Ohio State Football Recruiting: Where Does This Buckeye Class Rank Among Others?
The pundits nationwide are praising the current crop of soon-to-be football freshman at Ohio State in 2012, but the man who snatched the previously plagued program from the depths of its temporary residence in pigskin purgatory, Urban Meyer, offers perspective to the multitudes:
Of course, a man with a little money in the bank can always play the modesty game with the guile that Meyer has exuded thus far in his OSU tenure, but the reality is that these players remain paper prospects only until they fill the ranks behind a charging Meyer onto the field for the first time this coming September.
The swiftness in transformation out of the murky residue left behind by the Jim Tressel era would have seemed an unmanageable channel to navigate for many, yet Meyer emerged with a class that has been rated as high as No. 4 in the nation by Rivals.com.
Just as Meyer's abilities to resurrect the program will be heavily weighted, so too will his abilities as a recruiter. Thus, here is a comparative sampling of a handful of stellar recruiting classes at OSU in addition to the current crop.
The 1998 class of Buckeye recruits was ranked No. 14 on a comprehensive list of the "Top 15 Recruiting Classes of All Time," as picked by Sports Illustrated.
It included 11 out of 16 players who would go on to be drafted into the NFL, including quarterback Steve Bellasari, LaCharles Bentley (a two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman with the New Orleans Saints), Nate Clements (a Pro Bowler in 2004 with the Buffalo Bills) and running back Jonathan Wells.
Although there wasn't a high success rate among many of the 11 once they moved on to the professional game, the mere fact that then-coach John Cooper was able to assemble such a class is a testament to its place on the list.
Despite being the subject of perpetual ridicule throughout his career as head coach of the Buckeyes—mainly for his ineptitude at fulfilling the most sacred of duties by defeating Mee-chi-gan—John Cooper put together some impressive years of recruitment.
The Class of 1996 was significantly lauded at the time for including linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer, who was reputed to be the top defensive player in the nation out of high school.
Despite being the only true freshman to start at linebacker for the Buckeyes, winning the Butkus and Lambert awards, and being named an All-American in 1997, Katzenmoyer's pro career never lived up to his college promise.
There were seven players among this class who went on to the NFL, including defensive back Gary Berry, wide receiver David Boston (a Pro Bowler in 2001 with the Arizona Cardinals) and running back Michael Wiley.
This class was the second recruitment effort by the Sweater Vest, AKA the now-tarnished Tressel. It produced 12 future NFL draftees, including 2006 Heisman winner Troy Smith, currently of the Pittsburgh Steelers, as well as Maurice Clarett.
Clarett was never able to translate his promise as an amateur to the pros, but he was instrumental in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl victory over the University of Miami, resulting in a National Championship for OSU. Many, including the author of this piece, consider this the greatest game in Buckeye history.
Among the 12 future NFL draftees, four of them were first-rounders, including Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes, A.J. Hawk (who won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 2010) and New York Jets center Nick Mangold, a perennial Pro Bowler.
At the end of the day, the most impressive aspect of this current class is not the potential that exists within it toward the future success of the program but the compressed window of time in which it was assembled by Meyer.
The remnants of ridiculousness that preceded Meyer's advent into the head coaching position were enough to create significant doubt in his ability to swiftly revivify through visionary recruiting. This class, even for a coach with several years in a program, is substantially splendid.
The majority of its massiveness exists on the defensive side, specifically on the defensive line. Noah Spence is ranked by Rivals.com as the ninth-best player in the entire 2012 list of prospects. Se'Von Pittman ranked in the top 10 for defensive ends, and Adolphus Washington ranked as the second-best defensive end and the 25th best player in the nation overall, also by Rivals.com.
On the offensive side, there is top-tier quality coming through the door in the running game with Warren Ball and Brionte Dunn, both ranked near the national top 10 in the running backs category. As for Dunn, Buckeye fans think of a guy with the size of former Heisman winner Eddie George with slightly less breakaway speed as a fair comparison.
Merely based on potential and talent on paper, and never having played a single college Saturday, the 2012 Ohio State recruits match up evenly with the aforementioned three historical classes.
Noah Spence alone represents the kind of football freakishness that, even by current football standards, could only be created in a laboratory.
Much in the way Katzenmoyer came in with the Class of 1996 as the prototype by which all other high school linebackers were measured, Spence brings the same reputation at defensive end.
And it is not often that a program can offer the argument that they retain two players who can make a case for being the best in the country, but with Adolphus Washington, OSU has created that debate among recruiting analysts at defensive end.
Of course, in the category of individual productivity and collective success in the college and professional ranks, the 2002 class is well-placed at the top of the list and is assuredly a sentimental favorite of fans for that National Championship run in the less scandalous years of the Tressel era.
Nonetheless, 2012 achieves equality within the list on the hype and potential scale.