Heat Check: November Update Sees Quarterbacks Rise and A Familiar Five-Star Resurfacing at Running Back

By Andrew Ellis on November 6, 2019 at 11:05 am
Georgia Tech commit Jahmyr Gibbs takes over the top spot on our board.

Recruiting is all about comfort and relationships. Sometimes you're gaining momentum on the trail, sometimes you're losing it. How are some of Ohio State's key prospects trending? Let's take a look.

October was another busy month on the trail as Ryan Day added two more big-time pieces to his 2020 recruiting class. Four-star defensive lineman Jacolbe Cowan made the call on Oct. 4, and just over a week later it was Texas cornerback Ryan Watts who followed suit.

The most recent pair of booms brought the class up to 24 commitments, which is good enough for No. 4 in the country. We're still in the midst of official visit season, and Ohio State continues to look for two or three more pieces to close things out for 2020.

The early signing period is just over a month away, and this may very well be the final update to our 2020 recruiting board. We always aim to keep our board full with 11 prospects, but things do get tricky when there's only room to add a few more players to the commitment column.

We've scratched some names off of the October list – including the previous No. 1 – due to commitments or some other circumstances and added a few other prospects who remain in the mix.

JAHMYR GIBBS RB 1 8 ★★★★ Georgia Tech Commit
MIYAN WILLIAMS RB 2 2 ★★★ Iowa State Commit
C.J. STROUD QB 3 6 ★★★★ Georgia•Oregon•UCLA
BIJAN ROBINSON RB 4 NA ★★★★★ Texas Commit•USC
JAYDEN DE LAURA QB 5 NA ★★★ Washington State Commit
TYLER BARON DE 6 5 ★★★★ Tennessee•Kentucky
E.J. SMITH RB 8 9 ★★★★ Stanford•TAMU•Florida
ELIAS RICKS CB 9 7 ★★★★★ LSU Commit
JAIDEN FRANCOIS DB 10 10 ★★★★ Miami•Florida•Penn State
GAGE KEYS DE 11 NA ★★★ Minnesota Commit

*Last month's edition can be found HERE. 

So what's going on with running back recruiting? That's a fantastic question as Tony Alford looks to grab at least one before all is said and done in February. We know Jahmyr Gibbs is scheduled to make an unofficial visit this weekend and then Miyan Williams is expected to do the same for the Penn State game. 

These are two very different backs who are currently committed elsewhere. Williams put up some prolific numbers at Winton Woods, but some seem to have concerns with the Iowa State commit's speed and overall fit. He continues to be the most likely addition to the backfield, but getting the three-star on campus hasn't been easy. 

Gibbs has seen his stock skyrocket over the last two months as the Georgia Tech commit has landed offers from Alabama, LSU, and several other national powers. He's taken recent visits to Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa, but the Crimson Tide are likely the biggest threat. Nick Saban has two backs committed and the Tide remains in the Zach Evans sweepstakes. We'll have to see how much of a push they make. 

This weekend is a major opportunity for Ryan Day and Tony Alford to showcase exactly what Ohio State has to offer. If the Buckeyes can position themselves and potentially even get Gibbs back for an official, then this one just might work out. He continues to be my personal favorite of the remaining realistic options and now holds the top spot on our board.

There's also still an outside shot that they could bring in two backs between now and February's signing day. A Gibbs/Williams pairing would make a lot of sense considering the skill sets, and we'll certainly know more in the coming days and weeks. 

Remember that time Bijan Robinson was silently committed to Ohio State and all was well in the running back recruiting world? Well, the five-star has surfaced again on our board, but it needs to be noted that there's no reason for any sort of confidence here. It is a recruitment that's worth paying attention to just in case some things change. 

Tom Herman is having a tough time in Austin and the Longhorns running game has been anything but impressive. The team's leading rusher is Keontay Ingram – who's barely outrushing quarterback Sam Ehlinger – and he has just 494 yards on the season. As a point of reference, J.K. Dobbins has already topped 1,100 yards and Master Teague has close to 600 in his backup role.

