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Ohio State's Meyer has choice of prospects

By David Briggs • Updated Mar 15, 2016 at 7:05 PM

COLUMBUS -- When you're hot, you're hot.

And so the Ohio State football team keeps collecting pledges in its top-rated 2017 recruiting class — whether there is room or not.

Already, the Buckeyes have 13 commits.

No other team in the Big Ten has more than six.

"We're kind of hot right now," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said last week. "Guys want to come."

Soon, though, Meyer may have to pay the scarlet piper and do the unthinkable. He will have to tell some of the nation's best prospects no.

With each new commitment, a looming numbers crunch grows increasingly sticky.

As it stands, the Buckeyes have 87 scholarship players. That means two players must be out -- one way or another -- by the start of fall camp in order to meet the NCAA's 85-scholarship limit.

But that should work itself out fine. It is next season where the numbers really get dicey.

In the simplest terms, Ohio State will have too few players leaving and way too many players coming in.

The Buckeyes have only six scholarship seniors set to come off the books — running back Bri'onte Dunn, receivers Dontre Wilson and Corey Smith, center Pat Elflein, safety Cam Burrows, and punter Cam Johnston — and at least 14 new scholarship players arriving, including Cincinnati punter Drue Chrisman, who was part of the 2016 class but agreed to grayshirt this season to help make the numbers work.

That leaves Ohio State, as of now, with 93 players projected on the 2017 roster.

Asked if he had a size for the 2017 class in mind, Meyer smiled.

"No, I think we should probably work on that," he said. "We just have to be a little more ... diligent about how we're handling that. The nine guys leaving [early for the NFL] disrupted everything. Those are all conversations we're having as we speak."

For the sake of discussion, assume the Buckeyes' 2017 class settles in at 18 prospects.

That's still very small. Ohio State signed classes of 25, 24, 23, 27, and 25 players in Meyer's five years.

But even a relatively small haul will create big headaches.

Beyond the six seniors, let's say another half-dozen players leave the program, some because of injuries, others beckoned by the NFL. Among those who could leave early for the pros include linebacker Raekwon McMillan, cornerback Gareon Conley, and quarterback J.T. Barrett.

In this conservative scenario, the Buckeyes would still have 92 scholarship players.

If this were the NFL, Meyer could continue to recruit big classes and simply cut those who weren't pulling their weight.

That doesn't fly in college, where schools unofficially commit to prospects for four years, regardless if they pan out or not.

Still, the numbers are the numbers, and big-time college football rarely spares any feelings.

The wink-wink arrangement in which underperforming players leave a program on mutual terms happens everywhere every offseason.

Chances are Ohio State will be no different, lending new meaning to its survival-of-the-fittest theme this year. Many veterans who have yet to make a major impact may be playing for a spot on the roster.

In Ohio State's Land of the Wolves, the message is clear: Eat or be eaten.

"I say this every year, but I don't want to redshirt," Meyer said. "It's not our plan. We don't recruit you and say, 'Let's sit them down for a while.' We want to play them immediately. If they're good after three years and want to go to NFL, that's their choice. We want them to get a degree. But the days of fifth-year guys at Ohio State, they don't usually ... if they're around for five years, something happened or they're not good enough."

(c)2016 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

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