COLUMBUS — In a normal year, the start of June would bring with it the excitement of football camps and a wave of on-campus visitors to Ohio State and universities around the nation.
2020 has not been a normal year, of course.
So, as summer officially hits and college football teams and prospects from around the country enter into another month of an NCAA-mandated recruiting dead period due to the Covid-19 pandemic, things are going to be a bit different. There will be no on-campus recruiting. There will be no official visits and there will be no camps for young players hoping to earn scholarship offers from Ohio State and others.
But there will still be recruiting. There’s always recruiting in college football. It’s just done a little bit different right now than in previous years — and to this juncture, the Buckeyes have done a pretty darn good job handling the unexpected times that they find themselves in.
Where does Ohio State go from here? What do the Buckeyes need to get done in June following a relatively quiet May? Here are our thoughts.
No. 1: Ohio State needs to add big name to 2021 recruiting class
After months and months of recruiting the same handful of highly-regarded prospects at a few key positions, Ohio State needs to know exactly where it stands with players like Emeka Egbuka, J.C. Latham, Jager Burton and Hudson Wolfe. All of those players would probably be committed somewhere by now if the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t arrived when it did.
To get that kind of closure is going to be difficult without visits occurring. So, whether it’s win or lose in those key recruitments, the Buckeyes getting some kind of answer before a return to real football is pivotal. We’ve written at Lettermen Row about the fact that Ohio State doesn’t really think in terms of backup plans at this point, but with the loss of key in-person evaluation periods, the sooner that Ryan Day can begin actually getting to know other options — if necessary — the better.
Egbuka, the country’s No. 1-ranked receiver, isn’t in a hurry to decide. But there’s a strong belief that the Buckeyes are the team to beat. If that’s the case, and if that lead is substantial, there’s some who think that the 6-foot-1, 190-pound wideout could choose to end his recruitment. He’d certainly make a major impact on the Ohio State recruiting class if he did, similar to impact that TreVeyon Henderson made on the recruiting trail in March and April.
Burton and Wolfe are each players who at one time were reportedly leaning in Ohio State’s direction, but in both cases there seems to have been a change in the winds precipitated by Covid-19 induced changes to the recruiting calendar. If those players ultimately decide on another program, it’s in the best interest of the Buckeyes staff to know it outright rather than being forced to read tea leaves in a time when it’s increasingly difficult to do so.
No. 2: Is there another real cornerback option?
Ohio State has six defensive back prospects already committed in its 2021 recruiting class. But the Buckeyes aren’t done in the secondary. There are a handful of viable options remaining for Kerry Coombs and Matt Barnes to sift through, but the question is how real are the best of those options?
Clemson commit Jordan Hancock was right at the top of the Ohio State big board along with current Buckeyes commit Jakailin Johnson. There’s been no slowdown in the efforts to turn the Tigers cornerback pledge, but the odds aren’t in the favor of Ohio State.
Then there’s Tony Grimes, the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the country who released his final four schools on Sunday afternoon.
— Tony Grimes (@757EliteDB) May 31, 2020
Ohio State made the list for Grimes along with North Carolina, Georgia and Texas A&M. But the Buckeyes are absolutely running fourth in this race, and the gap between the other three contenders and Ohio State is substantial. If Grimes is actually interested in the Buckeyes, it’ll be months before he has a chance to visit and meet with Coombs in person. Proving legitimate interest will require effort on Grimes part because Ohio State isn’t in a position where it will chase recruits using its program solely as a hat on the proverbial table.
No. 3: When will in-person recruiting be allowed again?
I suppose this final segment of the June recruiting-do list has evergreen potential, because until the Buckeyes and the rest of college football have a true timeline for the return of in-person recruiting, everything else is rendered somewhat moot.
Ohio State is one of the country’s most highly-regarded on-campus visit experiences for recruits and their families. No matter how well the Buckeyes coaches, administration and players represent themselves on social media or in Zoom calls, it can’t replace the experience of being on campus for young men and their parents.
The NCAA needs a return-to-action plan for football teams and recruits and it needs to happen soon or these young players will find themselves in danger of being left behind by the relentless nature of the recruiting calendar and its future cycles.