Ohio State's decade of success was built on a foundation of elite recruiting.
Ohio State won at least a share of a conference title in every year of the 2010s (with the exception of 2011— we all know what happened in that season).
The Buckeyes, of course, also won the 2014 national championship and made College Football Playoff appearances following the 2016 and 2019 campaigns.
But how? Coaching? Sure. On-field execution? Yeah. Player development? Of course.
There's one common denominator, though: Recruiting. And the Buckeyes were elite recruiters in the 2010s.
Spearheaded by Urban Meyer's takeover in late 2011 and his subsequent nationwide recruiting approach, Ohio State got elite players from all over the country en route to a decade of prosperity.
We continue our look back at the 2010s with the 10 highest-rated prospects, per their 247Sports composite ratings, that the Buckeyes landed in the decade. (Note: This list only includes prospects who joined the team during the 2010s, so it does not include 2020 five-stars Julian Fleming and Paris Johnson Jr.)
10. Curtis Grant, 2011, LB, Hermitage HS (Richmond, VA)
One of the final five-star recruits landed by Jim Tressel, Grant signed with Ohio State in the 2011 class after also taking official visits to Florida, North Carolina, and in-state Virginia.
In his four years in Columbus, Grant developed from a relative outcast at linebacker into a leader and the starting middle linebacker for Ohio State's 2014 championship season, when he recorded 64 total tackles and an interception. While he didn't necessarily live up to the lofty recruiting rankings, being a starter on a championship team is nothing to be ashamed of.
After three years in the NFL, which saw him bounce around on various practice squads and a brief stint on the New York Giants' active roster (in which he recorded 18 tackles), Grant retired and now owns a trucking company.
9. Garrett Wilson, 2019, WR, Lake Travis (Austin, TX)
Garrett Wilson was technically signed by Ryan Day, but Urban Meyer did most of the legwork during his recruitment.
A Dublin, Ohio resident for a portion of his childhood, Wilson had clear interest in Ohio State from the beginning, and the Buckeyes beat out Texas and Tom Herman for Wilson's services.
Of course, Wilson is still at Ohio State, but he had a pretty solid freshman season, recording 30 catches for 432 yards and five touchdowns while also serving as primary punt returner for the second half of the season.
Wilson will be in Columbus for at least two more years, and everyone around the program expects big things in his sophomore campaign and beyond as he looks to live up to the five-star ranking.
8. Shaun Wade, 2017, DB, Trinity Christian (Jacksonville, FL)
After committing to Ohio State on the day of the 2014 national championship game, few expected Wade to stick with his commitment for three years and end up in Columbus. Well, he did just that.
Wade made it very clear throughout the process that he wanted to take all his visits and explore all his options, but stayed committed to the Buckeyes and in the end spurned Virginia Tech and Alabama to end up in Columbus.
After redshirting his first season due to an abdominal injury, Wade quickly blossomed into a very good cornerback and had to make a decision after this past season on whether or not he was going head to the NFL.
He chose to stick around and will make the move from slot cornerback to outside cornerback next season as the unquestioned leader of a defensive back unit that will undergo some major changes. If all goes according to plan, he will end up as a first-round NFL draft choice (where some had projected him to go even after this season), validating his ranking.
He is the first member of the 2017 class to appear on this list, but he will not be the last.
7. Zach Harrison, 2019, DE, Olentangy Orange (Lewis Center, OH)
What a recruitment this one was. Harrison was the antithesis of the typical "local prospect who dreamed his whole life of playing for the local team," seeming to lean towards going out of state to one of the Buckeyes' biggest rivals (either Penn State or Michigan) for most of his recruitment.
The manner of Harrison's recruitment was strange, as well. He took a visit to Ohio State in the fall of 2018 not as a prospect, but as a regular student on a traditional tour, and declined to visit for the Ohio State vs. Michigan game at Ohio Stadium simply because he felt as though he didn't need to.
It seems as though the tide turned in Harrison's recruitment after the departure of Meyer. Day quickly built a rapport with Harrison and persuaded him to attend Ohio State instead of Michigan, where some say he was leaning before Meyer's retirement.
However it happened, Harrison signed and enrolled early at Ohio State and received significant playing time as a true freshman in 2019, recording 14 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
With Chase Young departing to the NFL, Harrison is poised for a potential breakout year in 2020.
6. Baron Browning, 2017, LB, Kennedale (Kennedale, TX)
Another member of the elite 2017 class, Browning took all five official visits, but the Buckeyes were able to beat out UCLA, Florida State, Alabama, and Michigan for the athletic linebacker and he has been in Columbus since.
Browning, despite his lofty ranking, has not quite been able to put it all together for the Buckeyes yet. He will be returning for his fourth season next year with a chance to start for the first time, with an open starting spot at weakside linebacker following the departure of Malik Harrison.
Much of Browning's success this past season came when he was used as a stand-up rusher, as he recorded five sacks and looked explosive off the edge last year, so the Buckeyes could also use him more in that capacity in 2020, especially as the defensive line could use some more firepower with the departures of Young, Robert Landers, Jashon Cornell and Davon Hamilton.
