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Ohio State football coaches facing difficult roster decisions in future

Joey Kaufman
jkaufman@dispatch.com
Future All-America defensive end Chase Young and other recruiting targets are shown at Ohio State's Friday Night Lights in 2016. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the Buckeyes and other college football programs to abandon evaluation camps this year. Coaches now must rely on high school game tape.

The number of scholarship football players at Ohio State could reach triple digits by next fall.

Roster sizes are poised to swell following a recent NCAA ruling that grants all fall athletes an extra year of eligibility as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It looms as a significant dynamic to manage for player personnel departments, though, for what is to follow in 2022.

While scholarships limits will not be in effect in 2021, enabling roster expansion, the 85-player cap will return the following year barring further steps by the college sports governing body to ease the sharp transition.

In the impending scenario, Ohio State will be left with two choices: Retain more players at the expense of a fully sized 2022 recruiting class, or usher some current players out the door in order to accompany a larger incoming class of high school prospects. One group appears poised to be left out.

“Those are going to be some very uncomfortable decisions,” said Marc Givler, a recruiting analyst at BuckeyeScoop.com, “and probably ones that the coaches are not going to want to talk about publicly. But they're going to have to be made.”

Early indicators are that the Buckeyes might proceed with caution in assembling the 2022 recruiting class.

With a dead period in place since March with the outbreak of the coronavirus, coaches have been prohibited from in-person recruiting, thus restricting up-close evaluations of high school players. Summer camps were also canceled, eliminating another viewing window.

The restrictions have delayed the extension of scholarships from schools, including Ohio State, who are left with high school game tape as the sole method for scouting talent, said Bill Kurelic, a recruiting analyst at Bucknuts.com. Some junior targets might play this fall, while others are in states that will not play until the spring.

The Buckeyes currently have five juniors committed, landing two this month in linebackers Dasan McCullough and Gabe Powers.

“I just think they have to be sure” about whom they offer, Kurelic said, “that this is a kid that's really good enough.”

Powers, from Marysville, is considered the top overall prospect in Ohio in the class, while McCullough, from Overland Park, Kansas, is also a four-star prospect.

“They’re still recruiting the 2022 class, of course,” Givler said, “but I already get the sense that they’re pumping the brakes a little bit on taking commitments that they could be taking right now.

“I suspect what will happen is that they will identify a core group, a small core group of guys that they’ll take commitments from, and then once that has sort of worked itself out and they’ve locked in a few, I think you’ll see a very conservative approach moving forward as they let things play out.”

Natural player movement is likely to follow in the months ahead that could shape those decisions.

Since the NCAA’s creation of the transfer portal two years ago, players have had greater ease in moving between schools.

Ohio State benefited from that firsthand when star quarterback Justin Fields transferred in after a freshman season at Georgia in 2018 in which he sat as the backup to Jake Fromm.

OSU also has added graduate transfers, such as former offensive lineman Jonah Jackson from Rutgers, and has seen some of its players, buried on the depth chart, depart through the portal.

The extra eligibility ruling could exacerbate the trend. By the 2021 season, the Buckeyes will have about 50 scholarships players on the roster with freshman eligibility.

Those include members of the class of 2019 who redshirted last fall, the class of 2020 and incoming 2021 recruits.

The Buckeyes currently have 33 freshmen on scholarship, with 19 commits in their 2021 class. It’s a logjam of talent, a collection of blue-chip prospects seeking playing time.

“They all think they should be playing as freshmen,” Givler said. “They’re all going to come in thinking that, and some of these kids are going to realize, ‘Gosh, I’m fourth string and two guys ahead of me are also freshman eligibility.’ It’s going to cause a lot of angst.

“Places like Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson are probably more used to dealing with that than other schools because they recruit at such a high level. They’re used to recruiting 25-man classes of 25 kids who all expect to play right away. But it’s going to be taken up quite a few notches.”

Buckeyes coaches could seek to convince them to stay, or put up less resistance.

Attrition will be needed in some fashion.

“The most important thing in college football is roster management,” Givler said, “and that has been taken to the extreme now with this.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

Ohio State recruiting targets for quarterback  Tate Martell, front, Joe Burrow and Emory Jones, background  are shown at the Friday Night Lights event in 2016. Martell and Burrow eventually transferred, and Jones backed out of his verbal commitment. Such player movement could become more commonplace over the next two years as roster size limitations fluctuate.