Traditionally, the primary focus of a successful college football team during the month of December has been preparing to play in a bowl game.
For the past two to three weeks, however, every college football coaching staff has had to spend just as much time, if not more, focusing on recruiting in advance of the first-ever Early Signing Period.
Now that the early signing period is wrapping up, however, coaches who still have games to play can turn their full attention back to their current teams and bowl preparation.
Ohio State’s coaching staff has to, considering that its bowl game – the Cotton Bowl against USC on Dec. 29 – is just one week away.
Recruiting in the weeks leading up to a bowl game is nothing new. The weeks between the end of the regular season – or in the case of both Ohio State and USC this year, a conference championship game – and bowl games, one of the contact periods of the recruiting calendar, were already a popular and important time for coaches to make in-person visits with prospective signees.
The Dec. 20 start to the early signing period, however, made those weeks of recruiting even more crucial, as it represented the final opportunity for coaches to make their pitches to recruits before losing the opportunity to recruit them altogether if they signed with other schools.
"I can't remember the urgency that we experienced today or this past two weeks," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday. "Two weeks of intense travel, home visits, relationship building in December."
On the flip side of that, Ohio State now has the vast majority of its 2018 recruiting class signed – 21 players in total – which means the Buckeyes don’t have to worry about continuing to recruit those players. Additionally, the recruiting calendar is now in a dead period, which forbids all recruiting-related travel and face-to-face contact with recruits. So while the Buckeyes can’t forget about recruiting altogether, as they still have a few remaining targets in the class of 2018, the coaches can afford to put it on the back burner for the next week as they lock in on trying to finish their season with a win in Dallas.
Even though the early signing period created a new distraction from bowl preparation, Meyer feels confident nonetheless about the work Ohio State put in ahead of its trip to Dallas.
While Ohio State’s coaches had to repeatedly fly back and forth between recruiting trips and Columbus during the two weeks between the Big Ten Championship Game and the end of the contact period on Sunday, the Buckeyes continued to practice, and Meyer liked what he saw from his players in those practices.
"We've had really good bowl practices," Meyer said.
Meyer also gave credit to his graduate assistants – Louie Addazio, Ryan Crow, Corey Dennis and Randall Joyner – and quality control coaches – Sean Buckley, Bob Fraser, Brian Hartline, Adam Scheier and Matt Thurin – for playing a key role in the Buckeyes’ bowl preparation while the full-time assistant coaches were on the road recruiting.
"We rely on guys that are very good at what they do," Meyer said of his graduate assistants and quality control coaches. "This is the best group of young coaches we've had … it's the best group that we've had in the last six years here at Ohio State. Without them, we can't do this. When I say do this, I'm talking about everything. But when you come on off the road and you see the entire scouting report of the team you're getting ready to play done the way you want it done, that lets the coaches go to work. They've done a great job."
Ohio State held its final on-campus practice of the year on Tuesday, but will practice Saturday upon its arrival in Dallas. The Buckeyes will again practice on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and hold a walkthrough on Thursday before taking the field for the final time this season when they play the Trojans next Friday.