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Thursday, February 28, 2013
State of the Rivalry: Defensive backs

By Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival

The writers at WolverineNation and BuckeyeNation put their heads together to break down the rivals' 2013 classes. Position by position, they’ll give you a look at who Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer brought in and, ultimately, which class edged out the other. It’s too early to say what will happen over the next few seasons, and we won’t make any promises except that Hoke and Meyer are going to put talent on the field.

Ohio State got: The Buckeyes were praised nationally for their wide receiver/athlete, linebacker and defensive line positions, but there’s no doubt the defensive backfield is the headliner of the 2013 recruiting class. From ESPN 150 cornerbacks Eli Apple (Voorhees, N.J./Eastern) and Cam Burrows (Trotwood, Ohio/Trotwood-Madison) to other ESPN 150 defensive backs such as Gareon Conley (Massillon, Ohio/Washington) and Vonn Bell (Rossville, Ga./Ridgeland), Ohio State is loaded in the secondary. The fact ESPN 300 safety Jayme Thompson (Toledo, Ohio/Central Catholic) is the fifth-best DB on the list shows just how strong the unit is. Add three-star safety Darron Lee (New Albany, Ohio/New Albany), who is ranked 22nd at his position, and Ohio State’s strength will come in air defense for the next four to five years.

Eli Apple
The nation's No. 3 D-back, five-star Eli Apple (left) makes it hard to argue against OSU winning the DBs recruiting battle over Michigan.
Apple, a five-star, is the cream of the defensive backs crop and is ranked third in the nation at cornerback. He, along with Conley (seventh) and Burrows (ninth), gives the Buckeyes three top-10 cornerbacks. Bell, who was a signing-day grab for whom the Buckeyes beat Tennessee and Alabama, is ranked fourth at safety, and the four-star might be the first to see the field. Burrows’ size -- he’s 6-foot-0 and 203 pounds -- makes him an easy switch to corner, and linebacker Christopher Worley could slide into a safety spot as well. Any way you size it up, the secondary is primary for Ohio State in the recruiting class of 2013.

Michigan got: Losing Conley to Ohio State was a big blow to the Wolverines. The coaching staff made up for it by landing a plethora of defensive backs to fill depth. The highest-ranked defensive back is Detroit Cass Tech corner Jourdan Lewis, who isn’t the biggest guy on the field, but he is an all-around athlete. He showed why he is in the ESPN 150 over the summer at camps and combines, and he should be able to help Michigan defensively in a variety of ways. The addition of safety Dymonte Thomas (Alliance, Ohio/Marlington) was also a big deal because he’s a highly ranked safety prospect and was at one point a big target for Ohio State. Thomas committed in his junior year while taking in Michigan’s first night game against Notre Dame, and kept his word all the way through despite attempts by the Buckeyes staff.

The third four-star defensive back Michigan landed was Ross Douglas (Avon, Ohio/Avon), who committed after decommitting from Penn State. He has a similar frame and attributes as Michigan defensive back Blake Countess, but we’ll see whether he yields the same results. To round out the class Michigan finished with size and athleticism. Channing Stribling (Matthews, N.C./Butler), Reon Dawson (Trotwood, Ohio/Trotwood-Madison) and Delano Hill (Detroit/Cass Tech) are all 6-foot-0 or taller. They all have size, speed and the length that Michigan is looking for going forward.

Advantage: Ohio State

The Buckeyes win this one by a lot. ESPN’s Billy Tucker called the unit the best in the nation for good reason. Apple (11th), Burrows (62nd), Conley (43rd) and Bell (50th) are all outrank Lewis (88th) in the ESPN 150. In fact, Lewis is the only Michigan defensive back to appear in the top 300. By contrast, Ohio State -- as mentioned before -- has five in the top 300. There’s one five-star in the group, four four-stars and one three-star.