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Ohio State turns into recruiting competition for Alabama since previous playoff win

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

Shaun Wade committed to the Ohio State football team on Jan. 12, 2015.

That was the same date as the Buckeyes’ win over Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game and less than two weeks after they upset Alabama in a semifinal.

While a high-school sophomore in Jacksonville, Florida, Wade was being recruited by both the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide.

In a recent conversation with reporters, he stopped short of saying Ohio State’s triumph swayed his decision, but the breakthrough win has long been memorable for putting the program on equal footing with Alabama.

“I remember that whole day,” Wade said. “That was very special, that day, winning against Alabama.”

When Urban Meyer arrived as Ohio State coach after the 2011 season, he took the program to new heights in gathering talent by expanding its recruiting base beyond Ohio and the Midwest.

Shaun Wade joined Ohio State as an early enrollee in the 2017 recruiting class after choosing the Buckeyes over Alabama as a five-star recruit in high school.

The push was aimed at seeking some of the highest-ranked recruits in the country, such as Wade, who was a five-star prospect who played on four state-championship teams at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville.

To assemble one of the most talented rosters in college football, Meyer and his staff needed to recruit in all corners of the country, at times crossing paths with Alabama.

The approach continued during the latter years of Meyer’s tenure and since Ryan Day succeeded him last season.

In the 2021 recruiting cycle, both programs, which meet in the national championship game on Monday night, have pursued several of the same prospects.

Most notably, they both are recruiting J.T. Tuimoloau, a top defensive lineman from suburban Seattle who did not sign with a school during the early signing period in December.

Tuimoloau, who is the third overall prospect in 247Sports’ composite rankings for the class of 2021, is both teams' top remaining target and is not expected to sign until at least February, when the second signing period begins.

The two schools previously vied for recruits from the southeast earlier last year. JC Latham, a five-star offensive tackle from IMG Academy in Florida, committed to Alabama, and Jordan Hancock, a four-star cornerback from suburban Atlanta, settled on the Buckeyes.

Hancock had been committed to Clemson before flipping to Ohio State last summer.

National powers Alabama and Ohio State don't always compete for the same recruits, but one instance in which the schools did was for defensive back Jordan Battle, right, who originally committed to OSU before flipping to the Crimson Tide.

“They're competitors,” said Bill Kurelic, who covers Ohio State recruiting for Bucknuts.com. “I wouldn't say they are huge rivals.”

Kurelic pointed to other schools, most notably Clemson and Notre Dame, as more likely to butt heads with Ohio State on the recruiting trail.

The Fighting Irish share closer geographical proximity, as does Penn State. The recruiting rivalry with the Nittany Lions has grown since the Buckeyes have plucked top prospects out of Pennsylvania in recent classes.

But since Ohio State and Alabama so often vie for the recruiting crown, they are bound to chase some of the same top targets.

Ohio State football:Seeking fourth straight title, Buckeyes dominate Big Ten like never before

The Crimson Tide has the top-ranked class for 2021 after signing 26 players in December, while the Buckeyes are ranked second with 21 signees.

Led for seven seasons by Meyer, the Buckeyes likely were destined to become a recruiting juggernaut. While at the helm at Florida in his previous head coaching stint, Meyer oversaw significant recruiting success.

But the playoff victory over Alabama six years ago, coupled with a national championship, also likely added to the program’s momentum and precipitated success.

“I think that helped Ohio State's cause, definitely,” Kurelic said. “You win the national championship and beat Alabama in the playoffs and it's going to help your recruiting. There's no doubt about that.”

Wade signed with the Buckeyes in the 2017 class, along with other talented prospects such as J.K. Dobbins, Jeff Okudah and Chase Young, all in the NFL after stellar careers at OSU. Eight others are starters or regular contributors on this year's team.

It was the highest-rated group signed in Meyer’s tenure in Columbus.

If the Buckeyes find similar postseason success against Alabama, Kurelic sees the potential for another boost in recruiting momentum among impressionable prospects in the 2022 and 2023 classes.

“While kids almost never pick their school based on the outcome of one game,” Kurelic said, “they can be influenced by watching a team play and how well they play.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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Head of the class

Top teams in the class of 2021 college football rankings, according to 247sports.com:

1. Alabama (26 commits, including seven five-star and 15 four-star players, 323.66 points)

2. Ohio State (22 commits, five five-stars, 13 four-stars, 310.39 points)

3. Georgia (20 commits, four five-stars, 11 four-stars, 294.84)

4. Clemson (19 commits, three five-stars, 14 four-stars, 291.42)

5. LSU (22 commits, two five-stars, 15 four-stars, 291.25)

6. Oregon (20 commits, no five-stars, 16 four-stars, 280.77)

7. Texas A&M (20 commits, one five-star, 15 four-stars, 276.17)

8. Southern California (21 commits, one five-star, 13 four-stars, 271.91)

9. Notre Dame (27 commits, no five-stars, 12 four-stars, 268.94)

10. Oklahoma (16 commits, one five-star, 12 four-stars, 268.07)

11. Miami (21 commits, two five-stars, 11 four-stars, 263.33)

12. Florida (24 commits, one five-star, 12 four-stars, 262.71)