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Ohio recruiting battle heats up

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel celebrates with his team after their NCAA football game against Indiana University in Columbus, Ohio in this October 9, 2010 file photo. The Ohio State University announced on May 30, 2011 that head coach Tressel had resigned and that Fickell will take over as interim head coach for the 2011 season. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan/Files (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Things have changed dramatically in the Big Ten since Ohio State defeated Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl last year behind Terrelle Pryor and other Buckeyes who were set to start suspensions at the beginning of the 2012 season. The ensuing scandal has claimed Jim Tressel’s job, sent Terrelle Pryor to the NFL supplemental draft and has added uncertainty to Ohio State’s 2012 recruiting operation. Ohio State vacated last season’s wins and Gene Smith is hoping the NCAA won’t impose more sanctions, but there’s uncertainty and it’s impacting Ohio State’s recruiting.

Meanwhile, the powers that be at Michigan came to their senses and parted ways with Rich Rodriguez. They hired Brady Hoke, and now they’re going after 300-pound linemen again. At Michigan State, Mark Dantonio continues to turn that program around as well.

With the problems at Ohio State, Hoke and Dantonio are going after the talented recruits in the state of Ohio that were mostly locked up during the Tressel years. Michigan just landed Kyle Kalis, a huge lineman from the Cleveland area who is a top-150 recruit according to ESPN. He had originally committed to Ohio State, but then changed his mind in the face of potential sanctions.

Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski is giddy in his recent column as he explains the potential for Michigan and Michigan State to turn the tables on the Buckeyes if more Ohio recruits shun the Buckeyes. As he points out, “since 2001, Michigan and Michigan State are a combined 1-15 against Ohio State.” Part of it was coaching, but recruiting was very important as well as Tressel did a great job of keeping the best Ohio players in Ohio.

There’s no doubt that the Michigan schools will get a boost, but even Wojnowski admits it will likely be temporary, and it might not affect the balance of power much at all.

First, consider that Ohio State had a monster recruiting class last year, and they were already loaded with young talent. The Buckeyes picked up two quarterbacks last year that could make them set at the position for the next six years! Braxton Miller was a top-ranked recruit last year, and many think he can start this year as a true freshman. He’s a mobile quarterback, but he’s also a pure passer with great instincts as well. He’s not a physical specimen like Pryor, but he’ll likely be a better all-around quarterback.

The Buckeyes also picked up Glenville’s Cardale Jones who many see as a Pryor clone. He’s big, strong and fast, and many think he has a better arm than Pryor. He’ll be grayshirting as he needs to go to a prep school to work on academics. If that works out, he can redshirt the following year and then be available for the following four years.

Next, Ohio State is still getting recruits. Kalis was a huge loss, but the other nine 2012 commits have decided to stay with the Buckeyes. They are all Ohio kids but they aren’t top-150 stars, and the Buckeyes aren’t getting an national recruits. Instead, they’re getting kids who bleed scarlet and gray. Just this week they added two more recruits, Luke Roberts and Patrick Elfein. Neither of these guys were snagged away from top programs like USC or Alabama, but they are solid recruits from the state of Ohio. Ohio State has plenty of blue-chippers from the previous three recruiting classes, having one “down” year where they load up on high-character kids who love the Buckeyes can actually be a positive.

This brings us to Luke Fickell, Ohio State’s “interim” head coach. Fickell is determined to infuse the team with values like toughness and character, and he recently brought on Mike Vrabel as an assistant coach. This was a real coup, as Vrabel brings his three Super Bowl rings and a ton of credibility to the coaching staff. Wojnowski had a peculiar reaction, calling the hiring of the “inexperienced” Vrabel an act of “desperation.” This is where the optimism in Michigan might be getting a little overblown. Vrabel played with Fickell, and hiring a 14-year NFL veteran with three Super Bowl rings as linebackers coach is hardly a desperate move. Also, Vrabel will be a huge help in recruiting, as Luke Roberts stated when he committed to OSU this week.

Unless Ohio Sate gets massive additional penalties from the NCAA, I doubt the recruiting landscape will change much as a result of the scandal after this year. Ohio State will get back to landing the best recruits out of Ohio, and that will give them a big edge against their rivals.

The factor that will have an effect on the balance of power is coaching. Michigan made a huge mistake going to RichRod and getting away from physical football. They panicked when Tressel was racking up wins against Lloyd Carr, so they made things worse by bringing in a coach who thought he could win with Big East tactics and players. With Brady Hoke, Michigan has a good change of at least getting back to a competitive rivalry just by playing Big Ten football. Hoke is taking advantage of the current situation, so that will help speed up Michigan’s anticipated comeback. Dantonio will keep Michigan State competitive, and Ohio State will be fine either with Fickell if he proves himself or another coach next year.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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