SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — They arrived with much fanfare three years ago, just like the legendary 2013 recruiting class had at Ohio State.
Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Baron Browning, Wyatt Davis, Shaun Wade, J.K. Dobbins and Josh Myers were all ranked No. 1 or 2 nationally at their positions in Urban Meyer’s 2017 recruiting class. Overall, Ohio State’s class, which also included Pete Werner and Thayer Munford, was ranked second nationally.
It was similar to the ’13 class that included Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett, Tyquan Lewis, Vonn Bell, Gareon Conley, Darron Lee and Eli Apple. That group won the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014, cementing their place in Buckeyes lore.
Now the 2017 class has its shot at immortality. The No. 2 Buckeyes (13-0) play No. 3 Clemson (13-0) in a playoff semifinal Saturday at the Fiesta Bowl with a national championship within their reach.
“We've definitely talked about that,” Dobbins said. “We want to be like those guys. They really started this whole thing. So we just want to follow in their footsteps and hopefully be better.”
It is possible. After all, the 2014 team did lose at home to Virginia Tech in the second game of the season. The current Buckeyes are undefeated.
To be sure, the 2017 recruits already have been quite successful. They have won three outright Big Ten titles for the first time in Ohio State history. They have won all three games against Michigan.
But the biggest prize has eluded them. They arrived the year after Ohio State lost 31-0 to Clemson in a 2016 semifinal. Inexplicably lopsided losses to Iowa in 2017 and Purdue in 2018 kept them from being selected for the playoff the past two years.
Now is their chance, and for some, their final one. Young is a foregone conclusion to enter the NFL draft, where the defensive end will almost certainly be a top-two pick. Okudah is also a near lock to turn pro as the top cornerback in the draft. Wade could go as well. Munford, Myers and Davis have indicated they will stay, but December declarations aren’t ironclad.
“I think there's a ton of urgency,” Myers said. “We haven't been here before. This is somewhere we've been trying to get for a couple of years now.”
From the start, the 2017 group inspired lofty expectations. Okudah said “Select ’17” was shown on the big TV inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center when they arrived for winter workouts.
“The other classes got kind of mad because they said coach Meyer never left any banner up like that before,” Okudah said. “So just fast-forwarding years later, it's kind of cool to see how everything played out, guys being successful in the way that they're playing.”
Crossing the ultimate finish line won’t be easy. Defending national champion Clemson has won 28 straight games and is a slight favorite Saturday. If the Buckeyes advance, undefeated LSU or once-beaten Oklahoma awaits in the championship game Jan. 13 in New Orleans.
The 2014 team didn’t peak until the end of the season. This team has been more consistently dominating. But now comes the true test, and the players who arrived three years ago are determined to fulfill the promise expected of them when they enrolled.
“We don't want to leave anything on the table,” Myers said. “We want to give it everything we got.”