COLUMBUS — For the earliest arrivals in Ohio State’s far-reaching recruiting class, the first adjustment to college in snowbound Ohio proved easy.
"I’d rather be cold than hot," said five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who endured mostly the latter in his hometown of Hinesville, Ga.
The next step? Bracing for life in the Big Ten — and ASAP.
Ohio State received signatures from 23 prospects Wednesday in a blue-chip haul coach Urban Meyer is counting on to leave an early impression this fall.
Meyer called it his best class yet at OSU — the first two were also ranked among the top-five nationally — even admitting he hoped the Buckeyes would finish atop the recruiting rankings. They settled for No. 3, according to the major scouting services.
"I hear people say it's not important," Meyer said of the rankings. "I disagree. As long as you're keeping score, we're going to try to win. I'm disappointed we weren't the No. 1 class in the country, and our staff knows we're disappointed about that."
Consider the disappointment relative.
About the only thing that didn’t go the Buckeyes’ way Wednesday was the latest act in the soap opera of five-star Michigan defensive lineman Malik McDowell, who chose Michigan State against the wishes of his parents. While McDowell’s mother and father have publicly blasted MSU — urging their son to go anywhere but East Lansing — the Southfield, Mich., native chose the Spartans over OSU and Florida State in a morning ceremony at his high school. (He has reportedly not yet signed a letter of intent making the commitment official.)
In all, though, it was another signing-day victory for OSU.
Ohio State’s wins over Michigan State in two other late battles were more representative of a class Scout.com analyst Allen Trieu called "miles ahead" of the next-closest challenger in the Big Ten. Montclair, N.J., defensive lineman Darius Slade flipped his pledge from MSU to Ohio State while the Buckeyes hung on to a commitment from four-star Chicago offensive tackle Jamarco Jones, whose visit to East Lansing last weekend stirred speculation he would trade scarlet for green.
"There would have been a fake smile in here today if we didn’t get [Jones]," Meyer said of the Buckeyes’ centerpiece line recruit.
Instead, he said, "I think we won today."
Meyer and his staff addressed the Buckeyes’ biggest needs — bringing in four linebackers, five offensive linemen, and four receivers — landed the top recruits in Ohio, and cherry-picked 12 states. OSU signed eight Rivals.com top-100 prospects — three more than the rest of the Big Ten landed combined.
"Our best class here?" Meyer said. "Oh, yeah. I think so."
Now, he expects them to waste little time proving it, again emphasizing his firm stance against redshirting freshmen.
Meyer knows you’re probably skeptical. Take last year, which did not play out like he or anyone envisioned. The Buckeyes unveiled the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class in February, only to redshirt 15 freshmen during the fall. That included even touted prospects at positions short on depth.
"We wanted to play more [freshmen] last year," Meyer said. "Gareon Conley should have played last year. That's Gareon's fault and our fault, and the position coach fault, if we're going to sit here and blame, which I'm not doing. But we're counting on these guys to go play."
Johnnie Dixon, a receiver from West Palm, Beach, Fla., said the potential for early playing time was a selling point. He is one of eight incoming recruits already enrolled at OSU.
"Nothing is ever given to you," Dixon said. "[But] depending on how hard you work, it's there."
That goes double at linebacker, which Meyer identified as the Buckeyes’ most critical position in the class. McMillan, St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Dante Booker, Cleveland St. Ignatius’ Kyle Berger, and Cincinnati Moeller’s Sam Hubbard join an already thin unit hit hard by the early departure of All-American Ryan Shazier.
"There are far too many mistakes that have been made in either lack of development or whatever at linebacker, and it’s just not where we need to be," Meyer said. "So there’s four guys we recruited, four guys I'm putting pressure on to get ready for next year."