In their first year as head coach of The Ohio State University, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer were both cast into eerily similar situations as their January hirings left them precious little time to make their marks on their first recruiting classes.
Time spent courting student-athletes is usually money in the bank when trying to win over a recruit, but both coaches had less than two months to put their stamps on classes that the previous regimes had worked more than a year to build.
But despite vast differences in the credentials that Meyer and Tressel brought with them, both coaches were able to secure commitments that were seen as keys to success in those final days before National Signing Day.
Time will ultimately be the final judge as to which coach did the better job in compiling their initial OSU classes, but it appears at first blush that Meyer not only had a better first recruiting haul than Tressel, his 2012 list grades out initially as one of the most successful in the last 30 years of the program.
Before condemning Tressel’s opening class however, it is prudent to note that Meyer had a number of factors working in his favor in building his first Buckeye class. A dearth of talent afforded Meyer the opportunity to offer top recruits the chance to play immediately, while Tressel’s first team already contained the foundation for what would eventually become a National Championship team in 2002.
Meyer also had the street cred from a pair of national titles won at Florida while Tressel’s four 1-AA crowns earned at Youngstown State held little sway outside of northeast Ohio.
On Signing Day, who had the better recruiting class in their first year at Ohio State?
Despite those factors, Tressel scored late in the game with out-of-state prospects, as did Meyer. Tressel plucked RB Lydell Ross and then-WR Chris Gamble from Florida, got home-state commits from PK Mike Nugent and RB Maurice Hall and focused the wandering eyes of prized DB Dustin Fox and four-star WR Angelo Chattams—who were considering leaving after having committed to the John Cooper regime.
Meyer scored big late as well, but picked up prized recruits on a more national level. Five-star DE Noah Spence, Massachusetts high-school teammates LB Camren Williams and DB Armani Reeves and offensive linemen Taylor Decker, Kyle Dodson and Joey O’Connor all signed after December of 2011, as did former Notre Dame commit David Perkins who is rated as one of the best linebacker prospects in the state of Indiana.
Both coaches focused on shoring up glaring needs on the roster in their first class as Tressel snared three WRs after losing four wideouts to graduation in 2000 and picked up three running backs to replace the departed Derek Combs and Jerry Westbrooks.
Meyer’s late successes on the offensive line filled a major need while the talent at linebacker was so thin that all four backups at the spot heading into Saturday’s opener are manned by his incoming freshmen.
Tressel also appeared to focus on need instead of overall depth, and also wisely elected to bank a few scholarships for the talented 2002 class. His one linebacker in the class was the highly-prized Reggie Arden, who never panned out, and he picked up only two offensive linemen.
As would be the hallmark of Tressel’s recruiting at Ohio State, the two guys that made the biggest impact on the team’s fortunes were lightly-regarded late-game pickups Gamble and Nugent. Meyer added players at every position except kicker and punter, with fourteen of those players listed on the two-deep depth chart heading into the 2012 opener with Miami University.
On paper, Meyer has done the better job in his initial class, given that the majority of his first class is all regarded as being in the top-250 high school players of a year ago.
Consensus among the recruiting and grading services has the class in their top five and best in the Big Ten, while Rivals.com had Tressel’s first class listed as #17 and the 2001 class was generally considered the third-best in the conference behind Michigan and Penn State.