Before he works on strategy and game plans with his staff, before he breaks down any film, schools his players in technique or checks in with the strength staff on their progress, coach Urban Meyer has one critical task that everything else hinges on.
Meyer has to get great players to Columbus first. Once they are there, the coaching can commence.
Meyer recently told a Columbus business group that one of his primary duties as head coach of the Buckeyes is to "convince 17 and 18-year olds to go to school here."
With plenty of salesmen in the room, they had to appreciate his skill at recruiting, which is really simply another form of making the pitch, presenting the product, and then closing the deal.
Shortly after taking the job, Meyer worked furiously a year ago to hold the troubled Ohio State program together in the wake of the NCAA sanctions, and almost overnight cranked out one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
With a year to work on this next group, he has done even better.
Most experts look at Ohio State's 24-man 2013 recruiting class as the second-best in the country. After leading the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record in his first season as their head coach, Meyer crisscrossed the U.S. to snag blue chip players from a dozen states.
Among the major victories on the recruiting battlefield for Meyer was luring safety Vonn Bell from George in a bout with Tennessee, and snagging running back Dontre Wilson of Texas after Wilson had originally committed to Oregon.
Meyer also got a firm commitment from Texas quarterback J.T. Barrett, who will have time to learn the spread offense and heal from knee surgery while serving an apprenticeship under incumbent starter Braxton Miller.
TOP OF THE CLASS
DB Jayme Thompson (Central Catholic High in Toledo, Ohio) -- Thompson has good size at 6-2 and 185 pounds, and is generally considered the best high school safety in the state, and it doesn't hurt that he comes from the same powerhouse program that produced former Buckeye standout WR Dane Sanzenbacher. Thompson also led his team to a state title, as did Sanzenbacher.
QB J.T Barrett (Rider High in Wichita Falls, Texas) -- One of three top recruits Meyer grabbed out of Texas, Barrett missed half of his senior season because of a knee injury, but still ranked as one of the top players in the state. He is the dual threat quarterback Meyer needs for the spread offense.
DB Vonn Bell (Ridgeland High in Rossville, Ga.) -- It was a major coup for Meyer to lure one of the best players in the southeast away from the powers of the SEC. The 6-1, 190 pound Bell had 146 tackles and three interceptions last season, and accounted for more than 1,700 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns on offense. He is one of the top 30 players in the nation, and likely one of the best two or three at the safety position.
Practice priorities: The Buckeyes will move into spring ball hoping to develop some depth at linebacker, and see a couple of playmakers emerge at the receiver positions. The offense will get more complex as QB Braxton Miller preps for his second year at the helm of the Meyer spread. The Buckeyes were the nation's only unbeaten team in 2012, as they ran the table to go 12-0. But they had to stay home and miss the Big Ten championship game and the BCS bowls due to a post-season ban put in place in the wake of the tattoo and memorabilia scandal from the Jim Tressel era.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013:
--QB Braxton Miller was second in the Big Ten in total offense in his 2012 sophomore season with 275.8 yards per game. Miller passed for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns while connecting on 60 percent of his passes. He also led the Buckeyes in rushing with 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns.
--T Jack Mewhort started every game in 2012 and was a leader up front for an Ohio State rushing attack that was 10th nationally with 242.2 yards per game. Behind Mewhort and company, the Buckeyes had 37 rushing touchdowns.
--DB Bradley Roby was second in the nation with 19 passes defended in 2012, and had two interceptions. He took one back for a touchdown against Nebraska, and was the only defensive player in the nation to score touchdowns three different ways in the 2012 season. He recovered a fumbled punt in the end zone, recovered a blocked punt in the end zone and scored on an interception return.
--LB Ryan Shazier led the Big Ten with 17 tackles for losses and was second in the conference with 115 total tackles. Shazier had six games with 10-plus tackles. He had game-changing plays against Penn State and Wisconsin.