NCF Nation: Steve Miller
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Adolphus Washington wasn’t following his own stock, so he needed a teammate to tell him it was on the rise.
The Ohio State defensive tackle wasn’t familiar with the process of getting feedback from the NFL draft advisory board, so he had a reporter offer up some details.
And while Washington was certainly aware by the time the Allstate Sugar Bowl rolled around what a breakout performance could do for his standing in the eyes of NFL scouts and general managers, it was still low on his priority list -- both because he was trying to keep the No. 4 Buckeyes alive in the College Football Playoff and because his intention was to return for another title run next season anyway.
“So I kind of snuck away to look it up and see what he said. Obviously I was very excited, but I really can’t speak on it right now. More than likely I’m going to come back.”
That would certainly be a big boost for an Ohio State team that should be loaded again next season but, with Bennett and fellow senior defensive end Steve Miller both set to graduate, could potentially be hit hard up front if Washington decides to leave. But for now, the Buckeyes are just glad to have him playing one more game in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T considering the production that has caught the eyes of NFL teams has obviously elevated a defense on the rise.
Washington had been shuffled around between positions almost endlessly during his career with the program, but Ohio State settled midway through the season on unleashing him at nose guard, where he’s turned into a space-eater capable of shutting down ground games while maintaining his pass-rushing skills with 3.5 sacks this season. And more than just finding the right scheme to fit Washington’s blend of size and speed, an early-season meeting with coach Urban Meyer also set him on the right path after the coaching staff had questioned his play-to-play effort and compared it on film to recent draft picks in the trenches.
“One game I felt like I played pretty good but I didn’t make Champions Club, so I went up to Coach Meyer after a Sunday practice and was like, ‘Coach, can I come in and watch film with you on Monday?’” Washington said. “He was like, go get [defensive line coach Larry] Johnson, and they explained it. They pulled up some guys like Aaron Donald, Tim Jernigan, Ra'Shede Hageman on tape. We compared the clips. I had some that were similar to them, then I would have some that weren’t similar.
“Coach Meyer told me that when I learned how to do that every play, you can be a guaranteed first-round draft pick. I just went out there and I practiced and I tried to play like that every play.”
His improved motor has been integral in driving the Buckeyes into the Jan. 12 title matchup with No. 2 Oregon, but it may still be another year until a professional team gets the keys to Washington.
He’s free to change his mind, though the window for declaring for the draft is small after the title game and Washington hasn’t been spending much time worrying about anything other than Ohio State at this point. And aside from working on his game and delivering results on the field to impress those on the outside, the rest of the details aren’t even that clear to him anyway.
“That’s him, that’s Adolphus, really,” Johnson said. “Very unconcerned about what’s going on around him other than his teammates and this game. I can’t speak for him, but I feel really good that he’ll be here next year. We talked about that early on, and there are some things he wants to do. He wants to get his degree, he wants to graduate and he’s got a little girl he wants to take care of. All those things factor in, so he’s not in a rush financially and he wants to make sure he protects himself for the rest of his life by having an Ohio State degree.
“He’s different. He’s not like the normal guy, like I can’t wait to get out of here.”
No matter what, Washington will be around for at least another game. And just like every other week, that’s the only thing that has his attention.
The Ohio State defensive end had no interceptions in his career, for starters. Semifinal opponent Alabama typically took good care of the football when throwing it, as well, and if anybody was going to help swing the outcome of the Allstate Sugar Bowl on defense for the Buckeyes, Miller might have been among the last guys named.
But there was a hint that maybe the senior was on to something when he snagged a ball that had been tipped in the air during practice leading up to the matchup with the top-ranked Crimson Tide. Miller interpreted that as a sign that he would get his hands on the ball and lead No. 4 Ohio State to the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T, and his teammates were left shaking their heads and hailing him as a prophet after his game-changing touchdown.
"He knew, and he’d been saying it every day."
If the Buckeyes had grown tired of hearing about it from Miller, they won’t question his predictions moving forward as they prepare for Oregon. But from the outside, there was still some reason to look at Miller with something of a skeptical eye heading into the postseason and think about how Ohio State might have looked different up front if Noah Spence had been lining up on the D-line instead of a senior who had never been able to develop into a consistent playmaker during his career.
