Five-star offensive tackle Jackson Carman had been Ohio State’s No. 1 target for months. He was the top-ranked player at a position of need and the top player in Ohio.
In the end, Urban Meyer and his staff couldn’t seal the deal, and Carman ditched home for another top program — Clemson.
Carman, along with defensive end Brenton Cox, safety Jaiden Woodbey and quarterback Emory Jones all left Ohio State for other programs in the final two weeks leading up to Wednesday’s decision date, leaving Meyer without even more transcendent talent than the 20 players that signed to his class Wednesday.
On paper, the 2018 class is perhaps Meyer’s best ever as a head coach. However, it should not be overlooked. For a time, Ohio State had four five-star recruits with a chance at five. It ended Wednesday with two, while conference rival Penn State added its third.
Carman wasn’t committed to Ohio State at any point in time like Cox, Woodbey and Jones. But it’s expected that the Buckeyes should land the top prospect in Ohio every year. Since Meyer arrived in Columbus, he has landed the top recruit in the state of Ohio every year with the exception of 2016 when five-star offensive tackle Tommy Kraemer went to Notre Dame. As for the other three, it’s difficult for a program to keep players who further from the school committed for a long time, when top programs close to home are knocking on the door.
Woodbey, a five-star safety from California, committed in February, but flipped and signed with Florida State Wednesday. Cox, a five-star strong-side defensive end from Georgia, committed to Ohio State in April before decommitting Dec. 6 and signing with the Georgia Bulldogs Wednesday. Jones, a four-star dual-threat quarterback committed to the Buckeyes in July 2016, before flipping and mailing his letter of intent to Florida Wednesday.
Those three decommitments in the last two weeks of the early signing period hurt Ohio State and have great implications.
The first impact is the optics. Losing three players in less than two weeks, with two being five-stars and another being a highly rated dual-threat quarterback, makes it look as if the coaching staff is losing its touch. That’s probably not the case because Meyer has been an excellent recruiter his entire career and his 2018 class is still ranked as the top class. But given that Penn State landed a five-star Wednesday when Ohio State lost two, that’s added pressure for the Buckeyes’ coaching staff to hold onto prized recruits.
Second, Meyer, and quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Ryan Day had to find a second option to Jones late in the process. Now, they ended with a solid option in three-star Matthew Baldwin from Austin, Texas, who led his team to a state championship game Saturday, but Meyer probably would’ve liked to not rely on flipping a quarterback late to have one for this recruiting class. Baldwin was previously committed to Colorado State.
Ohio State’s depth at safety isn’t hurt too much with Woodbey’s departure from the class, but with Cox’s decommitment, Ohio State had to flip three-star Alex Williams from West Virginia just to have one end in the class. Without Carman, it has just one offensive tackle in four-star Max Wray. Both are positions of need.
Meyer has already had discussions to play Williams at tight end, so Ohio State would only have three defensive ends for next season, pending a potential commitment from four-star Tyreke Smith. Wray is the fourth offensive tackle on next year’s roster.
Ohio State finally beat Alabama in a recruiting class, but it limped to the first finish line Wednesday with key misses that can impact a program for years. That’s something Meyer will have to live with.