NCF On The Trail: Ohio State Buckeyes

Dominating Florida is always critical for Florida State, but another secret to the Seminoles' success is doing well in Virginia, and highly-coveted corner Levonta Taylor could be the Noles' next big get from the state.
Two things have become clear in recruiting: If you want a top quarterback you had better move quickly; each prospect’s decision affects others. That’s why the upcoming decision of Jarrett Guarantano looms large over the 2016 class.

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The state of Florida is generally loaded with playmakers at wide receiver. In fact, over the last five years, the state has produced at least eight ESPN 300 prospects in every class. This year’s group of wide receivers just might top them all. An astounding 15 wideouts from the Sunshine State are listed in the ESPN Junior 300. It’s the deepest wide receiver class to come out of Florida in recent memory.

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While it might not be as deep as other cities in the Midlands, Wichita has a great reputation with recruiters, producing top prospects such as Kamerion Wimbley, Arthur Brown and Bryce Brown since 2000. Next on the list is likely to be defensive end Xavier Kelly.

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Nate Craig-Myers talks FSU visit 

March, 2, 2015
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KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Nate Craig-Myers, the top-ranked receiver in the 2016 class, was in attendance at the Nike Football The Opening Orlando Regional on Sunday. Because of a leg injury suffered during his senior season, the 6-foot-2, 202-pound athlete did not participate. Craig-Myers did, however, take a few minutes to give an update on his recruitment.

Craig-Myers, the 10th-ranked player overall in the ESPN Junior 300, has been committed to Auburn since last July, but it is no secret that he continues to look at other programs. The talented pass-catcher took a visit to FSU on Saturday and came away impressed with his time in Tallahassee.


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KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Despite being overcast and rainy, the Orlando Nike regional camp had an incredible turnout of some of the top prospects in the ESPN Junior 300.

The impressive list of prospects in attendance was led by the 30th-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, No. 30 Isaac Nauta, No. 32 Feliepe Franks, No. 42 Demetris Robertson, No. 66 Rahshaun Smith and No. 92 Shaq Quarterman. The 10th-ranked player in the country, Nate Craig-Myers, was also in attendance but did not participate due to an injury.

While Saturday’s camp in Miami showcased many defensive top defensive back prospects, the offensive line was dominant on Sunday in Orlando.

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Ultimate ESPN 300 roundtable: Most impactful B1G recruit

February, 18, 2015
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By now, you've surely seen the Ultimate ESPN 300, a list of the 300 most impactful players based on both high school and college production. The list considered players whom ESPN evaluated at both levels, so while not all 300 players were highly rated in high school, they were all somewhat known commodities.

We're all about the Big Ten here, so in the next three days we'll debate how the Ultimate ESPN 300 factors into this corner of college football.

Wednesday's roundtable topic: Which player had the biggest impact on a Big Ten program?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris Borland, Wisconsin linebacker, No. 143

Impact can be hard to quantify, as there are so many factors involved. I nearly went with former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who impacted Ohio State both positively (fans often forget how good he was in bowl games and big games) and negatively during a wild career. I also tried to find players who seemed like he played college ball for seven or eight years. Borland was one of those players. He was so good for so long, winning Big Ten freshman of the year in 2009 and Big Ten defensive player of the year in 2013. He overcame adversity, missing most of 2010 with a shoulder injury. He earned All-Big Ten honors -- coaches or media -- in all four full seasons he played.

Borland also is the quintessential Wisconsin star: an undersized, freakish athlete who grew up playing soccer and was overlooked in recruiting. He contributed from the moment he arrived in Madison and played in four bowl games and three Big Ten championship games. Although Wisconsin had more nationally famous players on the Ultimate 300 list -- J.J. Watt (No. 271), Russell Wilson (No. 187), Melvin Gordon (No. 53), Montee Ball (No. 136) -- Borland's overall legacy as a Badger trumps them all.

Brian Bennett: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State quarterback, No. 71

My choice is a little unorthodox and not entirely based on what the player has done -- yet -- on the field. I'm going with Penn State's Hackenberg. He committed to Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and stayed with the Nittany Lions even after the NCAA tried to decimate the program with scholarship reductions and a bowl ban. He could have easily gone somewhere else, but his faithfulness in Bill O'Brien and the program signaled to other players that it was OK to stick things out with Penn State.

