Tressel rakes in blue-chippers for strong Buckeye class

By Ralph D. Russo

NEW YORK – Three straight BCS breakdowns aren’t keeping the big-time recruits away from Ohio State.

Coach Jim Tressel turned another batch of blue-chippers into Buckeyes, putting together a class that rated among the best in the nation Wednesday, the first day high school players can make their verbal commitments to colleges official.

Most of the usual suspects cleaned up on the recruiting trail: Southern California, Texas and LSU have classes that experts are touting as top-10 caliber.

Defending champion Florida’s class is small – that’s what happens when a team wins a national title with a roster full of underclassmen – but strong.

Michigan’s first class fully recruited by new coach Rich Rodriguez should give Wolverines fans some hope for a brighter future after a 3-9 debacle in 2008.

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Miami coach Randy Shannon is poised to have a second consecutive promising signing day, if star running back Bryce Brown of Wichita, Kan., keeps his commitment and signs with the Hurricanes. He was also considering Oregon and Kansas State and had not yet signed by Wednesday morning.

And at Alabama, Nick Saban has another top-rated class lined up to help him keep the Crimson Tide where he had them for much of the 2008 season: atop the polls.

The national championship has been elusive for Tressel and the Buckeyes in recent years, despite Ohio State’s domination of the Big Ten. Ohio State has won or shared four straight conference titles, but lost three consecutive Bowl Championship Series games, including back-to-back title games after the 2006 and ’07 seasons.

The Buckeyes had their hearts broken again in January, losing 24-21 to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl on a last-minute touchdown.

Maybe a recruiting national title will lift the spirits of Buckeyes fans?

“Recruits are not paying any attention to the game results,” Allen Wallace of and SuperPrep Magazine said Wednesday. “For some kids it might serve as a reason to jump on the bandwagon. They go in thinking, ‘Maybe I can make the difference.'”

Ohio State had the majority of its class signed before noon, a group that includes most of the top players in the Buckeye state. Going into signing day, Ohio State was ranked No. 1 by both and

“Jim Tressel is one of the great national recruiters,” said Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports, who had Ohio State No. 2, behind LSU. “He has a fence around the state of Ohio and put it up again this year. He also did a great job in western Pennsylvania.”

Linebacker Dorian Bell and defensive back Corey Brown, teammates at Gateway High School in Monroeville, Pa., and both given five stars (out of five) by, are headed to Ohio State.

Tressel even managed to convince a couple of four-star recruits from the Sunshine State – running back Jaamal Berry of Miami and wide receiver Duron Carter of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – to leave the Deep South and brave chilly temperatures in Columbus.

Carter has family ties to Ohio State. His father is former Buckeyes great Cris Carter.

Coach Urban Meyer’s Gators made it three consecutive national championships for the Southeastern Conference with their 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in Miami last month.

And when it comes to recruiting, the SEC is just about as good. had 10 of the 12 SEC programs among its top 25 recruiting classes heading into signing day. Rivals’ top 25 had nine SEC teams.

The Gators were expected to hand out only about 15 scholarships Wednesday, a number that will hold down their overall class ranking. But Florida’s prospective class includes receiver Andre Debose of Sanford, Fla., rated the second-best at his position in the country by Rivals, and Gary Brown of Quincy, Fla., Rivals’ No. 3 defensive tackle.

And Wednesday morning, Florida landed one of the top uncommitted prospects in Jelani Jenkins, a highly touted linebacker from Olney, Md.

Manti T’eo from Honolulu, another top-rated linebacker, also made his choice Wednesday and surprised many of the experts by picking Notre Dame over USC and UCLA.

LSU was a disappointment in 2008, going 8-5 a year after winning the national title in ’07. Tigers coach Les Miles responded by lining up what he has said will be one of the best recruiting classes LSU has ever had.

Miles reached into Texas for a couple five-star prospects – safety Craig Loston from Aldine and quarterback Russell Shepard from Houston – to go with the Tigers’ usual haul of homegrown talent.

USC’s latest heralded recruiting class features the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the country. Coach Pete Carroll didn’t have to go far to find Matt Barkley, who is from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, the same southern California school that produced Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart.

Barkley could be in the mix to replace starter Mark Sanchez, who decided to bypass his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

Texas coach Mack Brown also found a five-star quarterback prospect in his backyard. Garrett Gilbert from Austin highlights a Longhorns class that is, as usual, highly rated and loaded with in-state talent.