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Four defensive backs for a depleted secondary. Signed.
Three of the country's top defensive linemen for a unit losing three of its four starters? Got 'em.
A potential quarterback of the future (one Meyer called "the best" quarterback prospect he's seen, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman)? Check.
The faction of offensive skill players that can often be found in a Meyer-recruited class? It's on its way.
"Very excited about this class," the three-time national champion head coach told reporters in a national signing day press conference. "Rankings aren't important. As long as you're keeping score, we like to do the best we can."
By that measure, the Buckeyes did very well on Wednesday, with their 25-man haul ranking fourth in the country.
Several times throughout the 2016 cycle—including early on signing day—Ohio State laid claim to the nation's top-ranked class, but it saw its ranking slip due to late surges from Alabama, Florida State and LSU.
"What I look at, even more than the rankings—because some people have 30 in their class, some people have 25—is the average," Meyer said. "I think that's kind of appealing to me to know that we're one of the top teams in the country as far as quality of player."
And yet despite the Buckeyes bringing in what is arguably their second-most impressive class under Meyer—trailing only a legendary 2013 group that helped anchor Ohio State's run to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship and will be well represented in this spring's NFL draft—something still seemed to be missing in Columbus on national signing day.
But what exactly it was the Buckeyes were left without on Wednesday wasn't that hard to figure out. And it won't ultimately matter when it comes to the product Meyer puts on the field either—even if it made for a relatively unexciting signing day for an otherwise impressive class.
Just 190 miles north in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jim Harbaugh was hosting an unprecedented "Signing of the Stars" event, complete with cameos from the likes of Tom Brady, Derek Jeter and Ric Flair.
As the show neared its conclusion, the second-year Wolverines head coach disappeared into a back room, where he received word that 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary—the nation's top-ranked player—had committed to his program, solidifying Michigan's class as one of the top in the country, ultimately finishing fifth in the national rankings.
When it came to signing-day spectacles, what occurred in Ann Arbor on Wednesday was unlike anything ever seen in college football, mixing together both the theater and celebration that makes signing day so unique.
Meanwhile in Columbus, Meyer and his staff were enjoying their most drama-free signing day since arriving at Ohio State four years ago.
Ultimately, it was a relatively unexciting final few weeks for Ohio State heading into national signing day, save for a Jan. 18 afternoon that saw a trio of 4-star prospects—quarterback Dwayne Haskins, outside linebacker Keandre Jones and wide receiver Binjimen Victor—commit to the Buckeyes.
"It was a good day," Meyer admitted on Wednesday.
The other good days this past winter and fall primarily came as a result of already committed prospects opting not to reconsider their options.
According to Ohio State director of player personnel Mark Pantoni, nearly 70 percent of the Buckeyes' class was committed before November and didn't even look to take visits elsewhere down the stretch of the recruiting process:
This was a change from what's become the norm under Meyer in Columbus, with late drama only amplifying the typical signing-day excitement.
In 2012, it was Meyer surging to a top-five finish despite only being on the job at Ohio State for just more than two months. The following year, the Buckeyes held off Missouri to keep their commitment from Ezekiel Elliott while adding 5-star safety Vonn Bell on signing day and flipping Dontre Wilson from Oregon just days earlier.
Signing-day drama manifested itself in 2014 in the form of Ohio State keeping Jamarco Jones from Michigan State before ultimately losing its pursuit of Malik McDowell. Last year, the Buckeyes weren't truly confident in their commitments from Michael Weber, Torrance Gibson and K.J. Hill until they had the trio of 4-star prospects' letters of intent in hand.
But 2016's signing day was a quiet one as Ohio State added a pair of prospects it didn't seem to have much competition for, with the rest of the class already seemingly set in its decision.
The Monday commitment of 4-star athlete Jordan Fuller was the closest the Buckeyes saw to signing-day drama, with the New Jersey native choosing Ohio State over Michigan. According to Cleveland.com's Bill Landis, Ohio State plans to use him at safety.
