The Hurry-Up: How Extra Years for Jonathon Cooper, Justin Hilliard Could Affect 2020 Class

By Zack Carpenter on December 13, 2019 at 5:45 pm
Jonathon Cooper, Justin Hilliard
Jonathon Cooper, Justin Hilliard

The Hurry-Up is your nightly dose of updates from the Ohio State football recruiting trail, keeping tabs on the latest from commits and targets from around the country.

How Cooper, Hilliard extra years could affect 2020 class

Question 1
Question 2

At this exact time three weeks ago, there were 22 seniors on Ohio State's roster, 19 of whom were on scholarship and expected to leave after this season.

Enokk Vimahi, who is a Mormon, originally planned to take his two-year mission trip after this season, and the Buckeyes were most likely planning on applying for an exemption for Vimahi. That would have meant his scholarship would not have counted against the 85 scholarships a college program is allowed each season. Once he returned, of course, his scholarship would have been honored (again, assuming Ohio State would have applied for that exemption, which it doesn't sound like there's any reason it would not have).

That meant there were 20 players who would have been leaving with 23 commitments in the 2020 class (or 24, including Jake Seibert's grayshirt that effectively places his scholarship in the 2021 class).

That meant that just three scholarship players would have needed to leave for the 2020 NFL Draft, and that's about as sure of a lock as you're going to find with Chase Young, Jeff Okudah and J.K. Dobbins gone. 

All of that has changed.

Miyan Williams flipped to Ohio State, Jonathon Cooper is returning for a fifth season, Justin Hilliard was granted a sixth year of eligibility, C.J. Saunders is applying for a sixth year of eligibility, and Vimahi is not going on his mission trip after this season.

Now, Saunders went through senior day activities at the Penn State game so perhaps that indicates the potential for a sixth year is slim. But let's play devil's advocate and say Saunders is given a sixth year. That means Ohio State would only have 16 players to definitively subtract from that number of 85, instead of 20. Adding in Young, Okudah and Dobbins, that puts the number at 19 leaving, with 24 committed players coming in. 

So, let's also assume that most recruiting analysts' and Crystal Ball experts' predictions are correct and that CJ Stroud commits to the Buckeyes. That means 19 players are leaving, with 25 players incoming.

That means, if the Buckeyes remain pat and don't add another commitment (beyond Stroud) to the 2020 class, at least six players will have to go pro or transfer to stay at the 85-scholarship limit.

Other than the big three, Shaun Wade, Thayer Munford, Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers are the most only likely underclassmen to go pro, and it's relatively unlikely that more than two of them end up leaving early. 

So, that brings us to the transfer portal, which is one of the most difficult places to predict any movement in. There are a handful of candidates who could choose to leave Columbus. Heading into Friday, Isaiah Pryor was the only Buckeye to have put his name in the transfer portal this season. (All 85 scholarships were still accounted for even after his departure.)

But Brendon White entered the transfer portal on Friday, having gone through a frustrating year of being the Rose Bowl MVP last season to barely being used this season. White didn't make the trip to the Big Ten Championship Game, "unavailable for personal reasons," Ryan Day said. So that leaves five more players (in addition to Young, Okudah and Dobbins) who will have to go pro or transfer to give the Buckeyes a cleaner path to the 85-scholarship limit.

Demario McCall is another who could opt to hit the portal, but maybe he elects to stick it out with a Dobbins departure and an unproven running back situation headed into the 2020 season. Master Teague III has been great, Marcus Crowley showed flashes of greatness before his injury, and Steele Chambers could be a force as well. But there are still obvious question marks at the position, so perhaps McCall will want to see if he can earn the starting spot.

White and McCall are just two examples used here to illustrate the unknown and the mystery of this year's potential transfers (though White is not an unknown anymore). 

In the end, if Stroud commits and those four current Buckeyes remain on campus (Hilliard, Cooper, Saunders, Vimahi), it's shaping up that the cleanest way for things to go smoothly for Ohio State will be to have eight total players (following White's decision) either enter the draft or transfer. Obviously, early draft entrants hurt and it would be hard to watch guys walk out the door and into the portal who you have coached and mentored. But no scholarships are going to be revoked so that won't be an option and would be a much worse route to go anyway. 

At one point in time, the Buckeyes looked pretty safe to bring in 25 commitments (Stroud included) in this class with no worries. In the end, it is still expected that Ohio State's staff will figure a way to work it out without issues.

But it's getting much tighter, and the margin is now smaller for the ability to add late additions to the class like Jahmyr Gibbs or Xavier Carlton, to name a couple. 

Ohio State probably won't be adding Gibbs or Carlton in the early signing period next week (if they add them at all), which would mean having to wait until National Signing Day on Feb. 5 to get one of them, as each of their recruitments are expected to go the distance before they sign anywhere. The deadline for early entry into the NFL Draft is Jan. 20, so we will all know a little bit more by that date to see if any extra room is carved out.

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