Hackenberg was the Big Ten's freshman of the year in 2013 and, despite some struggles as a sophomore, still helped lead the Nittany Lions back to a bowl last season. He's got at least one more year in State College to show off his talent. Penn State fans should already be thankful for what he (and let's not forget No. 294, Michael Mauti) did to keep the entire program afloat.

Mitch Sherman: Joey Bosa, Ohio State defensive end, No. 58

What more could one guy do from his position than Bosa in helping lead the Buckeyes romp to a Big Ten title and the first College Football Playoff championship? Sure, the Ohio State quarterbacks and running back Ezekiel Elliott got many of the headlines – and deservedly so – during the 2014 championship run. But Bosa dominated from the first game of the season at defensive end, collecting 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

His Big Ten-best four forced fumbles led directly to 30 Ohio State points. And he did it, as a true sophomore, without fellow bookend Noah Spence, dismissed after All-Big Ten season in 2013. Opponents feared Bosa. His presence changed games. And nothing seemed to bother him. He was simply the best player on the best team in the country for the longest portion of last season.
The Ultimate ESPN 300 list is loaded with intriguing stories. From unheralded players rising to the top to players not yet reaching their potential, the list has everything. To outline a few of those intriguing players, here is a look at the top five within the Big Ten:


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Many believe ESPN Junior 300 defensive Nick Bosa will be an even better college football player than his brother. That’s saying a lot because his brother is Joey Bosa, star defensive lineman for national champion Ohio State and one of the top projected picks for the 2016 NFL draft.


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Quarterback Kyler Murray grabbed all of the headlines at Allen (Texas) High School over the past few seasons, but it’s actually junior offensive tackle Greg Little who is a higher-ranked prospect.


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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Typically Zach Smith isn’t much of a sleeper on planes.

“I try, man,” the Ohio State wide receivers coach said. “I just can’t sleep on them.”

Sometimes Smith can’t help it though. And so packed into an aisle seat near the back of a Monday morning Southwest flight to Baltimore a week after helping the Buckeyes win a national championship, Smith’s eyelids were getting mighty heavy even before the wheels were off the ground.

At least on this leg of his journey to Arkansas to visit coveted wide receiver K.J. Hill, Smith was able to find a little rest, which had been in short supply for a coaching staff that had been working overtime as it navigated the first College Football Playoff and then quickly transitioned to the recruiting trail with virtually no time to recover.

The Buckeyes weren’t complaining, particularly since the collection of trophies they had acquired during the postseason was doing a lot of selling of the program for them. But after missing some chances to visit prospects thanks to the Big Ten championship, then spending as much time as possible preparing for Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and Oregon in the title game and having to hit the road just two days after returning from Dallas, Smith was understandably running on fumes.

“It was a grind, but it was fun,” Smith said. “I mean, No. 1 it was different because after we won the national championship, it’s really easy to wake up, go to work, walk in a high school because everybody is telling you how great you are. It wasn’t hard to get motivated to do your job -- not that it ever is, but especially now.

“But it was a grind. Most of the time after a bowl game, you get at least two or three days off. We came back and landed on Tuesday, staff meeting on Wednesday to organize it and Thursday we were hitting the road.”

Ohio State once again cleaned up there, finishing with the No. 6 class in the country and adding some pieces that could be useful in defending the title next fall. And all that extra time the Buckeyes were spending to win a crown also opened a few doors once they did hit the recruiting trail, perhaps most notably the one Smith was on the way to visit after Hill had largely been out of the picture earlier in the process thanks to his commitment to Arkansas.

That trip turned out to be well worth it for the Buckeyes, and not just because Smith was able to recharge his batteries for about an hour on the way.

“These guys were toast,” coach Urban Meyer said. “But once again, as I always complain about, everybody forgets about our student-athletes. Yeah, the coaches are tired, but go sleep. You’re not in a high-level against 30-ACT kids like our players are.

“They missed two days of class. ... My strength coach is so good, and we just have to make sure that we don’t blow this thing out, because they all deserve to be taken care. I think we’ve done a good job monitoring [the fatigue].”