Miller had certainly been a serviceable contributor throughout the season, and he was never exactly a problem for the Buckeyes thanks to his knowledge of the defense and his perhaps undervalued athleticism. But he had only 6.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a single sack to his credit when he hit the practice field to gear up for the Crimson Tide.
But a ball that popped into the air during workouts and found its way into his hands before the team left for New Orleans gave him a shot of confidence, and a premonition Ohio State would hear plenty about. OSU might never hear the end of it after he dropped into coverage, picked off a pass and returned it 41 yards to give his team a two-score lead in the third quarter on the way to the Buckeyes' historic upset victory.
"After I caught one in bowl practice when we were in Columbus, I just had a feeling like, 'Man, I’m going to get one in the game,'" Miller said. "It just felt amazing. Catching the ball in my hands, I just hoped I wouldn’t drop it.
"I called it all week. I was telling the defensive line I was going to catch the ball and return it for a touchdown, and it came true."
Miller’s personal dream-come-true moment has put the Buckeyes in position to realize a dream as a program in the first title game of the College Football Playoff
era after largely being written off in September.
The loss to Virginia Tech was certainly a big factor in those doubts about Ohio State’s legitimacy as a contender, not to mention the season-ending injury to quarterback Braxton Miller. But the permanent loss of Spence to a second failed drug test was high on the list, as well, not just because of his All-Big Ten status but also because Steve Miller and fellow D-line backup Rashad Frazier were largely unknown commodities as full-time contributors.
But there is no reason to doubt Miller now -- on the field or when he’s talking in the locker room.
"No drop-off at all," Washington said. "In this program, the motto is 'next guy up.' So when Noah was done, we knew Steve could go. Steve has played in games before, and there was no drop-off at all.
"He has been here four years; he knows what it takes."
Miller also seemed to know what was coming last week, an interception that surprised everybody but him and the Buckeyes, who believed him.
NEW ORLEANS -- Never mind the score, Thursday's College Football Playoff semifinal was an Alabama-style manhandling. Only this time, Alabama was on the receiving end of the beating.
Under Nick Saban, the top-ranked Crimson Tide simply doesn't lose games of this magnitude. But not only did No. 1 Alabama fall 42-35 to No. 4 Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, it surrendered an enormous yardage total (537 yards) and completely got away from the staples of Saban's best seasons in Tuscaloosa.
"It's not really about what you do most of the time, it's really more about how you do it," Saban said. "And they did a better job of executing what they do than what we did."
Under Lane Kiffin, Alabama's offense no longer runs to set up the pass. Quite the opposite. Although the run worked well at times Thursday -- for instance, Derrick Henry averaged 7.3 yards per carry but ran just 13 times -- Kiffin kept putting the ball in the air.
And yet out of all those Blake Sims passes, Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper -- who already held the SEC single-season receptions record with 115 entering the game -- didn't get his customary frequent touches. With Ohio State understandably shading its pass coverage his way, Cooper made only three receptions in the second half.
"Every time Blake looked at me, a safety would run full speed over there and got a little bit of double coverage," said Cooper, who finished with nine receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
"It was frustrating, but at the same time, I expected it."
Although Alabama led 21-6 at one point in the first half, Ohio State's offense moved the ball effectively throughout. The Buckeyes settled for early field goals and turned the ball over in their own territory, paving the way for Alabama to claim the big lead.
Eventually, the Buckeyes' trips into Alabama territory yielded touchdowns, and they sprinkled in a couple of big-play scores, as well. Meanwhile, Alabama's offense bogged down, allowing Ohio State to mount a 28-0 run between the second and third quarters.
Alabama led 21-20 at halftime, but the yardage total told a completely different story. Ohio State outgained Alabama 348 yards to 139 in the first half, with that 209-yard differential representing the greatest disparity the Tide have ever faced in a first half under Saban.
