Buckeyes, Spartans Continue Battle Well Past B1G Championship Game
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A funny thing happened on the way to National Signing Day last week, and it came in the form of Ohio State and Michigan State battling for a small handful of very large recruits.
It's been two months since Michigan State walked off the field in Indianapolis as Big Ten Champions, ending Ohio State's 24-game winning streak with a 34-24 win. That doesn't mean the competition has died down even a little between these two football programs, however.
The drama surrounding five-star defensive lineman Malik McDowell has been well-publicized. His last-minute official visit to Ohio State had many convinced that the Buckeyes were going to land him. Instead, he committed to Michigan State on Wednesday, but has yet to sign a letter of intent.
In the week leading up to Signing Day, offensive lineman and Buckeye commit Jamarco Jones decided to take an official visit to Michigan State, convincing many that he would ultimately end up a Spartan. Instead, after seeing the Michigan State campus one final time, he decided to stick with the Buckeyes and he ended up signing with Ohio State.
The biggest surprise of Signing Day, however, was the news that defensive end Darius Slade would not be signing with Michigan State, which was the school that he was verbally committed to. Instead it was announced that he would visit Ohio State in the coming weeks. Later in the afternoon he ended up signing with Ohio State, spurning Michigan State in the process.
Each player provided a bit of a surprise, as each went against conventional wisdom. Of course, conventional wisdom rarely has a place when it comes to college football recruiting. After all, surprises are the norm, and the norm is always surprising.
It was a hectic week for both the Ohio State and Michigan State staffs, but it did end up begging one very large question: Where was Michigan in all of this?
Ohio State and Michigan battle for recruits all the time, but rarely do the Buckeyes and Spartans mix it up this close to Signing Day. Is this a sign of the times? Remember, Michigan State won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl this past season, so their momentum is essentially at an all-time high.
Or is this simply a passing fancy, where things will eventually return back to the standard stasis of Ohio State and Michigan fighting for players, rather than Michigan State?
Regardless of what the future looks like, the present has provided an absolute battle for the Ohio State coaches.
"They're real, and I think they've always been real," Urban Meyer said of Michigan State last week.
"I've got a lot of respect for the way they do their business, and that's an adversary. That's one of our teams we're nose to nose with right now in recruiting. We don't win them all because I know we lost a couple, too. But that's a real battle right now."
While the loss in the Big Ten Championship Game will always sting, the 2013 season has had its chapter closed. Losing Jamarco Jones could have opened up some of those wounds again, but worse than that, it would have weakened the Buckeyes moving forward.
Ohio State dodged that bullet, and managed go one step better by also signing Darius Slade. Malik McDowell, on the other hand, seems bound and determined to be a Spartan. The Buckeyes are never going to win them all, but it's still a bit strange when the losses come to Michigan State.
It is clear that both schools have taken advantage of the success that they achieved this past season, which is probably why the University of Michigan was the odd man out so many times over these last five months.
It will be interesting to watch the Ohio State and Michigan State rivalry moving forward, and to see how long the recruiting battles between these two schools continue. The Buckeyes travel to East Lansing next season, and there would be no better time for Mark Dantonio to load up on official and unofficial visits than that particular game. It will be their chance to put an emphatic stamp on their position over Ohio State, and the ramifications for MSU could be gigantic.
The Spartans are the early favorites in the Big Ten this coming season, so they already have a good bit of momentum. Whether they can maintain that momentum, however, is the real question.
Michigan State certainly has the Ohio State coaches' attention, and even when things are looking good for the Buckeyes, don't expect them to let their guards down.
"But the paranoid side of us, we've been cut in this thing now," running backs coach Stan Drayton said of the recruiting process.
"We're scarred up in this recruiting, this Signing Day deal. It's not an exact science. So we react off our paranoia and we continue to recruit them until the very end."
This year, the "very end" was a tense one for Ohio State, and that paranoia, for the first time in a long time, was brought on by the Michigan State coaching staff.
OSU and MSU may not face off on the recruiting trails down the stretch many more times, but you can bet that they won't be forgeting the battles of 2014.
After all, everybody remembers where their scars came from.
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