Cause for concern with Ohio State’s 2023 class? Recruiting mailbag

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Recruiting never stops. Neither do your questions.

And if we didn’t get to your question, don’t be discouraged! We will be addressing some on “Stars Matter,” our weekly recruiting podcast, which can be found on the feed of “The Andy Staples Show.” Look for new episodes every Thursday morning.

Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Earlier in the season, you expressed concern about Ohio State’s class and its potential. Is that still there? It doesn’t feel like the Buckeyes are in great position to finish strong. — Alexander S.

I’m not sure what time of the day you submitted this question Monday, but Ohio State is the biggest recruiting story of the week. Four-star quarterback Brock Glenn of Memphis (Tenn.) Lausanne Collegiate School flipped from Ohio State to Florida State on Monday evening. Glenn isn’t rated highly enough — he’s No. 378 overall and the No. 22 QB in the 247Sports Composite — to really put a damper on the Buckeyes’ ranking or average player rating. But it does sting to no longer have a quarterback committed in this cycle.

Ohio State offered four-star quarterback Lincoln Kienholz of Pierre (S.D.) T.F. Riggs in response. Kienholz, who is ranked No. 404 overall and the No. 24 quarterback in the 2023 cycle, is committed to Washington but will take an official visit to Ohio State this weekend for the Michigan game.

Glenn’s flip came less than a week after Ohio State lost a commitment from four-star running back Mark Fletcher of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) American Heritage, the No. 261 overall player in the country. Fletcher is now heavily considering Florida and Miami.

Ohio State’s class now has 19 commitments and ranks No. 6 nationally, behind Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, LSU and Texas. But the average player rating is 93.51, which is third behind only Alabama (94.10) and Georgia (93.54). The lower ranking is more of an indication of class size than quality, as the Buckeyes are the only team in the top six with fewer than 20 commitments.

Is there cause for concern?

I’m not sure if I’m ready to hit the panic button yet, but it is fair to acknowledge that this group isn’t loaded like some of Ohio State’s previous classes. Of those 19 commitments, there is only one five-star prospect and five top-100 players. When you compare it to Alabama (five five-star prospects) and Georgia (nine commitments in the top 110), it’s not quite at the same level in terms of upside. You could make the case, though, that Ohio State’s floor is higher.

So while Ohio State’s class is very good, the standard for the Buckeyes is to sign classes that go toe-to-toe with Alabama. That means four or five five-star prospects and 10 or more top-100 players. Less than a month out from the early signing period, it’s going to be an uphill battle to get there.

Ohio State is involved with a slew of top-end prospects such as five-star edge rushers in Damon Wilson of Venice (Fla.), Keon Keeley of Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep and Matayo Uiagalelei of Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco. The Buckeyes are also set to host five-star offensive tackle Samson Okunlola of Brockton (Mass.) Thayer along with Wilson for the Michigan game. Four-star linebacker Arion Carter of Smyrna (Tenn.) High — who recently decommitted from Memphis after his recruitment exploded — has taken a visit to Ohio State.

The thing that is tough about assessing Ohio State’s class is that so much of it came together very early. Ryan Day’s program hasn’t really been involved in much recruiting drama over the last few months as it hung tight with what it had. But that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes can’t finish this cycle with a bang. Even if they don’t and wind up with a smaller class, the average player rating is much more telling than the final class ranking.

As things stand right now, it’s not a grand slam of a class. But it isn’t cause for concern either, especially with a month left before the early signing period.

Deep breaths. It’ll be OK.

I’m with you that stars matter, but what are your thoughts on how experience and development factors in? For example, I don’t think the 247Sports team talent composite index factors in experience. I noticed the other day that 21 of 22 TCU starters are upperclassmen. Is college football becoming more like college basketball, where experienced, senior-heavy rosters vie with inexperienced rosters stocked with blue chips? — J. M. 

You have to consider the ages of most of these football players when they commit to their college programs. Most of the time, their bodies are still developing even when they get to campus. Add in better diets and college strength and conditioning programs into the mix, and you have a body that is so much more developed by Year 2 or 3 than it is in Year 1. Add in the experience factor — knowing the playbook, handling adversity, all of it — and there is absolutely no question that it’s important.

This year in college football, it seems as though there is only one great team (Georgia) and a bunch of other ones that are trying to make it into the College Football Playoff. There seems to be more parity this year than we typically get, which is why we may struggle to find four teams for the Playoff at the end of the season.

Why is that?

Part of it has to be the transfer portal. Programs being able to plug holes in their rosters immediately with experienced college players makes a huge difference. But part of it is the extra season of eligibility due to the COVID-19 year and teams being able to get old and stay old. This is a very physical game, and sometimes a senior is a man and a five-star freshman is a boy.

Experience and development are crucial when it comes to the players we see on the field on Saturdays.

The thing that gets me with recruiting is the implication that the five-star prospects don’t also develop. Sure, you could compare a three-star senior who has started for three years against the five-star freshman and take the three-star senior. I could get on board with that. But when it comes to loading your roster with five-star prospects, they, too, also become juniors and (sometimes) seniors who have developed physically. Being good at player development isn’t a replacement for good recruiting. It is essential for everyone.

Anyone who says development and experience are irrelevant is either a liar or ignorant or both.

If a good portion of Texas A&M’s record recruiting class from last year ends up transferring this year, regardless of whether there is a coaching change or not, will we exercise more caution in pumping up an incredible recruiting class that appears NIL driven until it actually stays and produces in the future? — Chris V. 

What does exercise more caution mean?

Anyone who has read anything I’ve written about Texas A&M or listened to the 100 podcasts we’ve had with the Aggies as a storyline has always known exactly where I stand. Yes, I bought a ton of stock in Texas A&M football because it signed 18 top-100 players a year ago. To me, that was a sign of what could come down the road in three years if somehow Jimbo Fisher could keep the train on the tracks.

But I never said Texas A&M was going to win the SEC this year. What I’ve said repeatedly was that it was one of the best classes I’ve ever seen — but for the Aggies to ever overcome the Alabamas and the Georgias of the world, they’d have to do it two or three more times. You can be very complimentary of a recruiting class while also maintaining that the job isn’t done. And after the Aggies signed that class in the 2022 cycle, there was absolutely no reason to expect Fisher wouldn’t be capable of following that up with another top-five class in 2023.

Fisher didn’t follow it up, so the stock is plummeting. Nobody saw this coming. Things fell apart at Texas A&M so quickly, I admit I’m still having a hard time processing it. People have called me a Texas A&M homer — which is hilarious given I was the Aggies’ Public Enemy No. 1 two years ago — but I truly thought they had the resources, the NIL and the right type of motivation to assemble an Alabama-like roster.

So If I exercised more caution, does that mean not analyzing and discussing a super-class when it happens and only praising the recruiting job in three years once a team wins a national title?

Hype is the product of incredible recruiting. Why would we want to stifle hype? That’s what makes college football fun. Texas A&M signed literally almost 20 percent of the top-100 prospects in a class. Hype is the by-product of that.

It’s a shame for Texas A&M that it seems like that class is in danger of falling apart via the transfer portal. Because to this day, it’s still incredibly hard to believe a single program could sign that many elite-level players in a given year.

(Photo of Ryan Day: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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