James Franklin's Recruiting Prowess Presenting a Challenge As Buckeyes Look to Widen the Big Ten Talent Gap

By Andrew Ellis on May 22, 2018 at 2:15 pm
Urban Meyer and James Franklin are two of the country's finest recruiters.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

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Urban Meyer's arrival prior to the 2012 season brought changes to the Big Ten's recruiting landscape.

Ohio State previously used a very different – albeit successful – approach under Jim Tressel, but now the Buckeyes are scanning the country more so than ever before in search of the nation's top players.

For the most part, Penn State and Michigan have been doing quite well for themselves on the trail, and they too have found success honing in on various regions of the country. Then there are schools like Michigan State and Wisconsin who have been successful even with a lack of star power in their recruiting classes.

The Northwesterns and Minnesotas of the world have been known to pluck a talented player here and there, but outside of the conference's five biggest powers, there hasn't been a whole lot of noise.  

There's no question that Ohio State has perennially had the most talented roster in the Big Ten, and that's obviously a credit to Meyer's recruiting wizardry and national reach. There are few programs who could miss out on a top local target like five-star Jackson Carman and quickly work to find something even better in Tampa’s Nicholas Petit-Frere; the nation's top poffensive tackle. 

However, James Franklin continues to do fine work in Happy Valley, and his efforts seem to be narrowing the talent gap – at least to a degree – between the conference's top teams.

By now it's no secret that Penn State is recruiting at an elite level. The Nittany Lions may not quite be in the same tier as Ohio State or Alabama, but the days of the Buckeyes totally outclassing the rest of the Big Ten seem to be behind us.

Does that mean there's a changing of the guard atop the conference? Hardly. But the last two meetings between the two foes have been nail-biters, and it would be no surprise to see much of the same in the coming seasons. 

The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are constantly going at it on the trail, so it's no shock that each team has seen its share of recruiting wins. The 2018 class saw Penn State sign players like Rasheed Walker and Jayson Oweh while the Buckeyes landed Tyreke Smith, Matthew Jones, and a host of others. 

It's been much of the same for the Class of 2019, and right now the folks in Happy Valley may be America's hottest team. In the past four days, James Franklin has secured commitments from five prospects which have catapulted Penn State up to No. 14 in the team rankings.

B1G & National Class Rankings
CLASS OHIO STATE PENN STATE
2015 No. 1 / No. 7 No. 2 / No. 14
2016 No. 1 / No. 4 No. 4 / No. 20
2017 No. 1 / No. 2 No. 3 / No. 15
2018 No. 1 / No. 2 No. 2 / No. 5
2019 No. 2 / No. 10 No. 3 / No. 14

The new additions include five-star linebacker Brandon Smith, four-star tailback Devyn Ford, four-star athlete Marquis Wilson, four-star safety Tyler Rudolph, and three-star JUCO safety Jaquan Brisker.

Four of the recent Nittany Lion commits held Ohio State offers, and two of them—Ford and Smith—were top-of-the-board targets for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes' staff.

These days it can be a bit tricky to decipher what exactly an "offer" means. Does it mean a school wants a player right now or does it mean a school wants to keep a player warm while further evaluating? Regardless, the commitments of Devyn Ford and Brandon Smith certainly are not ideal for Ohio State.

Franklin's personality, ability to connect with families, and the recent bowl apperances have only enhanced the allure of Penn State. But is there any chance the Nittany Lions could dethrone the Buckeyes when it comes to the conference's recruiting crown? 

Highly unlikely. 

Ohio State is presumably going to sign another "full" class with close to 25 signees. That means Urban Meyer and Co. still have another 15-16 spots to fill between now and next February, and the Buckeyes certainly have plenty of highly-rated prospects still on the board.

It's a bit of a different story for Penn State. Coming off of a 2018 class that featured 23 signees, the expectation for the current cycle is to end up closer to 20. That would mean the Nittany Lions  have room for about another dozen or so.

When looking at each school's top remaining targets, there really isn't a whole lot of overlap. Both programs are pursuing four-star Indianapolis wide receiver David Bell and four-star offensive tackle Xavier Truss. Right now the Buckeyes seem to be in better shape for Bell while Penn State is the heavy crystal ball favorite for Truss.

The five-star elephant in the room, however, is Lewis Center's Zach Harrison. The Olentangy Orange defensive end already took his official to Penn State and is hoping to check out Ohio State and Michigan next month before announcing his intentions. 247Sports considers the 6-foot-6, 240-pounder to be the No. 1 player in the entire country. 

The Wolverines remain an option for Harrison, but nearly everyone is expecting this one to come down to Ohio State and Penn State. Losing Jackson Carman to Clemson was a big loss for the 2018 class. Missing on Harrison – especially to a conference foe – would be borderline catastrophic.

We're not expecting Franklin to catch Meyer on the trail for the Class of 2019, but no one's scoffing at the work he's putting in on the recruiting front. Yes, Michigan is actually ahead of both schools right now, but the Wolverines have more total commitments and more of the three-star variety (4) than both Ohio State and Penn State combined (3). 

Even more importantly, the folks in Columbus and State College have shown that they can win games against their rivals and compete for the College Football Playoff. In Ann Arbor, the storylines seem to revolve around incoming transfers and offseason expeditions to foreign lands.

The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions square off on Sept. 29 in Happy Valley in what should be one of the most compelling games of the 2018 college football season.

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