With the excitement otherwise lacking, it's no wonder that something seemed to be missing in Columbus on signing day. It certainly wasn't the newfound talent that was lacking, with the Buckeyes adding 5-star defensive end Nick Bosa, 17 4-star and seven 3-star prospects to an already well-recruited roster.
Ultimately, that's all that matters on signing day, and even then, there are no guarantees that a class will pan out as expected.
"Every coach in the country is walking up to the podium saying how great their class is," Meyer said. "The next phase of all that is development."
Given Meyer's track record in Columbus, which includes a 50-4 record and national championship already under his belt, there's very little doubting his ability to do that.
Perhaps that's what should be what's most exciting for Ohio State fans on what was otherwise a relatively unexciting national signing day by the Buckeyes' standards.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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National signing day represented a day of many emotions for the lucky prospects in the 2016 class who were able to land scholarships to continue their playing careers in college.
It’s also the last time a majority of the players will have control over their future destination in the sport.
With that control comes a cost—one that is hidden to the average teenager.
Their journey began with hopes of flashing on the radar of top college programs around be nation.
However, once that goal was achieved, their days of being a normal teenager were over.
While the limelight and perks associated with being a top recruit are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, their new realities also presented them with unseen challenges and pitfalls that left them with plenty of confusion and frustration.
"It's a huge mix of emotions. It can be stressful. It can be fun. It can be tiring. It can be annoying,” 5-star tight end and Georgia pledge Isaac Nauta told Bleacher Report. “But at the end of the day, you have to realize you have an opportunity that a ton of kids wish they could have."
Nauta would know better than most. After piling up 40 offers, he made an early pledge to Florida State before reopening his recruitment last summer.
He’s far from the only star recruit to have second thoughts about an early decision.
Of the nation's Top 200 overall recruits, 49 of them made at least one decommitment.
Furthermore, of the nation's Top 25 classes, more than 15 of those programs encountered at least one change to their coaching staff during the current recruiting cycle.
Add in the pressures that come with interactions with rabid fans on social media and rankings that serve as targets for fans and coaches alike, and recruiting often turns into a roller coaster.
Except this decision—one that is certain to change the course of their lives—plays out more like a reality series on Bravo.
As many recruits in the class of 2016 reflect on their process, a lot of them have gained banks of knowledge they wish they would've been armed with when it first began.
Bleacher Report spoke with a number of 2016 stars on topics such as committing early, dealing with coaches, social media and the instant notoriety that comes with a growing offer list.
What's left is a gift to the players in the 2017 class and beyond—a guide that captures what stars in the current class wish they would have known after their first big offer landed.
The trend of offering prospects when they are in the ninth and 10th grade has helped lead to more recruits deciding to commit early.
Current Ole Miss early enrollee and 5-star quarterback Shea Patterson remembers getting caught up in the excitement of having a major college program show interest in him right after he got to the high school level.
“I committed to Arizona in my freshman year when I was in Hidalgo, Texas,” Patterson explained to VSporto’s Recruitniks podcast. “I always wanted to play college football, but I never knew that could actually happen. Then my coach sent out my tape, and Arizona was the first one to see it. They immediately offered me, and I just went ahead and committed.”
Patterson said had he been able to go back and do it over again, he would’ve waited until later in the process to sort through his options.
In his case, after he decommitted from the Wildcats, his recruitment picked up steam with more offers that began to roll in after his junior season.
After taking visits to programs such as Ole Miss, Texas A&M and USC, Patterson selected the Rebels last February.
Nauta committed to the Seminoles back in December 2014, yet he continued to take visits to other programs.
His decision to reopen his recruitment had less to do with his feelings about the ‘Noles program. Instead, it was more about learning what it was he truly wanted out of the process.
"I would tell guys to wait. You can get so excited about a certain program and feel like you need to commit, but you gain more wisdom and knowledge throughout the process,” Nauta said. “Coaches change between schools, and you can get stuck and feel lost. It's just part of the business, and you should take your time with it."
Some recruits do enter the process with a plan on what they are looking for, but their decision-making can become cloudy with visits and dealing with pitches from coaches at various schools.
