Alabama’s seven-year run atop the 247Sports Composite Team Rankings will come to an end on Wednesday. Which program will be crowned the new king of college football recruiting remains to be seen, however.
Heading into the final weekend for official visits, Ohio State holds a slim two-point lead over national runner-up Georgia. With 24 players in the fold, though, the Buckeyes also have two more commitments than the Bulldogs.
Programs across the country did most of their work during the Early Signing Period, which has taken a lot of the intrigue out of the traditional National Signing Day. In fact, only 53 of the nation’s Top 375 prospects — which encompasses every four- and five-star recruit — remain unsigned or uncommitted.
Ohio State signed 22 prospects during the Early Signing Period, and that includes Cleveland Heights four-star defensive end Tyreke Smith, who faxed in his National Letter of Intent but held off on making an announcement until the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 4. Georgia, meanwhile, wrestled away the top spot in the rankings that day thanks to commitments from five-star offensive tackle Cade Mays, five-star offensive guard Jamaree Salyer and five-star defensive end Brenton Cox — who actually pledged his services to the Buckeyes in April but backed off that decision in early December.
Since then, Ohio State has picked up commitments from New Jersey four-star defensive end Tyler Friday and California three-star wide receiver Chris Olave. The Buckeyes overtook the Bulldogs in the team rankings as a result, but holding onto the top spot hinges upon decisions next week from a few marquee prospects.
Addressing the lack of depth at offensive tackle remains the staff’s top priority, and they’re currently hosting one of the nation’s best prospects at the position for an official visit this weekend. Tampa Berkeley Prep five-star Nicholas Petit-Frere is set to decide on Wednesday among Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame and Ohio State, and the Gators are considered the heavy favorite to land his pledge thanks to proximity.
The Fighting Irish also feel confident about their chances thanks to academics, but the Buckeyes have a great chance to swing things in their favor this weekend because of the opportunity for early playing time and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano‘s strong ties at Berkeley Prep — his sons attended the school when he was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Landing a pledge on Wednesday from Maryland four-star Rasheed Walker would also help fortify the offensive line. He recently narrowed down his list of offers to Ohio State, Penn State and Virginia Tech, but most believe it to be a two-horse race between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.
Walker, much like Petit-Frere, has kept his recruitment close to the vest. In-home visits from Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and Penn State’s James Franklin have both staffs feeling confident about their chances, but it appears a decision will come down to comfort and familiarity of State College versus the early playing time and opportunities with life after football presented in Columbus.
Ohio State doesn’t have other glaring needs this cycle, but the staff has positioned itself to land a fourth running back in the coming days. Dayton Dunbar three-star Tavion Thomas recently reopened his recruitment after being committed to Oklahoma for seven months, and is set to begin his official visit this evening following the Wolverines’ basketball game against Trotwood-Madison.
Thomas may very well pull the trigger and pledge his services to the Buckeyes this weekend. Whether or not he signs with the program on Wednesday, though, depends on if he’s cleared — or at least showed progress toward clearing — the academic hurdles that plagued his recruitment early in the process and forced the staff to move on another direction last spring.
A year of junior college or prep school could be in the cards for Thomas, but his commitment helps Ohio State somewhat address the lack of in-state prospects in its current recruiting class.
It’s highly unlikely the Buckeyes add anyone else, as Cincinnati Winton Woods four-star linebacker Christopher Oats called off his official visit and is expected to end up with Kentucky instead. New Jersey four-star defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste also seemed destined to end up in Columbus following a late offer, but it appears both sides have gone their separate ways. Nebraska is his likely landing spot.
All that said, it appears Ohio State’s only chance of holding onto the nation’s top recruiting class would be to land Petit-Frere, Walker and Thomas, as Georgia remains in the hunt for a number of the nation’s top prospects, including five-star cornerback Tyson Campbell. The Bulldogs also hope to flip Michigan four-star linebacker Otis Reese on signing day.
My colleague Andrew Ellis will have more on the Buckeyes and Bulldogs’ respective paths toward the recruiting title tomorrow morning.