Class of '13 paving the way for Ohio State's future

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nearly two years ago to the day, a beaming Urban Meyer walked into the team meeting room at Ohio State, practically giddy and ready to rave about what he considered his first true recruiting class with the program.

He obviously wasn’t the only coach in the country fired up about the haul on national signing day, since just about everybody feels like a winner on the first Wednesday in February. And whether it’s this year, next season or every class that follows, Meyer is just as likely to come away impressed by the work he and one of the most tireless, relentless coaching staffs anywhere turned in on the recruiting trail.

But if the 2013 class truly counts as the debut of what Meyer was capable of with Ohio State’s resources combining with his approach to building a team in his image, the evidence is crystal clear to see now. It’s only taken two seasons for a batch of Buckeyes that was already impressive on paper to turn into national champions, which not only bodes well for another title run this year but might also hint at the early stages of a dynasty with another top-10 group of athletes set to be unveiled behind that same podium in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday.

“If you can't recruit to this now, you're officially a bad recruiter, and not just because of the championship,” Meyer said a day after claiming the College Football Playoff National Championship. “There's just so much going on in our program right now on the positive side.

“It's not theory, it's testimony.”

Meyer already had plenty of evidence that his way would work before he arrived at Ohio State, and there was certainly even less reason to question him after going undefeated in 2012 despite dealing with a somewhat shorthanded roster.

But the rapid turnaround from a 6-7 record before he arrived to loading up a table in his office with every trophy Ohio State competed for during his third season can in many ways be traced to signing day two years ago, when even some now critical contributors were barely mentioned thanks to all the depth piled up in that class.

The highlight for Meyer was the last-second pickup of safety Vonn Bell, which both represented a crucial head-to-head win over Alabama and the SEC and the kind of blue-chip defender that would be needed to get the Buckeyes back to the level needed to compete for titles. It was Bell who jumped in front of a pass in the Allstate Sugar Bowl for an invaluable interception against the Crimson Tide that helped Ohio State pull off the first of two upsets in the playoff on the way to the national championship.

Meyer offered his highest praise two years ago for the recruiting job former co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers did with the “octopus approach,” covering every conceivable angle and working relentlessly to help acquire a piece that was so coveted by Ohio State. And while that might have been the crown jewel Meyer mostly held up to celebrate the transition from what he called a “bunch of cowboys out there trying to find players” to a coaching staff completely in charge of the process, there obviously wasn’t a shortage of diamonds surrounding Bell either.

The Buckeyes had lured quarterback J.T. Barrett and athlete Dontre Wilson out of Texas. The buzz was already building for wideout Jalin Marshall's potential even if he would have to redshirt for a season before bursting onto the scene as an offensive dynamo. Eli Apple was already turning heads as an early enrollee at cornerback.

And while Ohio State missed on a pair of linebackers that were breathlessly hyped two years ago, missing the mark on Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson certainly doesn’t seem like much of an issue now thanks to Darron Lee’s emergence.

Lee wasn’t addressed at all during the introductory news conference, pass-rushing phenom Joey Bosa only was briefly mentioned and thanks to some delays with Ezekiel Elliott's signature, his name wasn’t dropped at all as part of the reason for Meyer’s big smile two years ago.

So just in case there was any doubt, there are now championship rings on all of those still-young fingers as additional evidence that Meyer hasn’t lost his fastball or his love of recruiting. And that combination might only be the beginning of some celebratory media sessions for Meyer, with another one on tap Wednesday.

“The doors open [with a championship],” Meyer said last month. “You move to the front of the line. But you still have to really work, though.”

That’s how the Buckeyes got to No. 1 in the first place during their first full cycle of recruiting. And if they can keep up that pace established two years ago, they might only be getting started.