The Buckeyes shouldn’t have to worry about that for a while now, though spring practice is creeping around the corner next month and Meyer has wasted no time stressing a zero-complacency policy coming off the championship.

That was obviously in place already when the coaches went back out on the road trying to close their latest class. For the most part, the foundation for 2015 had already been established prior to the postseason, but that championship still provided a lift late with guys like Hill, running back Mike Weber and offensive lineman Isaiah Prince.

But where it might really offer a jolt is with the next batch of targets. And just in case Smith happens to doze off for a minute or two in the coming weeks, there’s a nice safety net that will help pitch the program even when he can’t.

“I think it definitely helped this year, but right now we have a seven-month marketing campaign,” Smith said. “Basically we don’t have to do anything. That’s all they’re playing, talking about and that’s all they’re seeing. The class of ’16 has the next seven months to hear about Ohio State and how we’re the best team in the country.

“For 2015, it did help kind of spark us at the end and help us close some kids, I’m sure it did. But not like it should next year.”

Maybe a dynasty, then, is sitting on the runway waiting for takeoff.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The reigning national champions showed no signs of slowing down on national signing day, reeling in the No. 6 recruiting class in the country. ESPN.com caught up with coach Urban Meyer to look back at the end of last season, success on the trail and what is next for Ohio State.

Austin Ward: One thing that you have talked a lot about recently is theory vs. testimony. How does that apply to recruiting efforts now compared to when you arrived at Ohio State?

Urban Meyer: It means, my daughters went through recruiting, both of them were volleyball players, one went to Georgia Tech and one went to Florida Gulf Coast, and I remember as a parent sitting there listening. Some of it is a leap of faith. Who is this new staff? What are they trying to do? But any time there is a for-sure, and right now with the way we do our business at Ohio State with academics, with the way our weight room is, the Real-Life Wednesdays and then the success on the field, if you’re a guy that wants to be playing for a group of assistant coaches and some teammates who are really good players and know how to win and do things right, this is a pretty good system right now.

After the title game, you mentioned that championships have a way of opening up doors. Did that apply to finishing this class or more for 2016?

Meyer: I think there’s no doubt K.J. Hill, Isaiah Prince, [Matthew] Burrell -- I think we might have got him anyway -- but there’s no question it opened the doors. And I’m seeing it a lot for the ‘16s, too. It’s a 30-day infomercial on Ohio State and the program, the college football playoff was.

I saw [wide receivers coach] Zach Smith about a week after the national championship and he could barely keep his eyes open. How difficult was the time crunch for you all after such a long season?

Meyer: These guys are toast. But once again, as I always complain about, everybody forgets about our student athletes. Yeah, the coaches are tired, but go sleep. You’re not in a high-level class against 30-ACT kids like our players are. They miss two days of class -- I can imagine the professor marking them absent for two days when they’re out there winning the national title for Ohio State. My strength coach is so good, and we just have to make sure that we don’t blow this thing out, because they deserve to be taken care of -- and I think we’ve done a good job monitoring our staff, but more importantly our players.

How do you recruit two more quarterbacks to come in and compete on such a talented depth chart?

Meyer: There’s a little bit more involved, but everybody has three or four quarterbacks, every school in the country. Don’t penalize us because our guys played great. Same with Kenny Guiton, he played good. The guys at Florida, the guys at Utah, the guys at Bowling Green, it’s because I like the way we teach them, I like the personnel around them, I think it’s a quarterback-friendly offense that we try to do the things that they do well. So, don’t penalize us. If there’s a better place, and I actually did that with some players, I said let’s look at their rosters. Everybody has three or four quarterbacks, every one of them. And if you don’t, well then you’re probably not very good. That’s the approach that we took.

Did you feel a different intensity with Jim Harbaugh coming into the rivalry and recruiting now?

Meyer: We felt it. They contacted all of our players, they really went after Mike Weber and Josh Alabi and Joe Burrow. But you expect that. I remember when I first got here people were saying things [about not recruiting committed players.] That’s their job. If they don’t, are you kidding me? Kids in their home state? I expect that, and I think the previous coach was a heck of a recruiter and they’re always going to have great recruiters there. But we’re well aware of everything they’re doing.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The competition was fierce, went down to the wire and ultimately kept Ohio State coaches up for most of Tuesday night.

