Ask Urban Meyer about his senior class, and he gushes. Quiz the Ohio State coach about his sophomores and freshmen, and he’s also full of praise.
But when queried about the 2015 recruiting class, Meyer responds like a parent talking about a wayward child.
“The ’15 class has received a lot of heat, and it’s very justified,” he said last week. “That was not a good class. The good thing is, they’re allowed to change and they’re starting to change.”
While much of the attention this spring has centered on the impressions made by some of OSU’s youngest players, the success of the 2017 Buckeyes may rest more with those who are entering their third year on campus and have largely failed to make a big impact.
To be sure, there are success stories from that 2015 class. Linebacker Jerome Baker became a star last year after Dante Booker was injured in the opener. Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones similarly filled a void taking over for Tracy Sprinkle. Cornerback Denzel Ward was a vital, if overlooked, part of last year’s defense.
But even some of the success stories were a mixed bag. Running back Mike Weber was named Big Ten freshman of the year, though he faltered late in the season. Most of the other members of the ’15 class have failed to make any significant mark.
To some degree, the group was a victim of timing. When they arrived, Ohio State had just won the 2014 College Football Playoff, and because most of the players from that team returned, the ’15s were going to have to wait their turn no matter how impressive they were.
Arriving when they did may have hurt them in another way.
“Yeah, I think there was kind of an entitlement: ‘Hey, we won the national title the year I got here,’ type of thing,” senior center Billy Price said.
Meyer and others have described the team as an Oreo cookie — solid at the top with the seniors and at the bottom with the underclassmen, but soft in the middle.
Don’t think the Class of 2015 doesn’t know it, even the productive ones.
“I take it personally,” Baker said. “I feel that our class is a very good class and us not getting on the field and playing as well as we should, you take it personally, especially when people talk about our class as not producing.”
Baker said that changing that thinking was a common theme among his classmates over the summer.
“They put us all in the same dorm and the same floor,” he said. “I think that’s when our class really bonded and took advantage of being together.”
Signs of breakthroughs by several players in that class have emerged this spring.
“We’re seeing much more production from the Matt Burrells of the world,” Meyer said, referring to the offensive lineman competing for the right guard spot. “I think he graded a champion the last two scrimmages. Mike Weber is really coming on. That class was a misfit class and it’s starting to buy in, and they better.”
The 2015 recruiting class ranked seventh nationally in 247sports.com’s composite rankings, and those players expected to make a big impact rather than be criticized as underachievers.
“We’re just sick of being the outcasts,” Jones said. “We’re a top-recruited class. We’re all talented.
“It burns so much. It’s a pride issue. We had to internalize that and realize it’s only there to motivate us. Everyone has their own issues and everyone’s chastised a little more, but we’re seen as a whole so we had to learn to grow up.”
In Saturday’s spring game, they’ll have a chance to show indications they have, but the real proof must wait until the fall.