Oddly enough, Auburn outgained Alabama by 200-plus yards in the first half just two games ago, but the Tide were able to rally and win that game 55-44. There would be no such comeback against Ohio State with the Buckeyes shutting down the staples of the Alabama offense.
"Their front did a really good job," Saban said. "We didn't handle them well in running the football like we thought we might be able to when we spread them out, and they did a good job on our perimeter screens and smokes. And we made the blocks, but they made the plays, and you've got to give their players a lot of credit for the way they executed."
Conversely, Sims was unable to bounce back the way he did against Auburn, when after tossing three interceptions he led the Tide's comeback bid. With Ohio State largely taking away Cooper, he struggled to keep drives alive. The Tide converted just twice in 13 attempts on third down -- and Sims even tossed a third-down interception that Steve Miler returned 41 yards for a touchdown that put Ohio State up 34-21 late in the third quarter.
He also threw an ugly pick on the first play after a horrendous Ohio State punt gave Alabama possession at the Buckeyes' 23-yard line in the fourth quarter.
Alabama's senior quarterback pointed the finger at himself after the game.
"We weren't having no problems. It was all on me," said Sims, who finished 22-for-36 for 237 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. "I take full responsibility for everything that happened tonight. It was no other person's fault but mine."
There was more than enough blame to go around, however.
Philosophically, this was not the ruthless Alabama machine Saban has built in his eight seasons in Tuscaloosa. Certainly, Ohio State deserves credit for taking away what Alabama has done well this season -- and in the recent past -- but Saban's staff will also face reasonable scrutiny over their decision-making when a victory was within grasp.
"I think that we're certainly capable of playing a little better than we played tonight," Saban said, "and I think everybody would say the same if you asked them that, from player to coach."
Buckeyes defensive end Joey Bosa, who was the Big Ten player of the year, had 13.5 sacks this season. Michael Bennett is an All-American-caliber defensive tackle. Fellow tackle Adolphus Washington is a future pro.
"When you've got guys playing 75 plays against a 6-6, 330-pounder who can move, you're going to be pretty worn out by the fourth quarter," Bennett said. "And that's when you start seeing those eight-minute drives and stuff like that, just [them] pounding the ball."
For much of the season, the Buckeyes have had to rely on their starters logging lots of snaps. The depth of the line was hurt by Noah Spence's dismissal and some injuries. Other guys just haven't developed as much as hoped.
That meant most of the starters had to be iron men this season. Bosa, for example, estimated he played close to 90 snaps in the Penn State win. That's in stark contrast to Alabama's defensive line, which rotates as many as 10 guys per game.
"Eighty plays a game is super rough on your body, and I was feeling it toward the end of the season," Bosa said. "I just need a few series to get a breather and then get back out there."
Leading into the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin, though, Ohio State decided it needed to feature more players along the line. Rashad Frazier made his second start of the season, allowing Steve Miller to slip into a relief role at defensive end. Chris Carter and Tyquan Lewis saw time, spelling Bennett and Washington.
"We figured that was going to be a four-quarter battle, a big, heavyweight fight," Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "So we started subbing those guys early -- when it was 7-0, when it was 14-0 -- and we didn't change because we knew we had to be good going into the fourth quarter. We're going to keep that same mentality this game."
It's fairly likely the Buckeyes won't enjoy a 59-0 laugher against Alabama like they did versus Wisconsin. Bennett said it could be more difficult for the coaching staff to pull the trigger on taking the starters out if the game is close or if the Crimson Tide have the lead.
But not doing so could also play right into Alabama's hands. This might not be the most impressive offensive line Nick Saban has had -- only one member, Arie Kouandjio, made the All-SEC team and it's questionable whether the group has any first-round NFL draft picks. Alabama's offense likes to spread things around more now, too, under coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Still, the Tide love to close things out by ramming the ball down the throat of a tired defense.
"That's one of our goals every week," right tackle Austin Shepherd said, "to keep grinding for the first three quarters and get to the fourth and wear them out. Hopefully, then they lay down for us."
Bosa hopes guys such as Frazier and Miller can spell him at times on Thursday night. But he's also had a month off and is prepared to go the distance if that's what it takes.