The Buckeyes also know their work might only be beginning with a new regime at Michigan, and it’s exactly what they’d expect from the most intense rivalry in college football.

The battles between certainly never lacked for intensity under the previous Wolverines coaching staff, though it’s pretty clear who has had the upper hand since Urban Meyer arrived and took his program in a much different direction than Brady Hoke did his before he was fired. Ohio State was able to maintain its edge in the first true head-to-head battle with Jim Harbaugh leading up to national signing day, but if the tug of war over running back Mike Weber is any indication, The Game is about to return to being a 12-month war.

[+] EnlargeMike Weber
Tom Hauck for Student SportsGetting running back Mike Weber's signature was the first major recruiting battle between Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. Ohio State was able to sign the top player in Michigan on Wednesday, but not without some anxious moments.
“No doubt,” Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “I mean, Harbaugh’s presence was felt up north, no doubt about it. He went in there guns a-blazing trying to get the best player in his state, which he should.”

This time the recruiting barrage from Harbaugh and his staff came up short, but not without making the Buckeyes sweat it out into the late-night hours leading up to Weber’s decision Wednesday.

A former Michigan commitment, the ESPN 300 prospect from Detroit's Cass Technical High School had some doubts creep into his mind late in the process for a variety of reasons, keeping Meyer and Drayton busy on the phone with Weber to help fight off the pressure that had been building on the other side of the border to keep him at home, where he would have provided a significant boost to Harbaugh’s first class.

It wasn’t the only time the Buckeyes had been forced to deal with Michigan’s new presence on the recruiting trail, with Meyer also pointing to quarterback Joe Burrow and defensive tackle Joshua Alabi -- Weber's high school teammate -- as other Ohio State commitments whom the Wolverines made a push to flip during the last month. And it definitely won’t be the last time these storied programs tangle off the field in the coming years.

“We felt it,” Meyer said. “They contacted all of our players ... but you expect that. I remember when I first got here, people were saying things [about not recruiting committed players.] That’s their job. If they don’t, are you kidding me? Kids in their home state? I expect that.

“I think the previous coach was a heck of a recruiter and they’re always going to have great recruiters there. But we’re well aware of everything they’re doing.”

Like anything else that can be boiled down to a winner and loser in the rivalry, Meyer also didn’t mind making people aware that “absolutely you keep score” on those recruiting victories over the Wolverines. But he also didn’t hide from the fact that Harbaugh certainly made it a challenge coming down the stretch.

For his part, Harbaugh wasn’t pressed about recruiting against his once and future rival, and he didn’t feel any need to address the Buckeyes on his own. Perhaps the nature of some of the individual battles will change moving forward, with Michigan potentially not needing to chase committed prospects as aggressively as it did with such a short window following the coaching transition.

But Harbaugh is officially back in the game now, and with a full recruiting cycle to work with, the two coaching staffs figure to see each other much more often than just on the opposite sideline at the end of November.

“You make a call and ask someone if they are interested in talking about Michigan,” Harbaugh said. “Certainly if someone says no, it is no. But if someone says yes, then I want to show them Michigan.

“We were trying to build a recruiting base and that is kind of the way the pickle squirted this year.”

Don’t mistake that for an apology from Harbaugh, and Meyer made it clear it wasn’t necessary anyway for a coach just doing his job.

Both guys understand the business and The Game, and one key recruitment already indicates the stakes are only going to get higher.
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Stop, for a moment, at the close of another wild and unpredictable signing day, and remember these eight therapeutic words: Not a single football game was played Wednesday.

Now, proceed to lose your mind.

In possibly the final signing day of its kind, college football grabbed the spotlight for its annual, offseason showcase of the bizarre. Winners and losers emerged. Mostly, though, it went off about as scripted -- and by that, we mean totally, beautifully unscripted.

[+] EnlargeSoso Jamabo
Matt Garnett/Icon SportswireSoso Jamabo helped start signing day, and UCLA's run, with his commitment to the Bruins.
Wednesday out West, signs pointed to a raising of the stakes in the Pac-12.

UCLA won the morning with big scores over Michigan for tight end Chris Clark, Texas for athlete Soso Jamabo, Georgia for No. 2 outside linebacker Roquan Smith -- more on Smith later -- and Oklahoma for offensive guard Joshua Wariboko.