David Long, a 4-star corner who was committed to Stanford before ultimately deciding on Michigan late in the process, noted the importance of sticking to that plan instead of being swayed by one good visit or a promise by a coach.
“It’s really easy to get sidetracked when you see something flashy and say, ‘that’s good for me.’ When in reality, it’s not what you originally wanted,” Long explained. “A lot of guys get stuck up in that and get caught up in a bad decision. Mainly, [the recruiting process is about] just staying true to what you told yourself you wanted to do originally.”
Pitfalls of the Process
As a recruit’s offer list expands and recruits get exposed to more campuses on visits, the buzz around their name also brings increased attention.
Rankings may fluctuate, but their star rating remains an attachment to their name that carries on throughout the rest of their careers.
The competition between coaches in recruiting is every bit as fierce as the action that takes place on the field in the fall.
All the while, rabid fans flood the social media accounts of recruits with messages imploring them to select their favorite school.
Just like rankings, the tone of messages from fans can turn in the snap of a finger.
Even though 16- and 17-year-old kids are a few years away from legally being able to consume alcohol, the mix of these elements makes for a lethal concoction that can influence a wide-eyed athlete into making rash choices without logic behind them.
Left in the balance is a teenager trying to figure out the most important decision in his life to date.
As 4-star safety and Ole Miss pledge Deontay Anderson notes, the gravity of that choice begins to become clearer as the process wears on.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime decision. It’s probably one of the hardest decisions you will ever have to make because it’s not just a football decision,” Anderson said. “You have to consider the environment of a school, who you are and what you want to be. It’s a very, very, very big decision.”
With observers across the nation watching their every move, the lines often get blurred on social media between fans and recruits.
Some fans can be harmless or enjoy playful banter with recruits, while others—as 5-star linebacker Caleb Kelly found out earlier this week—can take things too far.
Florida early enrollee and 4-star quarterback Feleipe Franks—who was initially committed to LSU—said that while dealing with negative messages is part of the territory that comes with being an elite recruit, it’s important to understand the consequences that could come with an ill-advised response.
"Just be smart with it. Only answer the questions you want to answer,” Franks said of his strategy on social media. “If you don't want something to be out there for the whole world to see, avoid it."
As with their ultimate decision, social media is something that recruits can largely control by choosing what they do and do not want to share on various platforms.
Still, other circumstances out of their control can cause issues with their recruitment.
On the top of that list is the annual coaching carousel. The movement that typically happens in December and January—a period just weeks before national signing day—can cause the most stable recruitments to crumble.
According to 4-star receiver and Ohio State signee Binjimen Victor, it’s something future recruits need to consider when choosing a program.
"The coaches who recruit you to a school might not be at a school the whole time you're there, so you have to prepare for that. Make the decision for yourself based more on life at the school,” Victor said.
Making the Final Decision
Even for recruits who do wait it out and use all their time without making a commitment until signing day, the process intensifies as the finish line appears.
As Long surmised, most recruits are deciding between good schools that present similar opportunities on the field and in the classroom.
"It's really hard coming toward the end because there are all these schools constantly telling you why you should come there,” Victor explained. “It's a lot of people talking to you at the same time. Don't think it's going to be an easy decision at the end."
As Patterson noted, sometimes it can make it hard to enjoy the fruits of the labor that went into earning a number of offers from big-time programs.
“Make sure that you enjoy it during your junior and senior year, but once you get that feeling in your heart and you know where you want to go, then go ahead and pull the trigger and help recruit a championship class,” Patterson said.
Patterson was able to accomplish his goal after he made his decision to attend Ole Miss, but it wasn’t easy, as schools such as Alabama made a late run at him, as detailed by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.
Pressure comes in many forms and from many different angles during the late stages of the process.
Dealing with fans, media and coaches is expected. However, even family members and people in the inner circle of recruits can create more issues instead of helping them make the right decision.
Shavar Manuel—a 4-star defensive tackle who flipped from Florida to Florida State on signing day—cautions future recruits on listening to people who can try to influence them into a decision that may not be best for them.
