By Doug Harris
Dayton Daily News, Ohio
Distributed by MCT
Over the weekend, Texas product Demetrius Knox — the top-rated guard in the nation in the Rivals.com rankings — was the Buckeyes' fourth four-star commitment on the offensive line.
Not to be outdone, Michigan just pulled off a coup in the 2015 class (juniors-to-be), picking up a verbal comment from the No. 1 “athlete” in the country in Florida speedster George Campbell.
OSU coach Urban Meyer and Michigan coach Brady Hoke have been waging war on the recruiting trail, stockpiling talent at such a high rate that it’s not hard to see the rivals embarking on another version of the Ten-Year War.
During the period between 1969-78, OSU coach Woody Hayes and UM coach Bo Schembechler, a former Hayes assistant, staged epic battles on the field. It began with Schembechler upsetting the No. 1 Buckeyes in his first year in Ann Arbor on his way to a 5-4-1 record against his mentor.
They shared the Big Ten title six times (’69, ’72, ’73, ’74, ’76 and ’77), while OSU won two outright crowns (’70 and ’75) and Michigan captured one solo title (’71) and shared another with Michigan State (’78).
During that decade, either the Buckeyes or Wolverines represented the conference in the Rose Bowl every year.
But at the Big Ten kickoff in Chicago last week, Hoke, who is starting his third year, shot down any notion that the two programs were poised again for that kind of dominance.
“When you start trying to make a comparison of coach Hayes and coach Schembechler to coach Meyer and myself, that’s out of bounds — because those two guys were college football. There’s so much both of those two men did for the game that we’ll never touch," he said.
Despite coming off a 12-0 record in his maiden season in 2012, Meyer also doesn’t see the Buckeyes and Wolverines separating themselves to that degree from the rest of the pack.
“I think there’s more balance in the league,” he said. “I didn’t know the league a year ago, but I watch recruiting very closely. It used to be the Big 2 and Little 8. I don’t think it's going to be like that. You’ve got Nebraska. You've got Penn State. You’ve got teams that have recruited very well. I don’t see that happening.”
While scholarship limits set by the NCAA have leveled the playing field — going from unlimited full rides before 1973 to a maximum of 105, then 95 and finally 85 in 1992 — Meyer and Hoke have galvanized recruiting at both schools.
Meyer’s classes in 2012 and ’13 were ranked fourth and second, respectively, by Rivals. In the 10 years before that, the Buckeyes had a total of only two top-four classes and their average rank was 14th.
Hoke’s first two classes were rated seventh and fifth. The Wolverines had just one top-seven class in the 10 prior years and their average rank was 13th.
“There’s a great rivalry between those two coaches,” said Allen Wallace, who covered national recruiting for SuperPrep Magazine for 29 years before retiring this year. “All I can say is I see severe battles between the two, and I don’t know who I'd give the edge to. They both have very different styles, but they both have quality programs behind them and both have focus and aggressiveness. And each believes they are superior in recruiting to the other.”
Michigan has a long history of success in Ohio — Heisman Trophy winners Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson hailed from the Buckeye state — and Hoke, a Kettering native, has plucked a least a few prospects in the last two years that were pursued by OSU.
But Meyer and his staff are making gains in Michigan. They’ve landed one of the top cornerbacks in 2013 in Damon Webb of Detroit, the state's No. 3 prospect, and are gaining favor with other premier recruits across the border mostly because of the clout Meyer carries with his two national titles at Florida.
Asked if the Buckeyes have more of a presence in Michigan now, Hoke said: “A little bit. But they’ve gotten guys before — (Johnathan) Hankins, (Vernon) Gholston.
“Look, we’re going to get our guys, and they’re going to get their guys,” he added. “That’s the way it’s going to work. And it's worked out well.”
Hoke is 1-1 on the field against the Buckeyes, while Meyer was able to get off to a winning start last year, which was a must in his eyes.
“(Former OSU coach) Earle Bruce is a mentor and a father figure to me, and that’s all he ever talked about,” Meyer said. “He’d give me little jabs during the year. He’d say, ‘You have to get that first one out of the way. You can’t start behind. It’s hard.’”
Both coaches have mixed emotions about the prospect of meeting twice this year.
They’ll play Nov. 30 in Ann Arbor and could turn around the next week and compete again for the Big Ten title in Indianapolis if both win their divisions.
Because of impending conference realignment, it’s the last time that could happen. In 2014, OSU and Michigan will both be in the East Division.
“I think it’s great — especially if you win ‘em both,” Hoke said with a laugh. “It will be interesting. I think it will be good for the league. Those two programs have been pretty important for the Big Ten.”
Meyer wasn’t all that enthused about a potential Michigan sequel. Although he won two SEC championship games at Florida, he didn’t have to beat a team twice to do it.
“That would be an exhausting two weeks,” he said.
Acknowledging it could be a boon for fans, Meyer added: “It won’t be very good for the health of the coaches.”
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