Ohio State is looking up at Michigan in the college football rankings, which is a change from years past.
The same is true on the recruiting trail, but that should include an asterisk. The Wolverines have the No. 9 class in the 247Sports composite rankings for 2019. Ohio State is 13th.
“For the first time since 2010, there’s a chance we’re going to see a Big Ten recruiting champion not named Ohio State,” said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports. “Michigan is sitting at No. 1 and is sitting on some blue-chippers down the stretch to really pad their lead.”
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It is a bit of a quantity-vs.-quantity scenario. Michigan has 26 commitments. Ohio State, which has a small senior class and isn’t expecting as big an exodus of underclassmen as in recent years, has only 15.
The average ranking of Ohio State’s commitments (92.26) is higher than that of Michigan’s (89.73), though.
“That’s a pretty significant difference,” Bucknuts recruiting analyst Bill Kurelic said.
Ohio State and Michigan have assembled their recruiting classes mostly by pursuing different players.
“Ohio State seems to be recruiting more against Penn State than they’re recruiting against Michigan,” Wiltfong said. “For whatever reason, they’re not going head to head that much. I don’t have an explanation for it.”
The one big competition between the programs is for five-star Olentangy Orange defensive end Zach Harrison. Wiltfong and Kurelic consider him to be leaning toward Michigan.
“It seems he’s really clicked with the people in Ann Arbor, from coaches to the recruits in the Wolverines’ recruiting class,” Wiltfong said.
But Wiltfong and Kurelic cautioned that nothing is final in recruiting until it is, and that the Buckeyes remain in pursuit.
A new target for both schools is Cleveland St. Ignatius linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, who decommitted this week from Boston College. Kurelic said the senior had a strong season, which earned him offers this fall from both the Buckeyes and Wolverines. Kurelic said he believes that Ohio State has a slim advantage, although Eichenberg is holding his cards close to his chest. Eichenberg is expected to attend the Ohio State-Michigan game.
Early in his Michigan tenure, coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t pursue Ohio prospects as much as Wolverines coaches had tended to. This year, Michigan has five commitments by Ohio players, but only Akron Hoban offensive guard Nolan Rumler drew serious interest from the Buckeyes, Kurelic said.
Then again, Ohio State has only three commitments from in-state players. The Buckeyes’ recruiting approach has gone even more national under coach Urban Meyer, who has said he would like to take more kids from Ohio.
Meyer said the sped-up recruiting calendar, which now includes a December early signing period, has forced programs to make decisions on prospects earlier than he’d like.
The uncertainty surrounding Meyer’s future — he must decide whether the pain from the arachnoid cyst in his brain will cause him to step down — has probably slowed Ohio State’s momentum in recruiting. So far, though, it doesn’t seem to be a major factor. The Buckeyes have lost only one commitment: Linebacker Kane Patterson flipped to Clemson in the aftermath of the investigation that resulted in Meyer’s three-game suspension.
Kurelic and Wiltfong believe that Ohio State can finish strong and end with another top-10 class. But the Buckeyes’ streak of having the top-rated recruiting class in the Big Ten is in jeopardy, and that would be a certainty if Harrison signs with Michigan.