“Stay focused and be humble. No matter what, don’t let anyone talk you into something you don’t want to do,” Manuel said. “Follow your heart. You will have people in [your] corner to give you advice, but at the same time, you have to do what is best for you because no one is going to go through that experience except you.”
These 2016 prospects represent a small sample of the recruits who went through ups and downs in the recruiting process.
With the coverage and attention in the recruiting industry only growing, it’s likely that the challenges will increase for the kids in the 2017 class and beyond.
While the recruiting process has its share of potential pitfalls, it’s also full of experiences that most athletes never get to have.
Between being courted on official visits and working out at prestigious camps such as The Opening, there are relationships often built with coaches and other players that last a lifetime.
Perhaps most importantly, at the end of the process is an opportunity to get a great education at a top-notch university.
As Anderson explains, finding a balance between enjoying the perks while keeping a level head can make the ups and downs of the process easier to navigate.
“Once it’s over with, you have to start over again in college. Just take it in and enjoy it. At times, it gets annoying, and at times, it gets frustrating. You have to remember to have fun with it and take your time,” Anderson said. “You are blessed to do some cool stuff too. At the end of it is a free education that you’ve earned from a great school.”
Quotes from Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue were used in this report.
Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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The Georgia Bulldogs scored a major victory Wednesday in head coach Kirby Smart’s first recruiting class.
Despite being hired on December 6, 2015, and not becoming the full-time boss in Athens until the second week of January, Smart was still able to haul in the seventh-ranked signing class in the country, according to 247Sports.
What makes this accomplishment greater is that it comes after Georgia fired longtime head coach Mark Richt, one of the SEC’s most successful coaches of the last decade. The class very well could have imploded, but Smart did an excellent job of keeping the group mostly intact.
The Bulldogs could still add 5-star receiver Demetris Robertson as the Peach State product will announce in roughly a week or two, according to Kipp Adams of 247Sports. This could possibly allow Georgia’s class to move up even further in the team rankings.
As it stands right now, let us take a closer look at Georgia’s 2016 signees.
Most Impactful Recruit
Signing its most heralded signal-caller since Matthew Stafford in 2006, Georgia looks to have a quarterback capable of leading it to SEC East championships in the near future.
Jacob Eason, who stands at 6’5” and 208 pounds, ended his senior season as the second-ranked pro-style passer nationally and fifth-ranked player overall. The Washington product signed in January and is already on campus working out with the team and preparing for spring ball.
Much like Stafford, Eason is a big kid with a laser arm. He is not the most mobile quarterback you will find, but his size and quick release allow him to make any throw.
Take a look at his tape for a better understanding of what Georgia is getting:
With Greyson Lambert at quarterback, Georgia struggled mightily to throw the ball downfield, averaging a mere 185 yards per game. Opposing defenses crowded the line of scrimmage to stop running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, daring Lambert to beat them over the top, which he usually failed to do.
This gives Eason an immediate opportunity to earn the Bulldogs’ starting position as a freshman. He certainly believes he can win the job, according to the Telegraph’s Jason Butt:
As a first-year coach, Smart will likely opt for experience over the more talented Eason, at least to begin the season. If Lambert fails to prove he can become a legitimate threat through the air, look for Eason to take over, especially if Georgia drops a game or two by the second week of October.
Having a great quarterback gives a team a chance to win every week. Expect Georgia to possess this benefit as Eason develops into a All-SEC performer.
Most Dynamic Recruit
Georgia signed plenty of explosive players in the 2016, but one clearly stands above the rest in terms of speed and playmaking ability.
Mecole Hardman, a 5-star rated as the No. 1 athlete nationally and No. 2 player in Georgia, chose the Bulldogs on signing day. This instantly makes Hardman the team’s most dynamic playmaker, along with receiver Terry Godwin.
As his film demonstrates, Hardman can make plays from anywhere on the field with his absolutely blazing speed. This will allow Georgia’s staff the luxury of scheming creative ways to get the ball in his hands, adding an element of versatility the team was missing last season.
Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee also sees Hardman’s playmaking ability as an asset, but believes his future lies on the defensive side of the ball.
