Programs are still adjusting to the new recruiting calendar.
Three years ago, an NCAA rule change began allowing high school juniors to take official visits between April and June. This change — along with December's early signing period — has completely altered the recruiting timelines that college coaches and programs now face.
Ohio State's top-ranked 2021 recruiting class has already reached double digits, and while that shouldn't be a surprise in the current landscape, it does present a tricky situation for Ryan Day and his staff as they once again look to bring in about 25 of America's best prospects.
The fall evaluations are an important part of monitoring the development of high school seniors. With the new timelines in place, many of the country's top programs are already near capacity when the season rolls around. That means there can be very little wiggle room to bring in prospects who really take the next step or burst onto the scene as seniors.
Spring official visits have led to far more commitments prior to the start of the school year and of course more December signings during the early period. If Ohio State elected to slow things down a bit, then Day and his staff would risk losing players to the likes of Clemson, Alabama, or any other national power.
This past cycle, Cameron Martinez was the lone February signee after Jeff Hafley's departure briefly shook things up a bit in his recruitment. Earlier this month, Day spoke with the media about the changes to the recruiting calendar and how the Buckeyes are still adjusting to the new landscape.
“I think any time you make a change like that, the ripple effects, you don't know them until about four or five years out. So I think we're still working through that."
The conundrum for Ohio State and the rest of the country can surface when a player doesn't take the next step and progress from their junior to senior seasons. If a school accepts a commitment during the spring or summer — potentially during or shortly after an official visit — and said player plateaus or even regresses thereafter, it could make for a tough decision for any coaching staff.
We saw an extreme example of this when the Danny Clark saga unfolded under Urban Meyer. As a freshman at Massillon, Clark looked like the next big thing in the state of Ohio. He earned an offer early on and committed to his dream school in December of his freshman year.
The quarterback's development never really took off as planned as Meyer and the Buckeyes ultimately made the decision to go in a different direction. It was an unfortunate situation for all parties involved, but sometimes that's just the nature of the beast when dealing with the intricacies of the recruiting process.
For the Class of 2020, Ohio State accepted an early commitment from three-star in-state tackle Trey Leroux. The Norwalk lineman was the least-heralded signee in Ryan Day's first full recruiting class and never garnered much national attention during the process. At 6-foot-8 and 365 pounds and holding offers from the likes of Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan, many questioned Day's decision to pursue and ultimately sign the country's No. 1,135th-ranked prospect.
Leroux's story is obviously yet to be told, but the early enrollee has already shed over 40 pounds and is now working to get back up to the 330-pound range. His career is one that we'll all be following closely much like Dawand Jones from the Class of 2019.
Recruiting classes nearly reaching capacity during the spring and summer can also present challenges during the fall and winter months. Every year there are a handful of prospects who seemingly blow up during the summertime camp circuits. This most recent time around, it was California's C.J. Stroud who became a hot commodity in the months leading up to the start of his senior season.
Day already had Jack Miller in the fold, and everyone knows that signing two quarterbacks is one of recruiting's biggest challenges. Signing two of the caliber of Miller and Stroud? That's nearly unheard of, but Ohio State was able to do just that this past December. Still, it became quite the battle as the timeline allowed Georgia to pitch immediate playing time when it became more and more clear that Jake Fromm would be off to the NFL.
For the Class of 2021, Day and his staff are heading into a pivotal month of March as the current dead period ends on Feb. 29. Local and out-of-state visitors will be heading to Columbus and the staff will be faced with a number of tough decisions on who to offer and who to spend a bit more time evaluating.
Waiting several months to evaluate runs the risk of losing a player altogether. Offering right away could lead to an early commitment before seeing any senior tape, and no school wants to get the reputation as one that "cuts kids loose." It's a risk that Ohio State and every other program is now faced with in the sped-up recruiting landscape.
Ryan Day said it will take about four or five years to fully grasp the new recruiting process. When that time comes and staffs begin to really get comfortable, something is bound to change once again.