COLUMBUS: Recruiting is the inhale phase of the respiratory cycle of major-college football, and Ohio State is taking its second consecutive deep breath.
Last year, coach Urban Meyer and his staff signed 25 players in their first recruiting class. This year, they have 22 commitments heading into the signing period, which opens Feb. 6. Five of those players are already enrolled at Ohio State and taking part in conditioning drills.
The class could still gain two or three players. Dontre Wilson of DeSoto, Texas — a running back currently committed to Oregon — and receiver James Clark of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., are on campus this weekend making official visits. Meyer also would like to add another offensive lineman and is looking at a couple receiver prospects, including Ryan Timmons of Frankfort, Ky.
With Ohio State limited to 82 scholarship players through the 2014 season because of NCAA sanctions that cut the limit from 85 for three years, more than half the roster will be first- and second-year players this fall.
The 2012 class did shrink to 23 members. Receiver Ricquan Southward left in the fall, and offensive lineman Joey O’Connor, who was recovering from knee surgery last season, said last week that he would transfer.
Barring more defections, perhaps 47 of the 82 players on scholarship this fall will be Meyer recruits. He inherited more than half of the 2012 class that had committed before he was hired in November 2011; he chose to sign them while closing strong with some highly rated prospects of his own.
Maybe it is unfortunate that the Buckeyes have had the chance to bring in back-to-back large classes, because it means there has been major attrition in the previous three. A breakdown:
• The 2009 class had 24 members, and 10 wound up as starters at some point last season as seniors (five) or fourth-year juniors (five). Offensive left tackle Jack Mewhort, center Corey Linsley, right guard Marcus Hall, running back Jordan Hall and safety C.J. Barnett are the returning starters who will be fifth-year seniors this fall, along with quarterback Kenny Guiton, safety Corey Brown and receiver Chris Fields, all backups.
But 10 players left early, and reserve safety Jamie Wood has dealt with injuries that make him a question mark headed into his fifth season.
• The 2010 class, led by running backs Rod Smith and Carlos Hyde and cornerback Bradley Roby, had 19 members. But just 10 of those players remain. Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is leaving for the NFL, three transferred, two quit for physical reasons, and three failed to meet off-the-field requirements.
• Quarterback Braxton Miller and linebacker Ryan Shazier were the leaders of the 2011 class, which had 23 members. But three transferred, one was kicked off the team, and then there was linebacker Conner Crowell, who learned last week that he would not be allowed to play at Ohio State anymore because of recurring leg problems.
The Buckeyes have 59 scholarship players returning from last year’s team, plus the five from this year’s recruiting class who enrolled early. There are 17 more who are committed, for a total of 81. With a limit of 82, it would indicate just one more player could be added to the recruiting class.
But that limit doesn’t have to be met until the first day of preseason camp in August. That would leave plenty of time for a little more attrition to enhance the inhaling process.