Hardman will see the field right away in multiple capacities, as he is just too dangerous and explosive to leave on the bench as a redshirt. He will eventually develop into a defensive back, as Sallee noted, but Georgia will look to get the ball in his hands often in the meantime.
Expect a special teams score and at least two offensive touchdowns from Hardman in 2016.
Immediate Contributors Offensively
Outside of Eason and Hardman, two players who are likely to see the field early due to phenomenal skill sets, Georgia possesses a few players who could make an impact offensively in 2016.
Smart admitted Wednesday he was not thrilled with Georgia’s depth at offensive tackle, even after adding three in the 2016 class, via DawgNation’s Michael Carvell:
We want some offensive tackles. If you say what’s the No. 1 need going into 2017? It’s offensive tackles is what we need. That’s the most deficient area on our front. I think if you combed the country and asked every SEC coach he’s going to say we’re most deficient at offensive tackle.
With Georgia losing three starters up front from 2015, including mainstay John Theus at tackle, freshman Ben Cleveland should contribute right away.
Cleveland, a 4-star ranked nationally as the No. 9 offensive tackle, has the size at 6’6” and 319 pounds to compete in the SEC trenches. He also has nimble feet and can get out and make blocks on the edge when needed. The Georgia native will be in the rotation before earning a regular spot late in the season. Look for him to become a staple of future Bulldog offensive lines.
Isaac Nauta, a 5-star tight end, is also too talented to keep off the field. He runs well for his size and, with some proper coaching, should develop as a blocker.
Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman tabbed Nauta as an impact freshman due to matchup problems he presents. Judging by his highlights, it is easy to agree. Nauta has the ability to outrun linebackers while shielding off smaller safeties downfield with his 6’4” frame.
Nauta will start behind incumbent Jeb Blazevich but will see the field plenty in passing situations. Expect to him to become a favorite target of Eason down the road while gaining valuable experience in 2016.
Running back Elijah Holyfield, son of legendary boxer Evander Holyfield, has the ability to contribute right away but will certainly be the third option all season, barring injuries to Chubb or Michel. Look for him to break off some nice runs in garbage time before becoming more prominent in 2017.
Immediate Contributors on Defense
Missing out on defensive tackle Derrick Brown, Georgia’s top-ranked player, dealt a blow to the Bulldogs, but the team still received another stud inside.
Standing at 6’5,” 321 pounds, Julian Rochester is a monster 4-star defensive tackle who is already equipped to eat up space inside. Fox 5 Atlanta’s Dale Russell provided a rather accurate comparison for the Georgia native.
Rochester also has the quickness and strength to command double-teams, as he often lined up at defensive end in high school. He is a special talent.
Georgia loses three key interior defensive linemen to graduation, opening the door for Rochester to play immediately. The big fellow is already on campus as an early enrollee. This should allow him to be more prepared for a bigger role as a freshman, and Georgia is certainly going to need him.
Perhaps the weakest area on Georgia’s defense is its linebacker group. The team must replace its three starters: stars Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, plus Jake Ganus, the Bulldogs’ leading tackler in 2015.
Smart could have addressed this area better in the 2016 class, as Georgia brings in only one true linebacker in Jaleel Laguins.
However, Laguins, a 4-star, is capable of playing right away with his solid instincts and adequate speed. At 209 pounds, he will need to get stronger over the summer to sustain the grind of SEC play.
Expect Laguins to join the linebacker rotation along with former top recruits Lorenzo Carter and Roquan Smith.
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Head coach Urban Meyer and Ohio State found themselves in a familiar spot on national signing day, pacing the Big Ten with the conference's top recruiting class for the fifth consecutive year.
The Buckeyes' 25-member class ranked fourth nationally behind Alabama, Florida State and LSU and filled a number of big needs on the roster—primarily at wide receiver and in the secondary.
With the number of holes to fill in Ohio State's two-deep roster, Meyer envisions plenty of first-year players making an immediate impact.
"I hope 18 of them play," Meyer said of his 2016 recruiting class, according to Ari Wasserman of the Plain Dealer.
