With Braxton Miller having completed a historic season as just a sophomore, BuckeyeSports.com sought…
Meyer, Hoke To Continue Battle Off The Field
In at least one instance during Ohio State's 26-21 win over Michigan, Urban Meyer glanced across the Ohio Stadium field and saw Brady Hoke. It's a familiar face to Meyer, even if it was the first time he and Hoke faced one another as head coaches on the gridiron. With the Buckeyes' season over and a perfect 12-0 record to be celebrated, Meyer can take solace in the success he found in his first season in Columbus particularly because the year culminated in beating the Wolverines in the rivalry game that will likely define his legacy at Ohio State. The celebration won't last long for Meyer, though. That's because Hoke won't have to wait a year for a rematch – not with the Feb. 6 National Signing Day rapidly approaching. "The first Ohio State-Michigan game between Meyer and Hoke was exactly what you'd expect out of this rivalry," BuckeyeSports.com recruiting analyst Bill Greene said. "It was a hard-hitting, competitive game that had the same feel of the typical games this rivalry has seen. I expect those types of games to continue, and it is all starting up again because Michigan has found its way with recruiting." The fundamental source of success in college football is the amount of talent on a team's roster. When Hoke took over at Michigan, there was a big disparity in talent level between his Wolverines and the Buckeyes. But the second-year coach has done wonders in immediately fixing that, going back to the basics of Michigan recruiting that had been lost on his predecessor Rich Rodriguez. Hoke, now 1-1 against Ohio State in his first two seasons, has immediately changed the culture back to the way it used to be in Ann Arbor, and the program is reaping the benefits of that by landing top high school talents. "He brought back the traditional approach," Scout.com national recruiting analyst Allen Trieu told BSB. "What Rich Rodriguez did was such a drastic departure from what everyone was used to, and I think Hoke had some momentum just from the excitement that they were just returning things back to the way things were." That means attacking the state of Ohio hard, and Hoke and his staff aggressively and confidently began pursuing the best players in Ohio State's back yard the second their work began at Michigan. The first full recruiting class Hoke put together at Michigan in 2012 was ranked by Scout the No. 4 class in the country. Of its 25 members, nine played their high school football in Ohio. "Under Rodriguez, there was almost a tentativeness or a skittishness about trying to recruit a player like Braxton Miller," Greene said. "They'd put a halfhearted attempt out there, but that wasn't going to work and it was kind of foolish. They got to the point where they stopped recruiting the big-time Ohio kids." That isn't the formula that has worked for the most successful Michigan teams in the past, and the Dayton-area born and bred Hoke understood that right away. He has followed that approach again for 2013, and Scout currently ranks the Wolverines' class – which has 24 total verbal commitments and eight from Ohio – No. 1 in the nation. "Hoke's staff is a thousand times better then the staff Rodriguez had," Greene said. "These guys are far better recruiters. Since Hoke was hired, he pretty much made an instant impact with his demeanor and his confidence, and it played well." Many of the assistants on Hoke's staff have a history of recruiting Ohio, but the biggest advantage the head coach had was the relationships he built with prep coaches in the state while he was in charge of the program at Ball State from 2003-08. During that time, Hoke took many of the second-tier players who weren't quite good enough to get snatched up by Ohio State or other top programs in the Midwest, and those experiences laid the foundation on which he's currently building at Michigan. "He has footholds in a lot of these top Ohio schools," Greene said. "He has these inroads with Ohio high school coaches and they respect him. They respect how hard he works and the quality of person he is, so he has that going for him. He has a lot of advantages there, plus he's selling Michigan, which is a great product." Competition between Meyer and Hoke started almost immediately when Meyer tried shortly after he was hired to flip five-star offensive lineman Kyle Kalis of Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward – who had originally committed to the Buckeyes – out of his Michigan commitment. Hoke reciprocated in kind by heavily recruiting Canton GlenOak running back Bri'onte Dunn after he committed to Ohio State. Both prospects honored their commitments to the respective rivals, but given that both programs' lifeblood in landing talent is in the same area – Ohio – those preliminary run-ins between Hoke and Meyer will continue. It did this season, as Meyer was successful in flipping Michigan commitment Gareon Conley into his class when he earned a pledge from the four-star cornerback from Massillon (Ohio) Washington on Dec. 7. "Recruiting is so different now," Greene said. "Seven or eight years ago, kids weren't making a commitment and then taking visits, but that is happening now and that's just how it kind of goes. Now that Ohio State and Michigan are recruiting a lot of the same kids, that makes for a lot of interesting stories." Now less than three months away from National Signing Day, Meyer is back at it with Conley, but he isn't the only example. U-M originally dropped four-star offensive guard David Dawson of Detroit Cass Tech for looking around, and Dawson earned a scholarship offer from Ohio State among several other schools before eventually committing to Michigan again on Dec. 15. Meyer's policy for allowing commitments to take visits isn't quite as cut-and-dried as Michigan's – who have removed players from their recruiting class for visiting other programs – but he isn't shy to set the record straight in that situation. "I think Coach Meyer has the right philosophy and it has always been, ‘If you look, we look,' " Greene said. "So when a kid that's committed goes out and looks at another school, Ohio State targets two or three other kids at his position. "If they find a player they like, they're going to take him. Then if the other comes back, they may not have a spot. That's the overwhelming thought with how most of the top programs do it." The coaching philosophies of Meyer and Hoke may vary a great deal, but both are very similar in their goals for what they want their recruiting classes to look like. The games on the field have become more competitive in the time since Hoke took over, presumably because of the strides Michigan has made in recruiting. There's still a long way to go in 2013 before programs begin to garner actual signatures on letters of intent, and Greene is quick to remind those who follow recruiting that things could still get interesting between Ohio State and Michigan. One thing is for sure: The foundation has been set for the Meyer-Hoke rivalry, and it began on the recruiting trail. "You go back to the lore with the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry and a lot of the key players in the game have been guys that Michigan has taken from Ohio," Trieu said. "Then there are guys that Ohio State beat Michigan out on, and guys from the state of Michigan like Craig Krenzel – stories about Chris Spielman liking Michigan and his dad convincing him otherwise. Those are the things that add to the rivalry, and I think we're set up for more of those stories." Follow Ari Wasserman on Twitter and find us on Facebook.
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