The Bruins later snagged receiver Cordell Broadus, son of Snoop Dogg, but by mid-afternoon, the fireworks shifted to the USC Trojans' side of town.

USC won out for top-ranked inside linebacker John Houston Jr., No. 1 cornerback Iman Marshall and defensive tackle Rasheem Green Wednesday, along with athlete Porter Gustin, linebacker Osa Masina and defensive tackle Kevin Scott earlier in January. The Trojans' late rush helped their class finish No. 3 overall.

National champion Ohio State of the Big Ten made a morning splash by retaining the commitment of quarterback Torrance Gibson, who gave late consideration to Auburn and LSU. The Buckeyes flipped offensive tackle Isaiah Prince from Alabama's No. 1 class, which was otherwise largely put to bed weeks ago.

Texas flipped safety P.J. Locke from Oregon to punctuate Charlie Strong's 29-man, No. 9-ranked class that might signal the return to prominence of the Longhorns.

And the SEC added its share of drama, starting with the Auburn-Florida battles, in which former Gators coach Will Muschamp loomed large.

Muschamp's new program beat his old one for linebacker Jeffery Holland and the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, defensive end Byron Cowart of Seffner (Florida) Armwood.

Cowart, though, failed to fax his signed letter of intent to Auburn for some seven hours while reports bounced back and forth about his eventual decision.

Clearly, he was torn, feeling compelled to consider Florida coach Jim McElwain and his staff, on the job for two months.

"It's not their fault they're new," Cowart said. "In the recruiting process, [coaches] tell you what you want to hear, and when you get there, everything switches."

So ultimately, Cowart went with Auburn -- and the coach he trusted.

The Tigers, after the great start, lost No. 1 offensive tackle Martez Ivey and second-rated defensive end CeCe Jefferson to Florida and top-ranked defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. to Missouri.

Tennessee claimed victory with the signing of elite defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, a longtime commitment out of California, and the late flip of offensive tackle Drew Richmond from Ole Miss to secure the nation's fifth-rated class -- No. 2 in the SEC.

Ranked No. 1 nationally, for the fourth straight year, was the Crimson Tide.

"One of the very good things about this class is we didn't have a lot of drama today," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "These guys have been committed to us for a while.
"That's not the way to get the most attention from the media, but that certainly speaks highly of what a commitment means."

LSU, with its new all-star cast of recruiters headlined by Ed Orgeron, finished with good news early in the week on defensive end Arden Key, followed by the Wednesday addition of guard Toby Weathersby -- a former Texas pledge -- and the flip of receiver Brandon Martin from Missouri.

Martin punctuated his change of heart with this hashtag on Twitter.



And then there was the case of Smith, the linebacker out of Macon County High School in Montezuma, Georgia, who announced his choice of UCLA over Georgia on ESPNU but never faxed his letter of intent.

Why? Because in the moments after signing, Smith learned from reporters at his school -- as Georgia coaches furiously called with the same news -- that UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was up for a job as the Atlanta Falcons' linebackers coach.

Ulbrich recruited Smith, who plans to wait "a couple days to figure things out," Macon County coach Larry Harold told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ah, there's nothing quite like signing day, which could change considerably for the next class of recruits if a proposal is approved this spring by the Division I conference commissioners to add a three-day early signing period in December.

So, if this was the last of its kind -- with the full-on drama and star power that only a once-a-year event can provide -- then signing day as we know it went out in style.
Ohio State linebacker commit Justin Hilliard was expecting a busy day today, but his father, Carl, didn’t know his day would be hectic as well. Hilliard had been committed to Ohio State for quite some time and was all set to send in his letter of intent.

Hilliard tweeted out a picture of the paperwork before he faxed it in without removing his father’s cell phone number from the forms. The elder Hilliard was then flooded with texts and calls from Ohio State fans congratulating the family on Justin’s decision.



Hilliard’s father said he received more than 500 texts from excited Buckeyes fans and one fan even tweeted that he had a conversation with the recruit’s father.



The gaffe was later deleted and the family had a laugh, but it added a little extra stress to what was supposed to be a relatively uneventful day.

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