Yes, Robinson has been in touch with the Ohio State staff, but I'm of the understanding that it's nothing to get too excited over; at least not right now. USC seems to be the more likely landing spot if he does elect to back off of his Texas pledge, but could a Clay Helton termination allow for Day and Alford to swoop in?

E.J. Smith remains on our board at the No. 8 spot. We've said it before, but this is more of a slow-paced recruitment as he plans to be in town on Nov. 22. I don't see the four-star in the class, but perhaps he's a guy they make a push for in more of an all-purpose back type of role. Stanford and Florida appear to be the safer bets, but we'll see how his official visit goes. 

The quarterback spot has emerged as the other position to watch most closely. Ohio State's pursuit of C.J. Stroud has been well-documented, but the recent offer to Washington State commit Jayden de Laura makes it pretty clear that the plan is to sign a pair at the position. Everything seems to be fine on the Jack Miller front as the long-standing commit was on campus just a few weeks back.  

As for de Laura, the Honolulu signal-caller has seen his stock rise over the last month with offers coming in from the likes of USC and now Ohio State. The offer certainly isn't cause for concern RE: the Stroud situation, but it does make it even more clear that Day is wanting to bring in another talent at the position. The Wolverines offered Stroud last week and they're sniffing around with de Laura as well.

My best guess at the moment? Stroud takes a few visits – including a worrisome one (or perhaps even two) to Athens – and ultimately commits to Ohio State shortly after making his official visit in mid-December. It's sounding like Day and Yurcich will be the last coaches to host the Cali star before he signs in December, and that certainly isn't a bad sign.

Larry Johnson has three defensive linemen in the fold, but he still seems to be looking for a pure edge rusher. There's a chance that Ohio State is done in the trenches, but a trio of edge defenders remain on our board. 

Tyler Baron made his official visit in October and there's been little news since then. Tennessee remains the one constant in his recruitment and he seems to be on campus just about every weekend. While that's no surprise considering his father is on the staff and he resides in Knoxville, the Vols are likely still the team to beat with the Buckeyes and Wildcats also in the mix. 

Utah's Xavier Carlton is a pure long shot at this point, but the staff is quite fond of him and he looks to be a take at the moment. The issue is that he seems destined to remain out West – likely at Utah. Hilliard's Gage Keys hasn't been offered at this point, but he makes the list as a local prospect to watch late in the process. Could the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder go the Alex Williams route as a late addition? 

The most likely option may be for Johnson and the Ohio State staff to seek out a Javontae Jean-Baptiste type of player in the next few months. I'd keep an eye out for a long, outside linebacker/defensive end type who's more of a developmental prospect. No one has surfaced just yet, but it's something to be on the lookout for. 

With Ryan Watts now in the fold, Jeff Hafley may very well be done in the secondary. We're keeping two more defensive backs on the list, however, just in case the Buckeyes happen to find themselves in a position to add another one. 

Elias Ricks is still expected to make an official visit to Columbus. There's zero reason for optimism, but he's a guy any school in the country would find room for. Former Miami commit Jaiden Francois may actually be the one to really pay attention to as we move forward.

Some folks down in South Florida seem to think the Buckeyes are the team to beat if they elect to push. Francois is a defender who can likely play a number of different spots in the secondary, but there may simply not be enough room with other positions being more of a priority.

Things continue to go quite well for Ryan Day and his staff in Columbus. Last night the Buckeyes checked in at No. 1 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings and are playing at a higher level than just about every other program in America. 

The ground attack has been dominant all year round and that has plenty of folks wondering why the staff can't seem to land one of the country's top tailbacks. It's been an ongoing saga here and on the message boards as we all wait and see what kind of progress Tony Alford can make in the coming weeks. 

We'll be watching the Bijan Robinson situation closely until he signs with his program of choice in December. If our recruiting board was based purely on talent and position need, he'd absolutely be listed at No. 1 overall. But there are a lot of factors at play here, and it's worth reiterating that there's no reason for optimism quite yet. 

In the meantime, let's just sit back and enjoy the success that's happening right in front of our eyes each and every Saturday. There's certainly a long way to go, but right now the Buckeyes are looking down on everyone else from atop the playoff rankings. 

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