Confidence in Tony Alford, Ohio State Running Back Recruiting Should Remain Strong Despite Tough Week on the Trail

By Andrew Ellis on August 4, 2019 at 8:30 am
Plenty of eyes will be on Tony Alford as the Buckeyes look to close out the 2020 class.

There have been 18 five-star running backs dating back to the Class of 2016. None of them have signed with Ohio State.

Tony Alford was officially named as Ohio State's running backs coach back in February of 2015. He's now working on his fifth full recruiting class, and all eyes may very well be on him as the Buckeyes look to put the finishing touches on the Class of 2020.

Ryan Day is in a position where the class is going to be nearly complete before the upcoming season even kicks off. The Buckeyes have 22 commitments in the fold and are expected to land another five or six more before February of next year. The remaining areas of need are mostly unchanged with the defensive line, cornerback, and tailback still the lingering priorities.

We spent several weeks expecting the running back class to be wrapped up by Aug. 2, but things took a turn when Jaylan Knighton committed to Florida State on Tuesday and five-star Bijan Robinson pledged to Texas just three days later. Additionally, the country's No. 4 tailback – five-star California product Kendall Milton – sided with Georgia on Monday. 

Alford had the Buckeyes out in front for Milton at one point until he took his official visits to SEC country. Ohio State led for Knighton until he visited Tallahassee last week for the Noles' Saturday Night Live event. And the Robinson loss stung the most as he seemed like a virtual lock up until something changed last weekend. 

It would be a bit of an understatement to say that Tony Alford has had better weeks on the recruiting trail. On the other side of the coin, those being overly critical may be getting far too wrapped up in the current state of affairs. 

While at Notre Dame, Alford served as recruiting coordinator in addition to his running back duties. He specialized in recruiting the state of Florida and helped bring in players like Greg Bryant and Dexter Williams. No one in South Bend was happy to see him head to Columbus to replace Stan Drayton.

It's also important to remember that there typically aren't that many five-star running backs in a given recruiting class. Looking back at Alford's first full recruiting cycle (2016), Penn State signee Miles Sanders was the lone five-star prospect. Demario McCall was the nation's No. 2 all-purpose back while Antonio Williams was No. 7. A year later there were five backs with five-star status. J.K. Dobbins was the country's sixth-rated back and just missed the cut.

Running Back Recruiting: Alford Era
2016 1 Antonio Williams, Demario McCall
2017 5 J.K. Dobbins
2018 3 Brian Snead, Jaelen Gill, Master Teague
2019 3 Marcus Crowley, Steele Chambers
2020 6 To Be Determined

The 2018 class was a good one for Alford and the Buckeyes. Brian Snead and Jaelen Gill were two of the staff's top overall targets. Ohio State managed to beat out several SEC teams when Master Teague signed with the good guys.

The class had just a trio of five-stars. North Carolina's Zamir White was another one of Alford's top priorities, but he ended up signing with Georgia. Gill was the country's No. 2 all-purpose back and No. 30 overall prospect; just missing a fifth star. Snead was No. 3 at the position and Teague was No. 11.

If we're being totally honest here, Brian Snead's dismissal was a really big blow to Ohio State's running back depth. He had carved out a bit of a role as a true freshman before things went south. If his career had played out differently, the Buckeyes would be in a much different situation at the position and this 2020 class wouldn't be quite as crucial.

The Class of 2019 could have gone a little better for the Buckeyes. Flipping Marcus Crowley from Miami was a huge move and landing Steele Chambers over Notre Dame was another big win. Still, Ohio State did miss out on a number of top-tier targets including Penn State signees Noah Cain and Devyn Ford. Losing Sampson James to Indiana wasn't exactly a good look either.

During his time in Columbus, the Buckeyes have absolutely missed out on a number of tailback targets. The same can be said for wide receivers, cornerbacks, and virtually every other position on the field. I'm of the belief that running back recruiting has gone fine – and will continue to be fine – even after last week's events.

I'm also a believer in Alford's player development. J.K. Dobbins looked like the next big thing when he burst onto the scene in 2017. He took a step back as a sophomore as his yards per carry took a pretty big drop from 7.2 all the way down to 4.6. At least some of that can be attributed to offensive line play and the lack of a running threat at quarterback, however. We'll see how things go in what is expected to be Dobbins' last hurrah.

The real test may deal more with the other tailbacks. Teague has shown some flashes at times and is going to be needed to step up in his second year. McCall is an all-purpose weapon, but can the staff figure out how to effectively deploy him? Crowley enrolled early and should play as a true freshman. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Chambers is a bit of a wildcard as many thought he could end up at linebacker.

There are now less than five months until the early signing period. Brian Hartline and Jeff Hafley have been dominant on the recruiting trail and both are listed among the country's best. For Alford and the running backs, the board is going to have to be reset a bit now that three of the top targets are committed elsewhere. New offers have already been extended and some previous targets now will likely be re-evaluated during their senior seasons.

Ohio State is going to sign a pair of running backs by the time February's signing day rolls around. Tony Alford has shown that he's more than capable on the recruiting trail. We'll see if he can do it again despite some recent bumps in the road.

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