The Hurry-Up: Breaking Down What Lincoln Riley Heading to USC Could Mean for Ohio State, Five-star Defensive End Keon Keeley Picks Up OSU Offer

By Garrick Hodge on December 1, 2021 at 5:30 pm
Zion and Zachariah Branch
Zion and Zachariah Branch

USC’s hiring of Lincoln Riley created shockwaves throughout the recruiting world.

As of Tuesday night, we’ve got Oklahoma’s compliance department throwing shade by sending out cryptic tweets after a report surfaced that Roy Manning – who’s still the cornerbacks coach at Oklahoma – has also been recruiting five-star cornerback Domani Jackson on behalf of USC.

Riley already landed his first big recruiting win for the Trojans on Tuesday, when he successfully flipped five-star 2023 quarterback Malachi Nelson, who was previously committed to Oklahoma.

Several Oklahoma recruits have decommitted since Sunday, and current Sooners players are hitting the transfer portal left and right. The ripple effect of Riley’s trek to Southern California is likely going to make its way over to Ohio State, too. 

The most immediate impact could concern 2022 four-star priority safety target Zion Branch and his little brother, 2023 four-star wideout Zachariah Branch. Right up until Riley’s hire, OSU was considered the favorite to land both Branches, mostly because of the uncertainty created by the vacancy at USC. That uncertainty no longer lingers with the hiring of a proven coach such as Riley. 

As the summer turned into fall, it became pretty clear that both Branches were enamored with USC, with both of them donning Trojans’ gear during some of their high school games at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nevada). With the new staff in place, USC will be visiting the Branches this week in their home, and the elder Branch will be taking a second official visit to the school on Dec. 10, per On3. Suddenly, the Trojans look like the favorite once again to land both Branches. 

That doesn’t mean OSU will punt on its pursuit of the talented duo, though. OSU defensive backs coach Matt Barnes and wide receivers coach Brian Hartline visited Zion and Zachariah on Tuesday. Ryan Day is expected to make his own visit to the Branches next week before the early signing period. 

Zachariah Branch said he enjoyed his time with OSU’s coaches. 

"It was definitely exciting to be able to sit down, talk with them and for them to open up to our family," Zachariah told 247Sports. "It was great to continue to break down how they see us in the system as well. It wasn't just football; they were talking about what they did after college and some of the things they were interested in throughout their careers. It was interesting to get to know them more as a family and it's always good to just get to know these coaches as people.”

Beyond the Branches, OSU is making sure to keep in good graces with 2022 priority four-star defensive tackle Hero Kanu. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson and Day visited Kanu in California on Tuesday, letting him know of his potential importance to their 2022 class. 

Before Riley left for USC, Oklahoma was OSU’s biggest competition for Kanu’s services. That seemingly would now be USC. Kanu canceled his last scheduled official visit to LSU after the firing of Ed Orgeron, so he has one final official visit remaining. Since he’s already in the state, it would be easy for him to take that visit to USC. 

Riley’s arrival in Southern California is likely going to make recruiting in that area much more difficult for other schools for the next few cycles. Fortunately for OSU, Kanu does not have the same sentimental attachment to USC as other kids in the area considering the 6-foot-5, 293-pound defensive tackle was born and raised in Germany. Considering he’s visited OSU four times since the summer and has seen a flurry of Crystal Ball projections in Ohio State’s favor in recent weeks, the Buckeyes remain in good standing with Kanu but might have to hold off a late push from the Trojans.

Ironically, Riley’s arrival may make it easier for Ohio State to land 2022 four-star quarterback Devin Brown, a former USC commit. Riley might not have a spot for Brown, who officially decommitted from the Trojans a few days before Riley was hired, after Nelson flipped to USC. Speculation remains of whether current Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams will enter the transfer portal and follow Riley to USC.

OSU visited Brown in his home Monday and appears to be battling Texas for his commitment, but there’s good reason to like the Buckeyes’ chances with the prolific Utah passer. (Update: Brown committed to Ohio State on Wednesday night.)

Riley may make life difficult for OSU’s efforts to land players from top Southern California schools like St. John Bosco, which has at least seven players who are OSU targets. Really, he might make recruiting on the West Coast more difficult in general. 

It’s not as if OSU is overly dependent on California. The 2021 class, the highest-ranked collection of recruits in OSU history, did not see include a single player from California. The 2020 cycle included two Californians in C.J. Stroud and Kourt Williams, but there were no California prospects in 2019 and Chris Olave was the lone one in 2018. None of the 16 currently committed players in the 2022 class are from California. It has been fertile territory for the Buckeyes to land some of their biggest stars in recent years, though, including Stroud, Olave, Wyatt Davis and Michael Thomas.

Keeley picks up OSU offer

Is it poaching season already? 

While on the recruiting trail this week, Ohio State extended an offer to 2023 five-star defensive end Keon Keeley, a Notre Dame commit, according to On3

Keely committed to the Fighting Irish in late June, and the Buckeyes are certainly trying to take advantage of the uncertainty in South Bend created by Brian Kelly’s departure. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound edge rusher is ranked as the 23rd-best prospect nationally and the third-best edge rusher in the 2023 cycle, per 247Sports’ composite rankings. 

Whether Keeley will reopen his recruitment could come down to if Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman stays with the program or not, considering Freeman recruited Keeley. Of course, there’s always a chance he could stay committed with a potential Luke Fickell hire or any other coach Notre Dame may target. But at least the Buckeyes are shooting their shot with the five-star.

Tate elevated to five-star recruit

Ohio State priority 2023 wide receiver target Carnell Tate his seen his stock rise plenty over the years. On Wednesday, Tate's stock rose even further, as 247Sports elevated him to a five-star recruit on Wednesday. 

Tate is ranked as the 21st-best player and the third-best wide receiver in the 2023 cycle. Ohio State is seemingly locked in a battle with Notre Dame for his commitment, which makes the most recent coaching change all the more interesting. But Tate is continuing to take visits separate of those two schools, most recently attending Tennessee, so we'll see how long he plans to keep his recruitment open. 

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