Meyer adds more stars, eyes more victories
FEB 05, 2014 7:07p ET
More speed, more talent, more depth.
Relationships, relationships, relationships.
Urgency, hard work, earning their way.
We've heard all of these things from Ohio State coach Urban Meyer before, specifcally on Signing Day. Meyer is one of the best in his chosen business, and as a recruiter he's better than almost anybody. On Wednesday he officially received 23 faxes from new pledges, decorated athletes who have chosen Meyer and Ohio State and have earned the right to be a part of a program that's re-established itself as one of the nation's best.
This year, though, Signing Day is different.
Two years ago, Meyer was the new guy -- and undefeated. Last February, Meyer was still undefeated. Signing Day is always rainbows and butterflies and accolades, and this year's in a way was the same.
But the challenges aren't the same for Meyer and his staff, and that didn't come from two losses. It came from two seasons, from riding the highs those seasons brought and evaluating the recent lows. The depth chart on Meyer's desk is squarely his own, the 2014 non-conference schedule much tougher than last year's laughably bad one was and not one person in any level of the program is satisfied with being Big Ten runner up.
Meyer now knows his players and his program's impending obstacles. He's said the defense wasn't good enough and has pledged to fix it. The passing game isn't good enough either, and four senior offensive linemen and one powerful runner who ran behind them took full advantage. There's plenty to fix, from the defensive scheme to fundamentals to turning all of these recruits from all three Signing Days into productive players. The stakes are high. The expectations, starting with Meyer's own, may be higher.
“They know Ohio State because it's a national brand”
That's why Ohio State recruits 365 days a year under Meyer, and why the first February in any year is so important. Wednesday brought another top-five national ranking for another Ohio State class, something that means a bunch of nothing in the big picture but something that makes for good headlines now.
"As long as you're keeping score," Meyer said, "we're going to try to win."
Meyer is still very confident -- both in himself and in the state of his program -- and he should be. He's naturally a good salesman and has plenty to sell. In the final 24 hours of the recruiting period, he lost one highly-touted player, gained another on a recommendation of new defensive line coach Larry Johnson and admitted he'd be "faking a smile" if he hadn't kept offensive lineman Jamarco Jones, who visited Michigan State just last weekend.
When he got back into coaching, he promised his family he'd quit losing sleep over recruits. Not only do promises get broken, but he's going to lose more sleep in the coming months over Nov. 8, Ohio State at Michigan State.
"We're nose to nose with them," Meyer said Wednesday, answering a question specifically about recruiting. "That's an adversary."
The Spartans are currently the team in Ohio State's way. This rivalry has a chance to really get good.
These recruiting battles can go a bunch of different ways. Coaches changes jobs, circumstances change for the player, parents get involved, coaches get overprotective, the list goes on. Meyer acknowledged that "you can't win them all," in recruiting, but he sure does try.
Cincinnati linebacker Sam Hubbard was the only five-star recruit in this year's class, but there's no shortage of talent or sizzle. The Buckeyes signed four linebackers, and Meyer said "they are playing" immediately. All have the pedigreee. Meyer has visions of last year still dancing in his head.
There's help coming in other places, too. He said the Buckeyes needed to fill two spots on the offensive line two-deep "and recruited as such." There are players from his past two classes who have been waiting on spots, too, and when spring practice starts in four weeks every one on defense will be on notice.
Longtime Cleveland Glenville coach and supplier of Ohio State talent Ted Ginn called Marshon Lattimore, who will likely play cornerback in college, one of the best five pure athletes he's ever coached, and that's saying something. Meyer saying that Curtis Samuel has "electric speed" and that Erick Smith, Lattimore's Glenville teammate, should be on the field right away says something, too.
It says Ohio State went and got these guys for a reason, and the reason is 12-2 isn't good enough for Meyer. Not with a playoff coming to college football. Not with Big Ten realignment putting both Michigan State and Michigan squarely in Ohio State's way.
Only nine players from Ohio were in this year's class, and though that's not done by design it speaks to the landscape. Players know Meyer and his track record. He can go into Texas and Georgia and Florida and sell them on what's happening in Columbus, get them to sign up.
"They know Ohio State because it's a national brand," Meyer said. "The brand is so strong."
The brand isn't getting any weaker. The battle for jobs and playing time should be very strong, too. Meyer almost had to fake a smile on Wednesday, and it wouldn't have been the first time. He wants really big prizes at Ohio State, and he's now more sure than ever of what it's going to take to get them.