“They’ll figure it out. They have to.”
That’s my go-to response whenever I’m asked how Ohio State will navigate the current recruiting process while already facing tight scholarship numbers. And though it may seem cliche — in reality — the Buckeyes simply have no other choice.
The NCAA mandates that programs must be down to 85 scholarship players on their roster by the time the first day of classes or fall camp rolls around. And with just 10 seniors on this year’s scholarship grid, Ohio State will be well over the limit in 2019 if it signs another full recruiting class.
The Buckeyes already hold nine commitments this cycle, and have yet to land a quarterback or fully address concerns at wide receiver and along the offensive line. That means every new pledge following the next commitment will have to be met with an early departure for the National Football League, unforeseen transfer or medical hardship.
|PARRIS CAMPBELL||WR||SAMPSON JAMES||RB|
|JOHNNY DIXON||WR||GARRETT WILSON||WR|
|TERRY MCLAURIN||WR||RYAN JACOBY||OL|
|C.J. SAUNDERS||WR||DOUG NESTER||OL|
|DEMETRIUS KNOX||OL||NOAH POTTER||DL|
|MALCOLM PRIDGEON||OL||CADE STOVER||LB|
|ISAIAH PRINCE||OL||BRYSON SHAW||S|
|BRADY TAYLOR||OL||STEELE CHAMBERS||ATH|
|DANTE BOOKER||LB||"ROCKET" RONNIE HICKMAN||ATH|
Even if you operate under the assumption that talented juniors — or redshirt juniors — like running back Mike Weber, defensive end Nick Bosa, defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, cornerback Kendall Sheffield and safety Jordan Fuller will look to move on to the next level after this season, there’s still a double-digit gap between departures and expected newcomers. Those spots will have to be freed one way or another.
We’re not even going to begin to speculate which players could leave the program for other reasons, but balancing the current roster while addressing positional needs is just one reason why Ohio State’s coaching staff gets paid rather handsomely.
“We're trying to fill a roster that I can't tell you who's leaving, who's coming,” head coach Urban Meyer said during the Early Signing Period in December, illustrating how recently enacted NCAA rules only accelerate and make the roster management process more difficult. “I have some ideas, and there's been preliminary talk, but certainly you talk about life-changing decisions for those guys and life-changing decisions for young people.
“What happens if you oversign and a young man doesn't decide to go to the NFL when he told you he was? That's his right. You can't hold that against him,” he continued. “What I've had happen to me is, I’ve talked to several players, and my answer to them — because we're straightforward with them — is that I don't know if I have a scholarship right now because I don't know who's leaving for the NFL Draft.”
We’re still seven months away from the Early Signing Period, and potential departures will come into focus as the season progresses — as upperclassmen will either excel or find themselves buried on the depth chart. But accepting commitments early on without the guarantee of an open roster spot ultimately depends on how much turnover Meyer and his staff want to deal with.
Either way, they’ll get the numbers to work.