Here's a look at the newest Buckeyes.
Cherry-Picking the State of Ohio
Ohio State didn't dominate the in-state recruiting scene like it usually does, but it did a good job of cherry-picking some of the top players from its own backyard.
Since Meyer took over the Buckeyes in 2012, he's managed to sign 21 of the state's top 40 players, highlighted by nabbing the No. 1 overall Ohio prospect each year since 2012. This year, Ohio State only signed four of the state's top 10 players—4-stars Jonathon Cooper (defensive end), Demario McCall (all-purpose back), Jake Hausmann (tight end) and Luke Farrell (tight end)—and failed to nab No. 1-ranked Tommy Kraemer (offensive tackle).
In total, nine of the Buckeyes' 25 new players hail from the state of Ohio, so Meyer and his coaching staff did a good job of pulling from the local talent pool.
Loading Up on Playmakers
Ohio State lost a lot of firepower to the NFL with the departures of running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receivers Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller. One of Meyer's top recruiting priorities was to load up on offensive playmakers ahead of 2016, and that's exactly what he did with this class.
It starts at wide receiver, where the Buckeyes signed two of the country's most dangerous red-zone threats in Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor. Mack, the nation's 10th-ranked wide receiver, is a 6'2" blazer who can go up and make tough catches. Victor, rated the 12th-best receiver, is nearly 6'4" and a polished route-runner who uses his size to his advantage.
McCall, who played running back in high school, is projecting to H-back at the collegiate level, and he's the biggest home run hitter in the class. He'll have a running mate in 4-star Antonio Williams, the seventh-best running back in the country.
Behind center, though, Ohio State is excited about 4-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The Buckeyes were able to wrangle Haskins away from the home-state Maryland Terrapins, and Meyer thinks he has a special talent in the fold, as he told Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman on The Audible podcast:
Originally, I thought Dwayne would be a redshirt candidate. When I first started recruiting him two years ago, he was very skinny. Then about three weeks ago, I saw him work out. I’ve been blessed to be around some incredible quarterbacks. But he’s the best that I’ve seen at his age since I’ve been coaching.
Another Bosa Headlines the Defensive Haul
Superstar defensive end Joey Bosa anchored Ohio State's defense over the last two seasons, and while his departure will leave a big void in the defensive line, his younger brother Nick is on his way to Columbus and headlines a huge influx of defensive talent.
Nick Bosa, Ohio State's lone 5-star prospect, is the top-ranked strong-side defensive end and the No. 8 overall recruit nationally. He tore his ACL during his senior season, but he's ahead of schedule in his recovery and has a good chance of being healthy before fall camp starts.
He's the headliner for a special group of defenders.
The Buckeyes also got a big boost to their pass rush with the addition of Cooper, the nation's third-best weak-side defensive end. The linebacker corps was bolstered by 4-stars Tuf Borland, who enrolled early to take part in spring camp, and Keandre Jones, who Meyer singled out on signing day, per the Ozone's Patrick Murphy:
When Meyer came to Ohio State, he talked about a philosophy that he and his staff didn't redshirt their freshmen. That wasn't the case last year, however, when only a handful of Ohio State's 25 freshmen saw the field during the 2015 campaign.
But with the mass departure of talent—the Buckeyes are replacing 16 starters and a number of key reserves—there will be a lot of opportunities for young players to crack the two-deep rotation.
Meyer talked about that potential at his signing day press conference, saying he has aspirations that 18 of his new players will see the field this fall. So which Buckeyes are primed for early playing time?
Both Bosa and Cooper are talented enough to factor into Ohio State's defensive line rotation. Meyer is very high on Jones at linebacker, and he and Fuller could get their feet wet on special teams.
Offensively, there's a huge opportunity for wideouts Mack, Victor and McCall, thanks to the attrition on the perimeter. And Haskins, the quarterback Meyer has fallen in love with, will compete for the No. 2 spot with Stephen Collier and Joe Burrow this fall.
Unlike last year, it won't take long for Buckeyes fans to see the new freshmen in action.
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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