"I'm sure this game, I'll be out there a lot," he said. "Depth is nice, but we'll need our guys out there for most of the game, I feel like."
Bosa and Ohio State's other top defensive linemen have shown they can hold their own against anybody. They'll just need to have some gas left in the tank at the end.
It's rare when a defensive line coach steps on the practice field and doesn't see a single starter from the previous season. How rare? According to Ohio State's athletics communications staff, the Buckeyes haven't had a complete overhaul of their starting defensive line since the 1985 season, when all three top spots had to be filled. Although Ohio State ended up starting four new linemen in 1998, it had a returning starter from 1997 (end Matt LaVrar) on the roster.
All four starters from the 2012 team -- ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, and tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel -- have moved on. The effort to replace them is arguably Ohio State's top offseason story line, as the Buckeyes could be a defensive line away from contending for a national title in 2013.
Vrabel is stressing three areas for the linemen this spring -- attitude, effort and toughness. If all three are achieved, Vrabel thinks the players can "let their God-given ability to take over."
The Buckeyes' linemen boast plenty of ability. Ohio State had arguably the nation's top defensive-line haul in the 2012 recruiting class, signing four ESPN 150 defensive linemen, three of whom -- Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt -- saw the field as true freshmen. More help is on the way from the 2013 class with standouts like tackle Joey Bosa, an ESPN 150 selection. Two incoming line recruits, Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle, enrolled early and are participating in spring ball.
But the group has only nine combined career starts, five from junior end J.T. Moore. Its career tackles leader, junior tackle Michael Bennett, has a whopping 28 stops in 21 games.
"The guys we've got have a little bit of experience with Adolphus and Noah and Tommy," Vrabel said. "Michael Bennett and Joel Hale, Steve Miller, those guys have been here, contributing and giving us some leadership. And Tracy and Tyquan are just trying to figure their way through this thing.
"We're learning every day."
Although Ohio State's defensive line undoubtedly will be younger, Vrabel also thinks it will be faster with players like Spence and Washington, who finished third on the team with three sacks in 2012. Again, talent isn't a problem, but the line needs leadership after losing two-time captain John Simon.
Head coach Urban Meyer challenged several of the older linemen at the start of the spring, saying, "Steve Miller's been here for a while. It's time to go play. Chris Carter, how long has he been here? At some point you can't redshirt anymore." At the very least, Ohio State needs the veterans to fill out the line rotation.
Ideally, they can take the reins.
"No one's going to replace what John Simon provided for this program," Vrabel said. "We can only hope that we find guys who are willing to lead, be the same person every day, be competitive, play with some toughness and play with some effort. We'll have guys step up."
Vrabel should get an accurate gauge on his group this spring because of the men they'll be lining up against. What the Buckeyes lack in defensive-line experience, they make up for on their offensive line, which returns four starters with 81 combined career starts.
"If we can compete against them," Vrabel said, "we feel like we're going to be OK."
Spence evidently has been competing well, impressing Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner with his edge-rushing speed.
Vrabel's return to his alma mater in 2011 generated tremendous excitement, and he made an immediate impact on the recruiting trail. But his coaching skills will be under the microscope as he works with a group that, for now, is Ohio State's biggest question mark.
"I'm a young coach, I'm new to this, so every day is a challenge," he said. "I enjoy it, I embrace the challenge and try to do my best."
If Urban Meyer had placed a banner with the words "The Chase" in Ohio State's indoor practice facility last spring, he might have been asked, "For what?"
Sure, football players are always chasing something, as Meyer noted Tuesday when asked about the big, bold banner now hanging at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. That "something" can be localized: a starting job, a bigger role in the offense or defense, a scholarship, a coach's approval.
But Ohio State couldn't chase many tangible team goals last spring. The Buckeyes couldn't chase a Big Ten championship or a national championship because of NCAA sanctions. They only found out in September that they could chase a Leaders Division title. Undoubtedly their greatest attribute was an ability to chase the grandest goal they could -- a perfect 12-0 regular season, capped by a win against archrival Michigan -- and achieve it.
