other visits he takes between now and then. There's definitely interest, and it will be easier to gauge where Boyd is leaning in the coming days.

WR: The Buckeyes already have verbals from three top prep players. But Robiskie and Hartline could both be gone next season, and the spectre of transfers looms. OSU remains focused on one name: Marlon Brown. The Tennessee native is considered one of the top ten WR's in the country, a raw athlete with tremendous size, speed and potential. He's reportedly developed a strong relationship with some of the OSU players, including QB Terrelle Pryor. The Bucks face stiff completion from SEC powers Tennessee and Georgia, but nabbing Brown would be a huge coup. At this moment, I wouldn't feel comfortable with anything more than an "even money" prediction. Brown will announce on NLOI day.

TE: Bruising Reid Fragel is in the fold, but OSU wouldn't mind adding an athletic pass-catcher. The player they have in mind is Dion Sims, one of Michigan's top players. Sims like the Buckeyes, but he's also a basketball player looking for an opportunity to play both sports. That may work against the Buckeyes, since the in-state Spartans have already indicated that would be possible in East Lansing. Miami (FL) is also in the mix, but I currently think Mark D'Antonio has the edge in this race.

OL: Another year, another long wait for an elite Glenville kid. Tackle Marcus Hall is taking his time and enjoying the process, as OSU fans bite their nails about letting in-state talent get away. Hall is one of the top ten rated tackles nationally, though some experts think he might be better suited at guard. He is strongly considering LSU and Illinois, where he has developed relationships with the coaching staffs. You have to like Ohio State's chances, but it's definitely not a lock.

DL: Again, the Buckeyes have zeroed in on one elite players, DT Corey Adams (AZ). Adams has an extremely impressive offer list, but appears down to OSU, USC, Nebraska and home-state ASU. Adding Adams to John Simon and Adam Bellamy would give Ohio State an incredible incoming class at a position of need. But as I've said before, the coaches don't seem to win the big recruiting battles out west. The chance to play at Peter Carroll's factory in LA, or the pull to stay at home will likely win out here.

DB: Ohio State is taking a long hard look at Mike Edwards, a Glenville cornerback that had an outstanding senior campaign. He's rocketed up the recruiting rankings, and visited the 'Shoe to watch Ohio State demolish Michigan. He doesn't hold an offer from OSU, but does have one from both Michigan and Illinois. The question is, how long will he wait? OSU might need to go all the way to signing day to see if there's room.

Boyd and Hall are the two needs. Adding Brown to that group would give Ohio State a very legitimate claim to the #1 class overall. I'd be surprised if Coach Tressel didn't find a way to get Mike Edwards in this class.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mess With Texas

Buckeye fans clamoring for a BCS at-large bid got what wanted Sunday night, as Ohio State was officially invited to the Fiesta Bowl to face the Texas Longhorns. The predominantly senior team wanted to go out in a big bowl, with a shot to redeem some high-profile losses the past few seasons. The conference and the school certainly won't be complaining about the large pay day. And fans believe the Buckeyes are a different team with a healthy Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor at the helm. Certainly The Ohio State University couldn't be passed over for a non-BCS school, right?

There's nothing wrong with any of these perspectives, but this could fall into the category of "be careful what you wish for". The Buckeyes will face an angry, bitter Texas team in the rubber match from the '05-'06 split. The Longhorns beat then (and now) #1 Oklahoma on a neutral field, and it took a Michael Crabtree miracle and a foolishly worded fifth tiebreaker to keep them out of the national title game. The Bucks opened as an eight point dog and the media will certainly assume that Colt McCoy and the Longhorns will mow down an OSU squad that has not performed in big games lately.

The Texas offense will be as dynamic as the USC offense that rolled Ohio State in September, and they'll be playing with an eye on a split championship through the AP ballot. Should Ohio State play it conservative and fall behind early, the "pound Beanie" gameplan will be neutralized, forcing a freshman quarterback to take a big step forward with his passing game.

This should be the best defense Texas has seen all year, and I think the Buckeyes present a great test for McCoy's efficient offense. There is much to be gained here. A win against this year's "we got screwed" team would go a long way to repairing the Bucks big game credibility. Keep in mind that Ohio State and Jim Tressel built their reputation in BCS games winning in '02 and '03 as underdogs. As badly as the Buckeyes have done against the SEC, they've got an impressive record against Big 12 foes.

But the risk is incredibly high. Each season, there are plenty of innocuous bowl games that mean nothing and are forgotten by the masses by February. Because of the history, and because of the "slight" against both Texas and Boise State, OSU is really putting it on the line. A big loss would cause immense damage to Ohio State and the Big Ten, threaten future at-large bids and further deteriorating their reputation in a sport based largely on perception. keep in mind that Penn State will be facing a top 5 team in a virtual road game, and the second at-large means every conference bowl team is "pulled up" one slot to face a better opponent. Ohio State asked for this game, and now they to bring it. They're headed to Fiesta and Glendale, the bowl where they won a title in '02 and the stadium where the crushing Florida defeat occurred in '06. What happens will give the seniors a chance to write their legacy. Dominate Michigan, but lose all of the big ones? Or go out with a bang?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Buckeyes Await Bowl Fate

With the conference title games and last few regular season matchups set for this weekend, the Buckeyes will find out their fate on Sunday evening when the BCS pairings are announced. The 10-2, Big Ten co-champions are well positioned for the last BCS at-large, but nothing is set at this stage. What are the likely possibilities?

Fiesta - Much of the bowl speculation has centered around the idea of Big 12 powerhouse Texas, who missed a chance at the championship because of the conference tiebreaker, heading to Glendale. They could face undefeated Utah, a regional team that is guaranteed a BCS spot. Other possibilities include Ohio State, who has made a second home in Arizona, and Boise State, who could relive their win over a good but not great Oklahoma team.

But I'm not sure we're really looking at an OSU/Texas rubber match. floated the idea that the Fiesta might pair Utah with Ohio State. The game would be a result of a backroom deal by the BCS and Fox, who would put Texas in the Sugar Bowl against the SEC runner-up. It seems to make a lot of sense from a financial and entertainment perspective.

Sugar - Should the Texas/Utah game come to fruition, the Sugar Bowl would be left with Ohio State or Boise State. There will be an outcry for the Broncos, who are undefeated and ranked higher than Ohio State in the polls and BCS. But let's be honest - there best win was against an Oregon team that was down to its third QB. And they're more riding the coattails of their win against an less than elite Oklahoma program a few years back. Does the Sugar Bowl want a repeat of last year's thrashing of Hawaii? Perhaps it would happen no matter what, as the SEC runner-up will be a monster favorite. But in this economy, I don't think the allure of OSU's fanbase can be ignored.

Capital One - This is the default bowl for Big Ten #2, and would be the Buckeyes destination if USC somehow loses to USC, or if undefeated Boise State is selected as an at-large. Georgia was thought to be the opponent, but Ole Miss is a dark horse. That said, all of the public momentum seems headed toward a BCA at-large. Buckeye fans might be disappointed with a trip to old Citrus Bowl, but a chance to start repairing their reputation against a wildly underachieving Georgia team has its benefits.

I think it's going to be the Fiesta, but the opponent remains up in the air. Check back on Monday for quick thoughts on the Buckeyes opponent. And if Boise State is excluded, we'll have some words for those acting like its an epic tragedy.