The goals for Urban Meyer haven’t changed. Assemble the best recruiting classes and win national championships. He’s never hidden his desire to compete and be the greatest.
Prompted on signing day about why it’s important to have a highly ranked class, Meyer responded, “As long as you're keeping score, we’re going to try to win. I’m disappointed we weren’t the No. 1 class in the country, and our staff knows we’re disappointed about that.”
What he isn’t disappointed about is following a plan that formed one of the winningest stretches in college football history at Florida. In Gainesville, Meyer realized it took speed and athleticism at the skill positions and in the defensive front seven.
Take one glance at his recruiting haul at Ohio State and you’ll notice a trend. Meyer is building an SEC North team in Columbus by using the same philosophy that built the Gators into a juggernaut. Names like Dontre Wilson, Noah Spence, Raekwon McMillan and Joey Bosa could mirror Percy Harvin, Derrick Harvey, Brandon Spikes and Jarvis Moss.
“They’re building the team from the inside out,” ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said.
It’s not just Florida that discovered the formula. Throughout the SEC’s seven-year win streak – and Florida State’s championship last season – the route to a title became more and more obvious. When the Buckeyes surrendered 115 points in its final three games, losing two, it became obvious their route to a title was paved with landmines.
“Where I think they’ve had a bit of a leg up is they’ve been able to mask their weaknesses to some degree that have manifested themselves on defense by having superior skill players on offense that have been able to create mismatches and get them ahead of the curve as they continue to build the defensive side of the football,” Luginbill said.
He broadcasted a game featuring the Buckeyes last fall and said the “lack of depth and ideal talent that Urban Meyer would like to have was pretty apparent.”
So Meyer went on the recruiting trail and plucked the necessary pieces needed to return to the sport’s apex. McMillan, Johnnie Dixon, Jalyn Holmes, Curtis Samuel, Kyle Berger, Dante Booker, Darius Slade, Parris Campbell and Noah Brown fit the bill. Study this year’s top-10 recruiting classes and one team stands out for its location – Ohio State.
“He brings speed to our backfield that I don’t believe we've had since I’ve been here.”– Stan Drayton
SEC speed is mentioned as often as touchdowns and interceptions during game telecasts. But the notion that only the south or the SEC plays a fast brand of football is uneducated at best.
“Some of the guys with great speed, like Paris Campbell, aren’t from the south. So I think the SEC speed argument is overblown,” J.C. Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247Sports, told Eleven Warriors. “Sometimes you’ll look at the SEC and there will be a kid from Pennsylvania outrunning everybody else.”
While most men Meyer’s age fancy fast cars, he covets fast football players. In his initial head-coaching position at Bowling Green, Meyer knew faster players often meant a better team which translated into more wins.
“At Florida, he wanted to have the fastest team in college football. I’m sure having the fastest team in college football at Ohio State is a goal, and they’re getting there,” Shurburtt said.
Said Meyer: “We’re getting close. We need a couple more. But from where it was two years ago to where it is now is much different.”
Shurburtt believes the Big Ten East could resemble the SEC West in the near future, possibly becoming the toughest division in college football. The team armed with the most athletes and speed at skill positions and in the front seven is almost certain to have the upper hand. Where the Buckeyes still lag behind the nation’s elite teams is linebacker. They possess a difference-making quarterback, skilled wide receivers and a nimble defensive line.
Luginbill believes McMillan will step in and perform immediately. It’d be a boon for a unit short on depth that just lost former five-star recruit Mike Mitchell. Dixon, another early enrollee, is also drawing positive reviews. Creating mismatches is space is Meyer’s objective, and Dixon certainly has that type of playmaking ability.
But Samuel, who’s listed as a wide receiver and running back, is the player earning the Wilson treatment of 2014, even Meyer’s join the growing chorus, referring to the Brooklyn native as “electric.” He’s run a 4.47 laser-timed 40 multiple times.
“He brings speed to our backfield that I don’t believe we've had since I’ve been here,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “What we don’t know about Curtis Samuel right now is, how is he going to respond when he’s in the ‘Shoe with 108,000 people looking at him.”
“Samuel, in my opinion, can serve the offense in a very similar fashion to what Dontre Wilson did a year ago as a true freshman,” Luginbill opined. “Maybe he’s a true running back on certain downs, maybe he’s split out wide on other downs, maybe he’s in the slot and utilized in the jet sweep.”
Shurburtt offered the same hypothesis, but expanded on his hard-hitting ways at safety.
“Curtis Samuel will come up and knock you into next week,” Shurburtt said. “But he could also play receiver or wing back. So there’s a guy that could help on offense or help on defense.
“As far as the guts of this class, I love the versatility. There are four or five guys that could end up playing two or three different positions, and do so at a high level. Those guys are high-level athletes, and the common denominator is they all can run. They all have great speed.”
For Meyer, that trumps having the nation’s top-ranked class.