The banner makes much more sense now. Ohio State has emerged from the shadow of postseason probation and can chase whatever it wants, including the crystal football that has eluded the Scarlet and Gray -- and the rest of the Big Ten -- for more than a decade.
Meyer and his players can stop there for now. They should, as it's only spring practice. But "The Chase" will be a theme throughout Ohio State's offseason as bigger, broader goals are back on the table.
"Everybody’s got big dreams," Meyer said, "and we as a football team have some dreams."
Ohio State can dream big primarily because of an offense that transformed in 2012, rising from 81st nationally in scoring to 21st and from 107th in total yards to 47th. Quarterback Braxton Miller blossomed in Meyer's system, racking up a team-record 3,310 yards of offense, earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Miller, who spent part of his winter break working with noted quarterback instructor George Whitfield in California, leads a unit that returns nine starters, including four linemen. Ohio State also regains the services of versatile running back Jordan Hall, who missed most of last season because of injury and turned heads during Tuesday's practice.
After delivering scathing -- and accurate -- critiques of Miller, the receivers and the entire offense last spring, Meyer has a much rosier outlook these days. Tuesday, he called Miller's footwork "outstanding" and praised Hall and several other skill players.
"Last year, who knew what as going to happen," the coach said. "I think the appropriate term was 'clown show' at this time. I don't feel like [it's] a clown show."
If Miller makes strides as a passer, Ohio State should have its most potent offense since the 2006 season, when the Buckeyes played for the national championship (coincidentally against Meyer's Florida Gators). The key to the spring -- and to the season, really -- is whether Ohio State produces a typical Ohio State defense. Otherwise, Meyer says, any discussion about "those two words that we don’t use very often" is pointless.
The spring spotlight shines brightest on the defensive front seven. Ohio State lost all four starting linemen from 2012, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year John Simon and massive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a possible first-round draft pick. Talented young linemen such as Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence got a taste last fall, and Meyer's staff has recruited extremely well up front, but others must emerge to fill out the rotation. Meyer on Tuesday challenged players such as Steve Miller and Chris Carter to do so.
All-Big Ten selection Ryan Shazier returns at linebacker, but depth remains a major concern for a group that needed fullback Zach Boren to fill a starting role midway through the 2012 season.
"If we put together a good D-line and linebackers, I think we'll have a good team," Meyer said. "If not, we won’t. It's pretty simple."
There's also a leadership void to fill this spring. Players such as Simon and Boren made sure the Buckeyes kept up the chase in 2012. Meyer expressed concern last spring at how the team would handle its first brush with failure. Thanks to the seniors, it never happened as Ohio State recorded only the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history.
The torch has passed to players like Miller, a quiet kid from a quiet family whose voice must be heard more in 2013.
"He needs to be a better leader," offensive coordinator Tom Herman told reporters last month.
Other likely leaders include Shazier and dynamic cornerback Bradley Roby, a big talker who almost always backs it up on the field. Their challenge differs from that of their predecessors, who kept the team focused in spite of the bowl ban, yet did so under measured expectations.
The expectations are back to Tressel-era levels, and perhaps even higher because of the perfect season and Meyer's recruiting success. Anything less than a celebration Dec. 7 in Indianapolis -- and perhaps another Jan. 6 in Pasadena -- will be considered disappointing.
"The chase," Meyer said, "is on."
But some NFL draft decisions are made for you. And when you're a virtual lock in the top 15 of the draft, you make the jump, no questions asked.
Hankins surprised no one Monday in announcing he'll forgo his senior season and enter the 2013 NFL draft. The Ohio State junior defensive tackle boosted his stock this season, eating up space and ball-carriers in the middle of the Buckeyes' defensive line. Many NFL draft prognosticators, including our own Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, have Hankins as the first Big Ten player off the board in April.
Hankins won't help Ohio State try to win a national title in 2013, but he undoubtedly made the right call.
"I will always be grateful for the family I have gained here at Ohio State," Hankins said in a prepared statement. "I want to thank coach [Urban] Meyer, coach [Mike] Vrabel and strength coach [Mickey] Marotti for bringing the best out of me as a football player and person, and for their constant support. I also want to thank coach [Jim] Tressel and coach [Jim] Heacock for recruiting me and giving me an opportunity to be a part of this great school and great program."
