Ohio State and Michigan meet on the football field one day each year.
They compete the other 364 days on the recruiting trail.
“Ridiculous pressure,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said this week when asked about the programs’ recruiting battles.
For decades, Michigan had great success luring Ohio prospects across the border. Ohio State got fewer players from Michigan. But some of the ones the Buckeyes did entice, such as Craig Krenzel, Johnathan Hankins and current players Mike Weber and Michael Jordan, have been instrumental to their success.
But a funny thing has happened to that recruiting rivalry. The battles, when they happen at all, are increasingly taking place far from the two states themselves.
Ohio State didn’t have a recruit from Michigan in its 2017 recruiting class and has no commitments from that state for 2018.
Michigan, which has 13 Ohioans on its roster, doesn’t have any commitments from Ohio in its 2018 class. It had three Ohio natives — defensive tackle James Hudson, offensive tackle Joel Honigford and punter Brad Robbins — in its 2017 class, but none had Ohio State offers. Michigan had no players from Ohio in its 2016 recruiting class.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said that the Wolverines remain interested in Ohio players.
“It’s good football there,” he said. “They’re well-trained. We aspire to get the best student-athletes and the best football players to come to Michigan. It’s a free-will decision, but we think they’ll be happy if they come to Michigan.
“That’s the way we describe it. Ohio is very good at football. I was born in Ohio (and) like Ohio. I played with a lot of great Ohio players. I can’t say enough good things about that.”
Michigan offered Ohio State commits Jaelen Gill and Dallas Gant as well as undecided offensive lineman Jackson Carman.
“It’s not a great year in Ohio right now,” said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports. “There are only a handful of kids that the elite schools would want. Michigan was never in it for Jackson Carman, for whatever reason, despite being one of the first ones to offer.”
Ohio State and Michigan are national brands, and across the country is where they compete more frequently. The Buckeyes won on New York tight end Jeremy Ruckert.
Both schools covet defensive linemen Jayson Oweh and Tyler Friday from New Jersey, and Florida offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, Wiltfong said.
But more often than not, he said, Ohio State and Michigan are competing with other schools and not each other.
“They don’t cross over that all that much,” Wiltfong said. “They both recruit so nationally. Their brands can go into any part of the country. They both have made Texas and Georgia a bit of a priority, but with different guys.”
Each coach has his distinct but effective approach, he said.
“No one works harder at it than Urban,” Wiltfong said. “He’s a presence on the recruiting trail every day. It’s important to him and he makes it important to his staff. They’re trying to make the top targets on their board know they’re wanted at Ohio State. They get access to Urban.
“With Harbaugh, he does his best work on campus or at home. People enjoy being around him. I’m not saying they don’t around Urban, but Harbaugh isn’t talking to his top targets as much as Urban does. No one does. But coach Harbaugh has such a unique personality, and people like him when they’re around him. He makes people comfortable around him when he’s recruiting you.”
But more often than not, Meyer and Harbaugh aren’t talking to the same recruits.