COLUMBUS — Ohio State has the country’s top-ranked recruiting class — and the nation’s largest target on its back.
The SEC, ACC and Big 12 continue to push forward with plans for a fall season. And that means the Buckeyes class could become a fertile recruiting ground for Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, LSU and others hoping to deliver a deathblow to the Big Ten’s standard-bearer.
Ryan Day, forced to navigate a number of challenging recruiting situations already in his short tenure at Ohio State, has to prepare for the biggest assault yet on the future of his program. True to his response to every obstacle he’s seen thus far, Day appears confident that he’ll have an answer for the questions posed by recruits and their families and a plan in place to deal with the onslaught of negative recruiting pitches that are sure to come the way of the Buckeyes and the Big Ten.
How will Ohio State cancel out the notion that it plays in a conference that be attacked for seeming to not care enough about football? It can start by making sure that kids and their families know that Ohio State cares about them.
“It’s got to be real simple, even though it’s hard,” one Buckeyes assistant told Lettermen Row this week. “We’re going to do the things that are best for you, all the time, even when it hurts Ohio State. That’s the message.”
Ohio State knows that other schools are going to come calling for its recruits. It’s already begun.
“A couple of schools have reached out,” 5-star offensive lineman Donovan Jackson told Lettermen Row. “[The message has been] that their conference cares more about the sport and players.”
Preparing the current crop of Buckeyes commitments for that assault means readying them to hear what other schools will use to attack: Primarily the Big Ten’s role in removing college football from their televisions this fall.
“Coaches have just told me to prepare for a bunch of coaches from different schools to start hitting me up and things like that,” TreVeyon Henderson, the country’s No. 1-ranked running back and Ohio State verbal, told Lettermen Row on Tuesday night. “But they also told me that if they get pushed to the spring and if I could play, to be ready.”
And for the Buckeyes, that’s the card that has to be played. No one of rational mind truly believes that Ohio State — of all places — doesn’t want to play football. So what Day and his coaching staff must provide now is proof that the Buckeyes and the Big Ten are going to make the decisions that are best for a player’s health and his development. For players like Henderson, the chance to play more college football, sooner, is an enticing option, especially after losing his senior year of high school sports in the same manner that the Buckeyes are losing their fall season.
“I think there’s some excitement about the possibility of playing two seasons in one year,” Day said during a Wednesday press conference. “I think that’s a really exciting thing for them to consider, and I’m gonna fight really, really hard so that if I’m a mid-year guy coming in, if we have the opportunity to play in January and then also in the fall, that it will only count for one year of eligibility because it’s only in one calendar year.
“I think that’s really exciting for them and is a possibility that really interests them.”
Henderson expressed his interest in that concept on social media shortly after Day’s comments. To do that would probably require some NCAA wrangling, but what Ohio State has done as well as anyone in the country in recent recruiting cycles is communicate. There’s been no shortage of conversation with recruits, commits and families about its plans in the past, and there won’t be any shortage of communication about the plans in the future either — as soon as the Big Ten gets around to making one, that is.
“It goes back to relationships and trust and [we] continue to build,” Day said last week. “I do feel for these recruits and their families. … It’s a unique time and everyone is adjusting the best they can. I’m proud of what we’ve done so far and we’ve just got to keep going from there.
“It’s easy to get frustrated, but you have to adjust during these times.”
As the rest of college football takes aim at Ohio State, the message is being adjusted. Now it’s up to the Big Ten to help ensure the Buckeyes can deliver.