Star power

Blue-chip recruits help Ohio State dominate Big Ten

Joey Kaufman
Chase Young leaves the field after Ohio State's 38-7 win over Wisconsin in which the defensive end recorded four sacks. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

The source of the Ohio State football team’s dominance through the first two months of the season can be traced to its roster construction.

It has a horde of former blue-chip recruits, boasting a sizable talent advantage over the other teams in the Big Ten.

Sixty of the Buckeyes’ recruited scholarship players were either five- or four-star prospects, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

No one else in the conference has more than 50, and seven of the teams have fewer than 10 former blue-chippers on their roster.

The gap is particularly pronounced among five-stars: The Buckeyes have 13, including quarterback Justin Fields, defensive end Chase Young and cornerback Jeff Okudah. The next closest teams, Michigan and Penn State, have four five-stars each.

“The five-star guys are the guys we peg as potential first-round talents (in the NFL),” said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports. “Those are the guys that you expect to be big-time difference-makers, guys you can’t scheme against to slow them down. They’re just that good.

"When you look at Ohio State, you see Justin Fields, Chase Young, Jeff Okudah — those are guys you feel are going to be in the first round.” recruiting analyst Bill Kurelic, who has covered recruiting at Ohio State and in the Big Ten for more than three decades, thought the gap in talent was “a little bit more than usual.”

“So far, the way Ohio State’s played, this is as good a team as Ohio State has had since their national championship,” Kurelic said. “It’s a very similar talent level to that team (in 2014)."

Other factors have helped the Buckeyes become the first Big Ten team in nearly a half-century to open a season with eight straight wins by 20 or more points and the favorite to win the conference for a third straight season, as well as reaching the College Football Playoff. Coach Ryan Day has settled in during his first full season as coach, and his decision to overhaul the defensive coaching staff has paid dividends.

After allowing a school-worst 25.5 points per game last season, ranking 50th in the nation, the Buckeyes are first in scoring defense through two months this season, surrendering 7.9 points per game.

But because of the collection of talent on their roster, beginning under Urban Meyer this decade with the regular signing of top-10 recruiting classes, the Buckeyes hold a significant margin for error over conference foes.

What would it take for Ohio State’s advantage to vanish?

“Where Ohio State could run into some murkiness is if they don't have the right quarterback that's going to be consistent week in and week out,” Wiltfong said. “The rest of the roster is always going to be pretty good.”

The absence of a top-tier quarterback could come with injury. The Buckeyes lack a premier quarterback recruit on the depth chart behind Fields, who has 33 total touchdowns and is considered a Heisman Trophy candidate. Should the talented sophomore be out for any extended period of time, Ohio State could suffer.

But quarterback rooms across college football are increasingly less stable because of transfers and the record number of early departures to the NFL.

When Dwayne Haskins turned pro in January, bypassing his final two seasons of eligibility, it left the Buckeyes without an obvious successor. That prompted Day to bring in Fields, who was looking to transfer from Georgia and was considered the second-best quarterback prospect in the 2018 recruiting class behind Clemson's Trevor Lawrence.

“People think Ohio State may be the No. 1 team in the country right now,” Wiltfong said. “I don't know if you feel that way if you don't have Justin Fields out there.”

After Ohio State, the next two most-talented teams in the Big Ten are Penn State and Michigan. Fifty of the Nittany Lions’ scholarship players were blue-chip recruits, and the Wolverines have 40.

Both play the Buckeyes this month.


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