5. Jeff Okudah, 2017, CB, South Grand Prairie (Grand Prairie, TX)
Soon to be the next first-round NFL cornerback to come out of Ohio State, Okudah's journey as a prospect led to official visits to Oklahoma, Georgia, and Florida State before one final trip to Columbus that sealed the deal. The rest, as they say, is history.
Okudah lasted just three years in Columbus as he will almost certainly be a top-10 draft choice in April, but they were three masterful years.
According to Pro Football Focus, Okudah played 610 coverage snaps in his three seasons, and allowed just one touchdown, which came on a busted coverage play against Michigan State early in the 2019 season. He was named as a unanimous All-American in his final season as a Buckeye.
4. Chase Young, 2017, DE, DeMatha (Hyattsville, MD)
The highest-ranked member of the elite 2017 class, Young certainly played like it in Columbus as he will be a top-five pick – probably a top-two pick – in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Young committed to Ohio State pretty early over Alabama and in-state Maryland, and his only official visit was to the Buckeyes.
He turned into one of the best defensive ends in college football history, notching 16.5 sacks and six forced fumbles (in addition to countless other pressures) in his final season despite being suspended for two games.
All that parlayed into a trip to New York City as the first defensive lineman since Ndamukong Suh to earn an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. He also won the Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy as college football's best defensive player and was a unanimous All-American.
3. Nicholas Petit-Frere, 2018, OL, Berkeley (Tampa, FL)
Ohio State needed a top offensive tackle prospect in the 2018 class, and got one, although it was through an unconventional route.
The Buckeyes' top target was Cincinnati (Fairfield) native Jackson Carman, but he spurned Ohio State in order to attend Clemson.
Thus, the Buckeyes turned to Florida, where Greg Schiano helped the Buckeyes surge ahead of Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida, and Alabama to land Petit-Frere after hosting him in Columbus on a late official visit.
After seeing some playing time this season with the reserves (and starting at left tackle against Northwestern for Thayer Munford, although Munford later came into the game), Petit-Frere looks to have the inside track to start at right tackle in the 2020 season.
An athletic, long-bodied player, Petit-Frere has the potential to be an elite offensive lineman. We'll see what Greg Studrawa can get out of him as he enters his third year in Columbus.
2. Nick Bosa, 2016, DE, St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Ah, "Little Bear."
It was the surest of things. Nick would follow in Joey's footsteps and end up at Ohio State as the next great defensive lineman to come out of Columbus.
That's how it worked out.
Bosa was a force all three years and was clearly the best player on the field for most of his college career, though he played in only 2.5 games in what was supposed to be his career-defining season in 2018, when he suffered a core muscle injury.
Eventually, he decided to abandon school and focus on NFL preparation, which garnered mixed reactions from Ohio State fans. Of course, it paid off as he was selected No. 2 overall in the 2019 NFL draft and now is one of the best defensive ends in the league already.
Oh, and he still has some Buckeye pride.
1. Noah Spence, 2012, DE, Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg, PA)
This one hurts to write a little bit. Plucked straight out of Penn State country, the Buckeyes landed Spence in 2012 with the hope that he would become an Ohio State legend.
It did not go as planned.
Spence recorded 7.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2013, and the stage was set for him to team with Joey Bosa in 2014 for a magical season (imagine how good that 2014 defense could have been with Spence).
However, Spence was suspended for the Orange Bowl plus the first two games of the 2014 regular season for failing a drug test, and then suspended indefinitely (and eventually banned from the Big Ten) after failing another in September.
He eventually transferred to Eastern Kentucky, where his 11.5 sacks were enough to be named Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year and get him drafted in the second round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
His Ohio State career, however, was a case of “what could have been.”
0. Justin Fields, 2019, QB, University of Georgia
I put Fields at No. 0 rather than No. 1 because he was a transfer and not technically "recruited" by Ohio State. Nevertheless, he's in Columbus now and had a pretty darn good season in his first year with the Buckeyes.
Ryan Day's two major coups in the first month of his tenure were the commitment of Zach Harrison and the addition of Fields, and the latter certainly has been a big one for Ohio State.
Fields threw for 3,273 yards and 43 touchdowns, rushed for 10 more scores and earned a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist in 2019. He will return to Columbus for an encore in 2020 as he looks to lead the Buckeyes back to the playoffs.
Here are the other five-stars signed during the 2010's who did not quite make the cut.
- Raekwon McMillan, 2014, LB, Liberty County (Hinesville, GA), .9896
- Adolphus Washington, 2012, DL, Taft (Cincinnati, OH), .9895
- Taron Vincent, 2018, DL, IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL), .9884
- Vonn Bell, 2013, DB, Ridgeland (Rossville, GA), .9876
- Wyatt Davis, 2017, OL, St. John Bosco (Bellflower, CA), .9876
- Tyreke Johnson, 2018, DB, Trinity Christian (Jacksonville, FL), .9876
- Harry Miller, 2019, OL, Buford (Buford, GA), .9868
- Justin Hilliard, 2015, LB, St. Xavier (Cincinnati, OH), .9851
- Braxton Miller, 2011, QB, Wayne (Dayton, OH), .9847
- Jalin Marshall, 2013, WR, Middletown (Cincinnati, OH), .9839