Ohio State has done pretty much whatever it wanted on the football field and on the recruiting trail for the last seven years.
The Buckeyes dominated their top rivals on both fronts, routinely beating Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State and Notre Dame when they’ve faced off on Saturdays and when they’ve gone head-to-head in living rooms around the country.
Urban Meyer’s reputation as a legendary coach was reinforced at pretty much every turn. His reputation as one of the game’s most capable recruiters only grew during his tenure as the Buckeyes went from recruiting the best of the best in Ohio to recruiting the best of the best in every corner of America. The program elevated the student-athlete profile in Columbus to a never before seen level thanks to innovative programs like Real Life Wednesdays and Brand U.
But Meyer is obviously no longer the coach at Ohio State. Ryan Day has that role now, and his reputation is sound — but it’s not legendary.
For years, Meyer preached testimony over theory as schools like Michigan and Notre Dame specifically fought to get back into the national spotlight. Meyer’s absence is at least temporarily opening a door for the Wolverines, the Fighting Irish and others to walk through. And because of that, the 2020 recruiting cycle has put those three historically great programs into a number of high-profile recruiting battles after years of Ohio State dominance.
At this stage in the process, Lettermen Row is going to examine a handful of the prospects being sought by each of these Midwestern powers and see where things stand.
Ohio State-Michigan battles
A few more names are starting to pop up on the target list for these two bitter rivals, and that’s a good thing for a rivalry that’s been so one-sided since 2004. Michigan has been on the cusp of knocking off Ohio State on the field a couple times in the last few years, but last November’s decimation likely would’ve been a scarlet and gray-colored kill shot if Meyer hadn’t announced his retirement 10 days later.
Instead, the Wolverines have had a bit of energy against Ohio State on the recruiting trail. And they have become the 247Sports.com crystal ball favorite to pluck New York’s William Mohan away from one of Ohio State’s favorite feeder schools — Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn. He’s a 3-star linebacker and he holds an offer from each school. But his most recent, and reportedly impactful, visit was to Michigan this spring.
Ohio State is not walking away from that fight. And despite the confidence coming from Ann Arbor, sources in Columbus still believe the Buckeyes will have the edge whenever Mohan is close to a decision.
Miami Central 4-star cornerback Henry Gray is a similar story, though he’s not visited Michigan yet. He’s expected to make a trip to Ann Arbor this summer, and though every prediction made on his recruiting profile favors the Buckeyes, there’s been a stir of optimism from the Wolverines side of things that they can make his recruitment interesting. If he makes the visit to Ann Arbor, maybe that becomes the case.
Ohio State-Notre Dame battles
The Buckeyes have battled Notre Dame head-to-head for a number of players over the last few years. Usually, except for offensive lineman, Ohio State has fared pretty well.
In 2020, what happens with a pair of defensive backs could very much define success or failure for the future of the Buckeyes secondary. Notre Dame is a primary contender for two of Ohio State’s top targets, Arizona’s Lathan Ransom and California’s Clark Phillips, each of whom made trips to both schools this spring.
To win these battles, new Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley will have to show how his NFL roots make him the best choice for development on the field while Ohio State presents unique opportunities for advancement off of it. Notre Dame’s academic reputation, more so than Michigan’s, is often pointed to as a differentiator on the recruiting trail. And it can also be considered as the impetus for Meyer working as hard as he did to raise the standard of admission for football players and to make sure that the programs like Real Life Wednesdays, Brand U, and Ohio State’s advanced internship programs aren’t just lip service.
Which Ohio State targets are considering Michigan and Notre Dame?
The Wolverines have yet to really take advantage of their home state becoming a much more fertile recruiting ground in the last few years and have let a number of Michigan’s best players be courted aggressively by Ohio State, Michigan State, Notre Dame and others. That’s playing a major role in 2020 as a pair of Michigan residents, Braiden McGregor and Makari Paige, are giving the Irish and the Buckeyes a serious look and considering leaving home.
I don’t think the Buckeyes are as involved with McGregor as they are Paige. Ohio State may be in trailing position behind Michigan and Notre Dame for the country’s fifth-ranked strongside defensive end, but Larry Johnson and Greg Mattison visited this week as the Buckeyes continue to push. Paige, from West Bloomfield High School, has been a long-time target for Ohio State and a player they’ve made a priority longer than anyone else. They remain a top choice to land him.
A pair of offensive linemen, Colorado’s Reece Atteberry and Massachusset’s Zak Zinter, are both considering this trio of schools, visiting and comparing what each spot has to offer. With Notre Dame landing Arizona’s Tosh Baker earlier this week and offering top Ohio State target Michael Carmody, things could be opening up and getting more intriguing along the offensive line.
Olney (Md.) Good Counsel 3-star linebacker Mitchell Melton is wildly under-ranked as the country’s No. 51 outside linebacker prospect. But he’s a top target for these three schools, and that alone should force a rankings adjustment. Melton has Ohio roots with both of his parents hailing from the Buckeye State, but he’s seriously considering each school and will likely take an official visit to each place over the course of three consecutive June weekends.
While it’s likely Notre Dame and Michigan lead for McGregor, New Jersey 4-star safety Jordan Morant has gone on record that the Wolverines and Buckeyes are his top-two schools among his recently released top 10. He made visits to Ann Arbor, South Bend and Columbus in a one-week stretch toward the end of April, so he has some recent information to base his planned December decision on. Ohio State may have put themselves firmly into the mix for his commitment, but Michigan is still considered the team to beat when he announces his choice at the Adidas All-American Game.