Hankins added that he intends to finish his degree at Ohio State, which is great to hear. He started every game the past two seasons and finishes his career with 138 tackles (58 solo, 80 assists), including 16.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Although Ohio State expected Hankins to leave, his departure underscores some potential depth issues the team will have up front in 2013. Defensive end John Simon, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, moves on along with nose tackle Garrett Goebel and defensive end Nathan Williams.
The good news is Urban Meyer has recruited very well at defensive line, securing blue chippers Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington in his first class (both played this fall). Linemen like Michael Bennett, Steve Miller, Tommy Schutt and Joel Hale all should see increased roles in 2013. Ohio State also is bringing in several standout D-line recruits like ESPN 300 selections Joey Bosa and Michael Hill.
Ohio State has a lot of young talent along the defensive line, but the Buckeyes need those players to grow up in a hurry if they want to take another step forward on defense.
Consider what went down Monday afternoon/evening. Meyer received commitments from two top recruits who had committed to other Big Ten programs: defensive linemen Tommy Schutt and Se'Von Pittman.
Both are ESPNU 150 selections. Both had been the highest-rated commits for Penn State (Schutt) and Michigan State (Pittman), respectively. And now both say they're headed to Columbus to play for Meyer at Ohio State.
Neither switch is a huge surprise. Schutt's pledge to Penn State seemed very shaky in light of the the recent troubles in State College. He considered several other programs and on Monday made the move to Ohio State. Pittman committed to Michigan State during the summer but had been rumored to be reconsidering. His high school teammate, Steve Miller, plays for Ohio State. Pittman also made the switch Monday.
It's certainly notable to have two top players switch commitments to the same school within the league on the same day. It shows Meyer will be aggressive in assembling Ohio State's class up until national signing day and likely will pursue other top commitments both within and outside the Big Ten.
But it also dilutes the ridiculous belief held by some Big Ten fans that there's some gentleman's agreement within the league not to pursue players who commit to other programs. This is a complete myth. Meyer isn't the first Big Ten coach to swipe a recruit or two. He's just the latest to do so. It goes on in every conference and with pretty much every coach. Meyer simply will get more attention because of who he is, where he has been and which team he now coaches. While the Big Ten might become "the SEC North," as Dan Wetzel tweeted Monday, the league isn't nearly as pure as some fans think it is.
There's also the NCAA waiver Ohio State received to have two coaching staffs working simultaneously: the existing staff under Luke Fickell and the new staff under Meyer, which also will include Fickell. This has infuriated fans of other teams and raised questions about fairness, but Ohio State surely won't be the only program to exploit the loophole (Illinois is trying to do the same). Blame the NCAA on this issue.
Our Twitter page blew up Monday night after I tweeted about what Meyer had done. Some thought I was glorifying him. Hardly. I simply pointed out a notable development on the recruiting trail by a new Big Ten coach. Go ahead and whine about it, but it's a part of today's recruiting.
Without an early signing date, all recruits are fair game until the first Wednesday of February. Whether it's wrong or not is beside the point. It's the way it goes.
It will be interesting to see who else Meyer pursues, and whether he can keep Ohio State's own commitments on board, particularly running back Bri'onte Dunn, a rumored candidate to bolt.
Fifty days till signing day ...
Recruits: 23 (all high school seniors, five players enrolled early)
Top prospects: The Buckeyes bolstered all three areas of their defense with ESPNU 150 prospects such as defensive linemen Steve Miller and Michael Bennett, cornerback Doran Grant and linebackers Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier. Ohio State also addressed a potentially pressing need at quarterback with Braxton Miller, rated as the nation's No. 4 signal-caller by ESPN Recruiting.
Needs met: Miller's addition is big because Ohio State will be without starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor for the first part of the season and needs other options if Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton don't pan out. The Buckeyes also are fairly unproven at receiver and added depth in this class with ESPNU 150 prospect Evan Spencer as well as Devin Smith. Offensive line is the only position that could have used a few more players in this class.
