Talk to all 120 Division I college football coaches, every single one of them, and ask them the following question: "What is the most important part of your job in running a successful program?" I'd be willing to take bets with you that all of them would respond with recruiting.
The phrase has been coined so many times that it should almost be considered a cliché, though recruiting is most certainly not: "Recruiting is the lifeblood of every college football team."
Now that isn't to say that X's and O's, mental preparation, and ultimate execution of the game plan and fundamentals aren't important, because they most certainly are. But I would still assert that most of the time, the team with the superior talent can play an average game and still come away victorious in college football probably more so than any of level of football.
Think about it for a second...why is it that at the end of the year you see the "usual suspects" fighting it out for those BCS games? The same programs—Oklahoma, USC, Texas, Florida, LSU, Ohio State—why are they always slugging away at each other for the title of best program annually?
Because their programs push it to the limit every year. They offer everything a five-star, blue-chip, can't miss prospect could possibly want;: academics, facilities, exposure, tradition, and a head coach who sells them out of high school that the program with John Q. Five Star will be playing for all the marbles at the end of the year.
Hate it or love it, these teams have more talent most years than the rest of the competition in their respective conferences and thus find their way into the BCS mix.
But recruiting numbers can be deceiving, and good teams can be masked as great teams under the BCS system. Depending upon conference strength on a year to year basis, a team that has recruited well can be can be mistaken for a team that has recruited exceptionally.
Prior to the 2008 campaign, I will make the argument that no team has run further into this problem over the past few years than The Ohio State University.
It's a team that prior to 2008 has recruited well...but not EXCEPTIONALLY—a team that has benefited from playing in a Big Ten that overall (look at the stats I provided you in Part Two of this series) has recruited poorly.
It's also a team that has benefited from its two biggest rivals (Michigan and Penn State) experiencing down periods in their programs: a Michigan team that has been in slow decline, and a Penn State team that has been erratic, to put it nicely.
These statements aren't meant to bash Ohio State. Explain to me how it's Ohio State's fault that they play in the conference that they do.
Tell me why it's Ohio State's fault that these programs that fight Ohio State for Big Ten supremacy every year don't recruit well consistently, don't invest enough in their facilities and coaching staffs, and don't make the commitments to their football programs necessary to effectively compete against one another and make the conference better in general.
Ohio State does what it's supposed to do. It beats the teams (for the most part) that it schedules in non-conference games, and it beats the teams that it is delegated to beat in conference. It graduates a high level of players. It gets players into the National Football League and gets the kids exposure in front of national audiences to showcase their talents.
All that said, we as a fanbase shouldn't be surprised by what we've seen the last few years from the Buckeyes, when the lights of the nation shone on us the brightest and we played the best competition at the end of the year.
The facts are this: Ohio State has recruited well enough to win the Big Ten but hasn't recruited EXCEPTIONALLY enough to compete with the best of the other conferences.
Like it or not, Buckeye fans, recruiting services have become far more accurate than they were even as early as 10 years ago. These recruiting websites and services now run their own camps seeing prospects up close and personal. They have former coaches and analysts who watch prospects' game film and have people scouring the country looking at these kids at an earlier age and more frequently every year.
Like the NFL Draft, recruiting will never be 100 percent, but look at the websites and look at the past three or four recruiting classes on these websites, and you'll find the teams that are consistently at the top of the rankings are, for the most part, at the top of the BCS rankings at the end of the year.
And like it or not, Buckeye fans...the Buckeyes that you are currently seeing on the field this year are the product more of a Top 12-15 team from a recruiting standpoint than a team that has been playing for the BCS championship the last two seasons.
Don't believe me? Let's look at the numbers....
