Over the last two recruiting cycles, no one in America has been better than Brian Hartline. The 2020 wide receiver haul was the best we've seen in Columbus and all four signees enrolled in January before the COVID-19 situation shook things up across the country.
The Buckeyes have a pair of four-stars committed for the Class of 2021 in Massillon's Jayden Ballard and Philadelphia's Marvin Harrison Jr. The numbers game will likely allow for one more wideout to join the fold before all is said and done, and Friday evening saw Hartline's top target drop his list of final schools.
Ohio State is battling two other perennial playoff contenders and the local team for five-star wideout Emeka Egbuka. The Steilacoom, Washington native is the country's top-ranked player at the position and No. 8 overall prospect. Today, we're ranking Egbuka's finalists and laying out what to expect next in the recruitment.
4. Clemson Tigers
The case for: Clemson has done a fine job of sending wideouts to the league with names like DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Tee Higgins with Justyn Ross next in line for the 2021 draft. The Tigers have made five College Football Playoff appearances (tied for most with Alabama) and won two national championships over the last four seasons. Dabo Swinney has been recruiting as well as anyone and the program's quarterback situation is in good hands for the foreseeable future.
The case against: Jeff Scott spent 11 years coaching the wideouts at his alma mater, but he's now running the show at South Florida. New receivers coach Tyler Grisham is just 32 years old and hasn't had much of an opportunity to build and cultivate the relationship with the five-star wideout. Egbuka visited the campus last summer when Grisham was serving as an offensive analyst and has not been back since.
The Tigers appear to be in a similar spot as the Buckeyes with the 2021 class as they have a pair of wideouts committed and are looking to sign three. One thing to watch here is four-star Fort Lauderdale receiver Troy Stellato. Clemson was able to get him on campus before the unexpected dead period and it seems like he could pop for the Tigers in the near future.
3. Oklahoma Sooners
The case for: Lincoln Riley has consistently had one of the top offenses in college football, and you really can't blame anyone for wanting to be a part of his system. Hollywood Brown and CeeDee Lamb were each selected in the first round of the last two NFL drafts, and the Sooners have had the best quarterback play in the country dating back to Baker Mayfield's time in Norman. Five-star Washington, DC quarterback Caleb Williams is expected to be a part of Riley's class sooner rather than later, and he's a kid who's well respected across the country.
The case against: It just doesn't seem like Egbuka's relationship with the Sooners is on par with that of the other contenders. I think Oklahoma was perhaps one of the surprise inclusions in his final four, and a team like Stanford or Oregon may have given the Ohio State staff more cause for concern. Riley has two wide receivers committed right now, and if Egbuka is able to make a trip to Norman later this summer or fall, then it'll certainly be worth monitoring.
2. Washington Huskies
The case for: The five-star lives less than an hour from Seattle and has visited the Washington campus far more than any other school. It's the hometown program and that can always be a challenge to overcome. Egbuka has a solid relationship with head coach Jimmy Lake and the rest of the staff. He's familiar and close with some commits and current players and has been one of the school's top priorities for years now.
The case against: Washington clearly just doesn't have the same type of buzz as the other finalists. The Huskies aren't viewed as a playoff contender and Lake is in his first year as the new head coach. The program hasn't been great with wide receiver development with Dante Pettis and John Ross being the most recent draftees. At the moment, there appears to be very little confidence coming from the Washington side.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
The case for: Egbuka's best relationship seems to be with Brian Hartline, and Ohio State's receivers coach already has a track record of recruiting at the highest level. In addition to the relationship with the staff, I think many would be surprised by the level of communication with the Buckeyes' 2021 commitments. He's been a priority for the Ohio State staff and the guys he could potentially be playing with down the road.
The case against: It's actually difficult to make a case against Hartline and the Buckeyes right now. Distance doesn't appear to be a factor in the recruitment as Egbuka has visited programs all across the country and only one of his top choices is local. Ohio State does have a pretty loaded wide receiver room, but it's a young group and Chris Olave may test the NFL waters after his junior season. The plan was to make a trip to Columbus this spring and allow his father to check out the campus, but those plans are obviously on hold at the moment.
There's no timeline for an announcement in place just yet, but we do know he will be signing in December and enrolling early at his school of choice. Stanford was a program that was quietly a big-time factor, but the University doesn't allow official visits to take place until January due to the strict admissions standards. Oregon got the last visit before the dead period, but the Ducks missed the cut.
Hartline and the Buckeyes have been focusing on Egbuka and Stellato for some time now. And while there are other offers on the table, no other wide receiver targets have been realistic options for several months. The pandemic has shaken things up across the country, but it appears Ohio State remains in pole position even though he hasn't been on campus since the fall.
Now, we just wait to see if a decision comes before campus visits are once again permitted. Egbuka previously stated that he didn't want to take visits during his senior season, but those plans may have changed due to the unexpected dead period.
We'll see if the daily contact and Zoom calls are enough for Brian Hartline to wrap this one up sometime in the coming weeks and months. But Ohio State is in a great spot to once again land the country's top-ranked wide receiver.