It used to be that the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry was almost as heated on the recruiting trail as on the field in late November.
For generations, Michigan would poach more players from Ohio than the Buckeyes would from up north. Many of those native Ohioans became Wolverines stars, and that added even more spice to the rivalry. Of course, there have been native Michiganders who came south — Craig Krenzel, Mike Weber, etc. — who did the same.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
But the recruiting rivalry doesn’t exist in the same way now. Both schools recruit mostly nationally, and their paths only cross occasionally.
“It's not like the old days in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports.
In recent years, the Buckeyes have had the better of it in recruiting. Based on the 247Sports rankings, Ohio State has had a higher-ranked group of prospects every year except last year, and that requires an asterisk. Michigan’s class ranked eighth to Ohio State’s 14th, but that’s only because the Buckeyes signed only 17 players compared to Michigan’s 26. The average rating of Ohio State’s recruits was higher than Michigan’s.
For the 2020 class, Ohio State again has the advantage. The Buckeyes’ class ranks fourth nationally. Michigan’s is 12th.
The Buckeyes have two five-star players — receiver Julian Fleming and offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. — and 13 four-star players. Michigan has 12 four-star prospects but no five stars.
Eight of Ohio State’s recruits are ranked higher than Michigan’s top-rated one, wide receiver A.J. Henning, who’s ranked 90th.
Michigan fans had to be hoping that Ohio State’s recruiting would slip after Urban Meyer’s retirement. Not only did Meyer have the resume to attract blue-chippers, but he was more hands-on in recruiting than most head coaches of his stature.
But Ryan Day has proved in his short time as coach to be quite effective. A year ago, five-star defensive end Zach Harrison from Olentangy Orange was considered to be leaning toward Michigan until shortly before he picked Ohio State on signing day.
The momentum has continued with this class.
“His personality is a lot more laid-back compared to Urban Meyer's,” Wiltfong said, “but he's putting in a ton of effort to really get to know Ohio State's top targets and allowing them to get to know him. So they're comfortable with the idea of playing for him, and I think it's really paid off.”
That’s not to say that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is a slouch as a recruiter. Wiltfong said he’s able to draw on his Michigan roots and success as a player and coach in the NFL.
“He's a unique individual,” Wiltfong said, “but people need to remember that Jim Harbaugh is an alpha as much as anybody.”
Harbaugh played for the Wolverines in the 1980s, when many of the recruiting battles between the programs took place in Ohio and, to a lesser extent, Michigan.
Now they rarely go head-to-head. The only Michigan starters from Ohio are punter Will Hart and long-snapper Camaron Cheeseman. None of the Buckeyes’ current starters are from Michigan.
In this recruiting cycle, Ohio State has two commitments from Michigan: athlete Cameron Martinez and offensive lineman Grant Toutant. Michigan has none from Ohio.
The only lingering battle among uncommitted prospects between OSU and Michigan is for California four-star quarterback C.J. Stroud. He is scheduled to take a visit to Michigan on Dec. 7 and to Ohio State a week later.
The 247Sports crystal ball forecast has him signing with Ohio State.