Late Recruiting Flips Are the Key to Urban Meyer's Success at Ohio State

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterJanuary 27, 2015

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — It wasn't exactly on the same level of Ohio State's College Football Playoff semifinal victory over Alabama, but Urban Meyer managed to pick up another win over his former conference on Monday when he secured a verbal pledge from 3-star defensive tackle and former Kentucky commit DaVon Hamilton.

Given that Hamilton hails from nearby Pickerington, Ohio, his change of heart to his hometown school shouldn't come as a surprise to the college football world. But it does continue what's now a three-year trend Meyer has developed of flipping already committed prospects in the days leading up to national signing day.

Meyer's most recent flip may have come by way of the SEC, but his relentless recruiting practices have been felt the most in the Big Ten, where rival teams now know that no prospect is off-limits for the Buckeyes head coach.

"His presence and how hard he attacks recruiting has put a lot of pressure on the rest of the league to re-evaluate how they get after it on the recruiting trail," recruiting analyst Marc Givler of BuckeyeGrove.com and Rivals.com told Bleacher Report. "Teams now understand that recruiting doesn't end with a verbal commitment. Nothing is binding until these kids sign their letters of intent."

It wasn't always that way in the Big Ten, at least not until Meyer took over the Buckeyes program in 2012. Leading up to his first national signing day in Columbus, Meyer flipped two committed prospects within his new conference, landing Se'von Pittman from Michigan State and Kyle Dodson from Wisconsin.

Unsurprisingly, neither the Spartans nor Badgers were pleased with losing a highly touted player to another Big Ten school.

“[Former OSU coach] Jim Tressel and [Michigan State coach] Mark Dantonio would never call or talk to each other’s commitments,” then-Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi told Todd Porter of The Canton Repository at the time. “It sets a tone and starts a recruiting rivalry...I guess it’s fair game. You don’t want it to be that way, but that’s how it is.”

“We at the Big Ten don’t want to be like the SEC," then-Wisconsin coach and now-Arkansas head man Bret Bielema told Matt Hayes of SportingNews.com. "In any way, shape or form.”

Jan 12, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Oregon Ducks in the 2015 CFP National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY

Surrounded by mounting criticism, Meyer didn't bat an eye.

"You're pissed because we went after a committed guy? Guess what, we got nine guys who better go do it again," Meyer said while speaking at the Ohio High School Coaches Clinic in 2012. "Do it a little harder next time."

Meyer would also add former Notre Dame commit Taylor Decker to his first class at Ohio State, as well as no fewer than five player who were either once committed to Penn State or considered to be heavy Nittany Lion leans prior to the sanctions that arose in Happy Valley as a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Although it was met with less fanfare, Meyer's reputation for successfully recruiting committed players only grew in the following years.

The Buckeyes' 2013 class saw Meyer flip 4-star cornerback Gareon Conley from Michigan, as well as 4-star athlete Dontre Wilson from Oregon. Last year, the Ohio State head coach took offensive tackle Brady Taylor away from Virginia Tech and defensive end Darius Slade from Michigan State on the morning of national signing day.

This year, however, has been one of Meyer's busiest recruiting seasons yet. With one week to go until this year's signing day, he has already flipped 4-star linebacker Jerome Baker from Florida, 3-star offensive tackle Kevin Feder from Miami (Fla.), 4-star running back Michael Weber from Michigan, 3-star offensive tackle Branden Bowen from Utah and both 4-star wideout Alex Stump and Hamilton from Kentucky.

In 2013, Urban Meyer swayed Dontre Wilson from his commitment to Oregon.
In 2013, Urban Meyer swayed Dontre Wilson from his commitment to Oregon.USA TODAY Sports

As Givler explained, the advantage of Meyer's ability to sway committed recruits extends beyond adding talent to the Buckeyes' roster.

"Not to compare recruiting to war, but there are a lot of elements of taking the battle to the opponent in Meyer's recruiting strategy," Givler said. "Make them focus just as much on recruiting their own kids as they are recruiting some of Meyer's uncommitted targets."

In other words, if Ohio State finds itself going head-to-head for an uncommitted prospect against a school like Michigan, the Buckeyes could hold an advantage. All it would take would be for Meyer to call one of the Wolverines' verbal pledges, in order to shift Jim Harbaugh's attention back to his own already committed players.

Of course that strategy is a two-way street. Meyer's committed prospects aren't off-limits to opposing teams either, although his track record would indicate testing him may not be worth the effort.

Rival schools have frequently made runs at players committed to the Buckeyes in the past three years, with Michigan recruiting Bri'onte Dunn in 2012, Missouri coming after Ezekiel Elliott and Auburn trying to lure Trey Johnson in 2013 and Michigan State making a last-ditch effort for Jamarco Jones a year ago. Each time, Meyer proved successful in keeping the player committed to Ohio State, which has been indicative of his general recruiting approach.

Urban Meyer prevent Ezekiel Elliott (right) from going to Missouri.
Urban Meyer prevent Ezekiel Elliott (right) from going to Missouri.USA TODAY Sports

"That has been the most underrated thing about Meyer. Everyone makes a big deal about how good he is at flipping kids, and he is good at it for sure, but he's probably even better at keeping what he has in the fold," Givler said. "It just goes back to that mindset where he almost treats every kid as uncommitted until they sign. Recruiting doesn't stop with a commitment."

Meyer will need to continue to do just that for the next seven days.

While Ohio State's 2015 class only has a spot or two to fill, no fewer than three prospects currently committed to the Buckeyes remain targeted by other programs. For at least one more week, Meyer will attempt to fend off the likes of Auburn and LSU from 4-star quarterback Torrance Gibson, Auburn from 4-star cornerback Carlton Davis and Michigan from Weber.

History would suggest that Ohio State should be in good shape and will likely hold on to three of the key pieces in what is currently the nation's seventh-ranked class. History would also suggest you shouldn't be surprised if Meyer adds an unexpected prospect to the Buckeyes' haul between now and next Wednesday, even if it's one who's currently committed to another school.

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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