The following are the recruiting rankings from 2004-2007 between OSU and some of the other top schools in the nation. (Per Scout and Rivals)
Ohio State Florida LSU USC
*(parenthesis separated between Scout and Rivals Rankings)*
2004: (11th, 9th) (8th, 7th) (2nd, 2nd) (1st, 1st)
2005: (7th, 12th) (11th, 15th) (19th, 22nd) (6th,1st)
2006: (13th, 12th) (2nd, 2nd) (7th,7th) (1st,1st)
2007: (16th, 15th) (1st, 1st) (5th, 4th) (2nd, 2nd)
AVG: (12th, 12th) (5th, 6th) (8th, 9th) (2nd, 1st)
5 Stars: ('04-'07): (8, 4) (19, 9) (12, 8) (31, 23)
Top 100: ('04-'07): (18) (24) (21) (42)
What do these numbers tell you? It tells you Ohio State hasn't brought in enough impact players that are VETERAN PLAYERS ON THIS CURRENT TEAM. Until' 08 and '09, they haven't recruited to the level of the top tier programs in the country, and it's certainly shown in the meetings between these teams the last three years.
This margin of difference isn't a small one—it is significant. USC more than triples OSU in Top 100 players in this time period. Florida doubles us in five-star athletes brought in during this stretch, and LSU is bringing in more talent across the board as well.
So if you're wondering why Ohio State keeps getting manhandled in these big games, look no further than the numbers above. Take an even closer look at Ohio State's '06 and '07 classes vs. UF/LSU/USC, and you are basically seeing top three programs facing off against top 15 level football talent at Ohio State.
Your next question to me might be, "Why are the Buckeyes playing for national championships then?" Well, that answer is easy...
Once again, take a look at the team recruiting rankings in Part Two of my series, and you'll notice that the Big Ten outside of Michigan and Penn State doesn't recruit Top 25 talent. Add the fact that Michigan and Penn State, despite their recruiting, haven't had the stability and forward movement in their programs to fully utilize their talent.
That overinflates the value of the Buckeyes in the eyes of the voters and places them ahead of a one or two-loss team that may be better despite their record.
Does this mean I'm saying that my beloved Buckeyes are a bad football team? Absolutely not...they are a good football team that has a roster full of solid football players and a superstar or two. They are a good football team in a bad conference.
But Ohio State is not a top five football team in the nation! Look at the facts when they play teams who are!
What can Ohio State do to take the next step and join the LSUs, Oklahomas, Texases, USCs and Floridas of the world in college football? Well, the good news for all of you is that the Buckeyes and Jim Tressel have ramped up their efforts on the recruiting front.
The 2008 and 2009 classes are ranked in the Top Five, and with another effort on the recruiting trail in 2010, they will be setting the foundation for a future that, to me, will continue to put the Bucks in these high profile games with a chance to be far more competitive.
Call me crazy, but I consider the Florida, LSU, and USC games blessings in disguise. Whether or not the Buckeyes were beaten soundly, they were there. They were playing for the championship of college football, under the eyes of the entire country, and its finest future prospects.
That exposure is starting to really show in the across the board talent you have seen in these '08 and '09 recruiting classes.
These nationally televised games have also given top prospects a closer and longer look at who I feel is the most misunderstood coach in college football in Jim Tressel. I really think his style is one that at first didn't appeal to the "five-star athlete."
Tressel doesn't possess the outward charisma of Pete Carroll. The outward fire of Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops. The bold brashness of Les Miles. The southern charm of Mack Brown. But Jim Tressel, within the confines of his family, the Buckeye family...is all of those things. Through it all, he wins—and loses—with dignity and class.
Slowly but surely, I think that has reached the states outside of Ohio. With time, success is beginning to follow in the most important aspect of college football...recruiting.
The challenge for the Buckeyes going forward will be fighting the negative recruiting ammo that has been built up with national blowout losses. Can the Buckeyes weather that storm on the recruiting front and continue the current successes they are experiencing? That is amongst many other challenges Ohio State will face and continue to fight going forward.
Look for the next installment tomorrow: Roots of Ohio State's Problems, Part Six: Buckeyes "Spread" Too Thin.
Thanks for reading!