When Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State in 2012, he elevated the program's recruiting to a different level. The Buckeyes signed the Big Ten's highest-rated class in each of the seven cycles he finished at the helm, and only one of those groups (2015) ranked outside the top five nationally.
Needless to say, Meyer and his staff didn't swing and miss on a lot of the recruits they prioritized.The former Buckeye head coach was one of the best recruiters the sport had ever seen.
There were, of course, players Ohio State wanted that went elsewhere. The Buckeyes have already played (and beaten) a number of those players this season, like Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Michigan wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones.
But as Ohio State preps for its playoff showdown with Clemson, it's forced to game plan for a number of Tiger standouts who were recruited hard by the Buckeyes staff.
The four players listed below gave Ohio State a long look during their respective recruitments, but now they're set to play a huge role against the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl.
Tyler Davis, Defensive Tackle
The Clemson defensive line that was anchored by tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence a season ago was one of the most dominant front lines in recent memory. The unit helped the Tigers cruise through their 2018 schedule, which was capped by a 44-16 thumping of Alabama in College Football Playoff National Championship.
That defensive front needed a complete makeover during the offseason, and true freshman defensive tackle Tyler Davis wasn't a likely starter from the outset. But the Apopka, Florida native surged up the depth chart and earned a starting role coming into the season.
Davis hasn't played like a true freshman, earning second team All-ACC honors after piling up 44 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The Buckeyes had trouble containing Wisconsin's interior pass-rush in the Big Ten title game, and if those struggles continue, Davis could wreak havoc.
K'Von Wallace, Safety
When these two teams clashed in the 2016 College Football Playoff, Clemson effectively grounded Ohio State. J.T. Barrett threw for just 127 yards despite throwing 33 passes, two of which were picked off, in the 31-0 shutout loss.
That loss prompted the hiring of Ryan Day, who has dramatically improved the effectiveness of the passing attack. Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns against just one interception.
Fields and the Ohio State offense face a stiff challenge going against this elite Clemson back-seven, which boasts the nation's top-rated pass defense.
K'Von Wallace, a one-time Cincinnati commit who considered Ohio State, has been an integral part of that stout secondary. Wallace has 58 tackles this season and is coming off a career-high nine solo tackle performance against Virginia in the ACC title game. He also has two interceptions on the year, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and eight passes defended.
Tee Higgins, Wide Receiver
The Buckeyes have faced a lot of elite perimeter playmakers this season, but they haven't surrendered a lot of big time performances.
Tee Higgins might be the best receiver the Buckeyes see this year.
The former 5-star recruit had Ohio State as a finalist in his recruitment, but ultimately decided to play for Dabo Swinney. The junior has put together a solid career, and he's put together a solid season leading the Tigers with 52 catches, 1,082 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
Jeff Okudah, Shaun Wade and Co., will have their hands full trying to contain the speedster.
Jackson Carman, Offensive Tackle
Arguably the biggest recruiting miss of Meyer's entire tenure in Columbus came when homegrown product Jackson Carman spurned the Buckeyes for Clemson.
The 5-star tackle from the Cincinnati area wanted to carve his own path to the league, and he wanted to go out-of-state to do that. But he always felt that winding road would intersect with Ohio State at some point.
“I feel like it's fated. I just had a feeling whenever I came that we were definitely going to play [Ohio Sate] at some time,” Carman said, according to Manie Robinson of The Greenville News.
With that intuition coming to fruition, Carman now has the challenge of taming college football's most dominant pass-rusher in Chase Young. And while the game plan is still being developed, he already has a feel for what he'll do when the consensus All-American lines up opposite him.
“If you just run at him and try to throw a super hard punch at him, he's going to take your hands and be gone,” Carman said, via Robinson. “You've got to sit back and play patient with him. Let him come to you, and then try to take up as much space as possible when he gets to you.”
If Carman and the rest of these could've been Buckeyes win their matchups, they'll have a good chance of leading Clemson to a win and spurning Ohio State all over again.