COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The competition was fierce, went down to the wire and ultimately kept Ohio State coaches up for most of Tuesday night.
The Buckeyes also know their work might only be beginning with a new regime at Michigan, and it’s exactly what they’d expect from the most intense rivalry in college football.
The battles between certainly never lacked for intensity under the previous Wolverines coaching staff, though it’s pretty clear who has had the upper hand since Urban Meyer arrived and took his program in a much different direction than Brady Hoke did his before he was fired. Ohio State was able to maintain its edge in the first true head-to-head battle with Jim Harbaugh leading up to national signing day, but if the tug of war over running back Mike Weber is any indication, The Game is about to return to being a 12-month war.
“No doubt,” Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “I mean, Harbaugh’s presence was felt up north, no doubt about it. He went in there guns a-blazing trying to get the best player in his state, which he should.”
This time the recruiting barrage from Harbaugh and his staff came up short, but not without making the Buckeyes sweat it out into the late-night hours leading up to Weber’s decision Wednesday.
A former Michigan commitment, the ESPN 300 prospect from Detroit's Cass Technical High School had some doubts creep into his mind late in the process for a variety of reasons, keeping Meyer and Drayton busy on the phone with Weber to help fight off the pressure that had been building on the other side of the border to keep him at home, where he would have provided a significant boost to Harbaugh’s first class.
It wasn’t the only time the Buckeyes had been forced to deal with Michigan’s new presence on the recruiting trail, with Meyer also pointing to quarterback Joe Burrow and defensive tackle Joshua Alabi -- Weber's high school teammate -- as other Ohio State commitments whom the Wolverines made a push to flip during the last month. And it definitely won’t be the last time these storied programs tangle off the field in the coming years.
“We felt it,” Meyer said. “They contacted all of our players ... but you expect that. I remember when I first got here, people were saying things [about not recruiting committed players.] That’s their job. If they don’t, are you kidding me? Kids in their home state? I expect that.
“I think the previous coach was a heck of a recruiter and they’re always going to have great recruiters there. But we’re well aware of everything they’re doing.”
Like anything else that can be boiled down to a winner and loser in the rivalry, Meyer also didn’t mind making people aware that “absolutely you keep score” on those recruiting victories over the Wolverines. But he also didn’t hide from the fact that Harbaugh certainly made it a challenge coming down the stretch.
For his part, Harbaugh wasn’t pressed about recruiting against his once and future rival, and he didn’t feel any need to address the Buckeyes on his own. Perhaps the nature of some of the individual battles will change moving forward, with Michigan potentially not needing to chase committed prospects as aggressively as it did with such a short window following the coaching transition.
But Harbaugh is officially back in the game now, and with a full recruiting cycle to work with, the two coaching staffs figure to see each other much more often than just on the opposite sideline at the end of November.
“You make a call and ask someone if they are interested in talking about Michigan,” Harbaugh said. “Certainly if someone says no, it is no. But if someone says yes, then I want to show them Michigan.
“We were trying to build a recruiting base and that is kind of the way the pickle squirted this year.”
Don’t mistake that for an apology from Harbaugh, and Meyer made it clear it wasn’t necessary anyway for a coach just doing his job.
Both guys understand the business and The Game, and one key recruitment already indicates the stakes are only going to get higher.