Early Signing Period encapsulates why Big Ten is morphing into ACC
The gap is widening between Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten. That much has been obvious since Urban Meyer took over in 2012.
The one glimmer of hope that the rest of the Big Ten had was that after Meyer stepped down as head coach and Ryan Day was promoted, maybe the Buckeyes wouldn’t quite be able to keep up that momentum on the recruiting trail with a first-time head coach. And after Day signed the No. 5 national class in 2020 (largely off players Meyer had been recruiting), the rest of the Big Ten hoped that once he had to start his own class from scratch and couldn’t ride Meyer’s coattails, there would be some sort of drop-off.
No such luck. Instead, Ohio State has signed the No. 2 class in the country (per 247Sports Composite Rankings) as of Wednesday afternoon, the first day of the Early Signing Period. The Buckeyes are behind only Alabama, and in terms of average player rating, they actually have the best class. Ohio State has had the No. 2 class before (2013, 2016 and 2017), but this could wind up its highest-rated class in program history.
That collective sigh you just heard was the rest of the Big Ten coming to grips with the fact that as of right now, their league is now the ACC, where it’s Clemson and everyone else for the foreseeable future (assuming Notre Dame goes back to being independent). It’s Ohio State and everyone else for the foreseeable future. As in the ACC, it will be stunning if another B1G team is able to win the conference and/or go to the College Football Playoff in the next 4 years.
There is simply no competitive balance left in the Big Ten (or ACC), especially when compared with the SEC or Pac 12. (The Big 12 is in the middle; Oklahoma has won recently, but the Sooners always lose a random game or 2 per season.)
There were a few points that drove this home on Wednesday:
- How good was Ohio State’s class? The Buckeyes signed 12 top-100 recruits. The rest of the Big Ten combined signed 7. That’s why there continues to be such a gap. There is no Georgia, LSU or Florida to push the Buckeyes like Alabama has in the SEC.
- Penn State, the supposed second-best program in the conference, currently has signed the 21st best class in the country, which would be its worst since 2014. For a team that wants to close the gap with Ohio State, it now has to worry about the rest of the league closing the gap with it. We saw it on the field this season, with Penn State surprisingly losing its first 5 games of the season. Now we’re seeing it in the recruiting rankings, too. Of particular concern is that of the top 13 recruits in Pennsylvania, only 1 signed with Penn State. And that includes 5-star tackle Nolan Rucci, who signed with Wisconsin, and 5-star QB Kyle McCord, who signed with Ohio State.
- Michigan, which is typically second in the B1G recruiting rankings, retained that spot despite several 4-star commitments flipping to other schools. At least the Wolverines signed 5-star QB JJ McCarthy and got a commitment (though no signature) from 4-star RB Donovan Edwards. But it wasn’t a class that will have you believe that Michigan, which will finish this season 2-4, has any sort of momentum in catching Ohio State. Not by a long shot.
- Maryland, which whooped Penn State on the field this season, has also signed a better class, coming in at No. 4 in the Big Ten. They flipped 4-star LB Branden Jennings from Michigan on Wednesday and also inked the No. 64 overall player, DE Demeioun Robinson. The Terrapins are a team to watch.
That serves as a backdrop for what has transpired over the last 9 years, when Meyer took over. Ohio State is 71-4 in Big Ten play during that stretch. The next closest teams are Wisconsin (53-22) and Penn State (47-29). The gap has widened considerably from the previous 9-year period (2003-11), when Ohio State (56-16) was still the top dog, but Wisconsin (48-24), Michigan (42-30), Iowa (42-30) and Penn State (42-30) were all within striking distance. It’s now noteworthy when Ohio State wins by only 1 possession (which has happened just once in its last 17 B1G games).
It didn’t used to be like this. Ohio State had just 1 B1G title from 2011-16. On Saturday, the Buckeyes will likely win their fourth straight. In the ACC, Clemson is vying for its sixth straight. The SEC, meanwhile, has had 3 champions the last 3 years.
The Zach Smith situation temporarily hurt the Buckeyes, as they only had the No. 14 class in 2019. But 2 years later, they are practically back on top of the recruiting world. If a scandal like that, coupled with an all-time coach like Meyer resigning, won’t make a lasting dent, what will slow down the Buckeyes?
Meyer leaving was supposed to be like when Pete Carroll left USC, or when Meyer left Florida. But Ryan Day has proved that won’t be the case. He has proven to be an excellent recruiter.
Just like Clemson in the ACC, Ohio State is running farther and farther away from the rest of its league. As the first day of the Early Signing Period showed, it’s hard to imagine any program rising up and challenging Ohio State the next few years — on the field or on the recruiting trail.