Analysis: After what could be labeled a down recruiting year in 2010 according to its standards, Ohio State rebounded in a big way Wednesday. The Big Ten's best program signed the league's best class, which includes seven ESPNU 150 prospects. Ohio State brought in several players who can contribute early in their careers on both sides of the ball. Braxton Miller could be Ohio State's post-Pryor answer at quarterback, and he'll have some targets to throw to in this class with players like Spencer and Smith. Ohio State did a better job of locking down the top in-state prospects than it did in 2010 and also reached to other regions for players like Curtis Grant and Shazier.
ESPN Recruiting grade: A-
Ohio State's class includes five players already enrolled in school. The class features 13 in-state prospects, 13 defensive players, nine offensive players and one specialist.
Here's the position breakdown:
A few notes:
- Ohio State's early enrollees are: quarterback Braxton Miller, linebacker Ryan Shazier, defensive back Jeremy Cash, defensive tackle Joel Hale and tight end Jeff Heuerman
- The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten with seven ESPNU 150 selections: DE Steve Miller, LB Curtis Grant, CB Doran Grant, Miller, Shazier, WR Evan Spencer and G Michael Bennett
- Offensive lineman Chris Carter Jr., who was arrested Tuesday, is not included in the Buckeyes' list of signees. Carter will remain in jail overnight and be formally charged Thursday
Though Hicks attended high school in the Cincinnati suburbs, he only moved to Ohio in the sixth grade from South Carolina and had family connections to the Texas coaching staff. As he told reporters Friday after announcing his choice, "I don't feel like I turned my back on Ohio State. ... I wasn't born here. ... Ohio State is an Ohio school. I'm not from Ohio. I really don't have that connection there from growing up liking them."
Sounds reasonable enough. But any time an elite high school prospect leaves a Big Ten state to play elsewhere, it creates anxiety among fans. And this year, Ohio State has struggled a bit to seal off its borders.
Of ESPN Scouts Inc.'s top 15 ranked players from Ohio, only four are heading to Ohio State. Prospects like Hicks (Texas), running back Spencer Ware (LSU), quarterback Andrew Hendrix (Notre Dame), safety Latwan Anderson (West Virginia) and offensive lineman Christian Pace (Michigan) will play for other teams.
It's important to remember Ohio produces a ton of great high school players, and not all of them will end up in Columbus. Ohio State has landed highly-rated local products like Darryl Baldwin, an ESPNU 150 player, as well as Andrew Norwell and Tyrone Williams. The Buckeyes also are in the mix for offensive lineman Matt James from Cincinnati.
But on the whole, Ohio State likely will sign fewer in-state players than most years.
The Buckeyes currently have eight in-state commitments from a class of 18. Last year, Ohio State signed 14 Ohio products in a class of 25. In 2005, Ohio State signed 11 Ohio products out of 18. Ohio State signed a small class of 15 in 2003, but all but three players came from the state. In 2002, Ohio State's 24-man class featured a whopping 18 players from the state.
So is this year an anomaly or a cause for concern? To get a better perspective, I checked in with Scouts Inc.'s Midwest recruiting expert Bill Kurelic , whose blog is a must read.
Here's what Kurelic had to say: "They have done OK in Ohio this year, but they certainly haven't dominated like in most years. But I don't see it as a trend. They lost out on Welch and Hendrix, but those two are from Catholic high schools and it was going to be a tough sell for OSU to keep them away from Notre Dame. They lost out on Ware, but he just never seemed overly interested.
"On the good side of things for OSU fans is that [Jim] Tressel may be set to dominate Ohio again next year like he has in most years. He has two of the top 5 Ohio juniors committed and he seems in good position to get the top six or seven guys in Ohio on his list. So I think this year is just one of those years."
Kurelic is referring to defensive ends Kenny Hayes and Steve Miller, both of whom are on the ESPNU 150 watch list .
Bottom line: Ohio State's in-state recruiting should be fine in the long term, though the Buckeyes must beware of intruders after this year.