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Assessing Michigan’s chances with three top Ohio cornerbacks

For the Wolverines, Ohio could be home to the kryptonite for the Buckeye passing attack.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State’s high-flying offensive identity is unlikely to change anytime soon. With Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka returning — and two five-star wideouts already committed in the 2024 class — the Buckeye offense will run through their wide receivers well into the foreseeable future. Michigan’s recent victories over Ohio State have come in no small part thanks to the heroic efforts of its secondary limiting big plays and, in turn, throwing the Buckeye offense off schedule.

Finding the next generation of pass defenders to counteract the Buckeye wideouts is paramount for the Wolverine recruiting staff. And poetically, the star members of this crucial group may hail from Ohio: four-stars Bryce West, Aaron Scott, and Terhyon Nichols.

What they bring

Each of these guys possess a unique skillset that will serve them well as they advance to the collegiate game.

For West, a native of Cleveland, his speed and agility have left scouts agog. With a 10.93 100-meter and 6.96 60-meter under his belt, West can keep pace with elite receivers. The requisite physicality for collegiate and professional cornerbacks will need to be further developed for West, and luckily for him, defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale has done a phenomenal job ingraining these characteristics into his players.

Speaking of physicality, fellow top-10 cornerback Aaron Scott has more than enough of it in his game. Growing up less than an hour from Ohio Stadium, Scott has established a reputation as one of the 2024 class’ most imposing corners. Put mildly, the Springfield native is unafraid of contact and fond of laying the lumber. His ceiling is the highest of the trio, and with additional time to fill out and gain speed, he has the potential to be one of the best cornerbacks in the nation.

Although not as highly touted as the other two, Nichols could be one of the steals of the class. Possessing plenty of closing speed and all the rudiments of effective, hands-on pass coverage, Nichols’ skills can be deployed against anything opposing offenses throw at him. He’s also a brilliant kick returner and kick defender. If the Wolverines — no strangers to utilizing versatile defenders in the secondary — gain his commitment, they will have quite a multifaceted weapon in their arsenal.

Michigan’s chances

Ohio State seldom loses in-state battles for top recruits, and there is no chance it will let either West or Scott join the ranks of its most hated enemy without a fight. But just as the Wolverines overcame the inhospitable environment that is Ohio Stadium last November, the Michigan recruiting staff isn’t backing away from competing for these two game-changing cornerbacks.

Clink has done a great job of selling Michigan, and efforts by existing Michigan commits from the Buckeye State — namely from Jordan Marshall and Luke Hamilton — could be a wildcard factor in favor of the good guys.

Of the big two, Scott has shown the most interest in Michigan. Although his family predominantly bleeds Scarlet and Gray, he doesn’t seem opposed to playing college ball away from home. Scott likes what he sees from Michigan’s man-focused passing coverage schemes and admires the development and play style of Wolverine standout freshman Will Johnson. All this is well and good, but Michigan must pull out all the stops on his June 16 official visit if it hopes to have him in the fold when he commits.

The Michigan Wolverines aren’t out of contention for West, but Ohio State is the prohibitive favorite for him. Adding West to the 2024 class could throw a wrench into the machinations of the Buckeyes, as the two have discussed an inclination toward joining forces at the next level.

The undue lack of attention given to Nichols has opened the door for the Wolverines to claim the lead in his recruitment. Penn State and Pitt are players in his recruitment, but the Wolverines have a chance to wrap things up with the 29th-best cornerback on his June 23 official visit.

In sum, the Wolverines must keep pace with Ohio State’s wide receivers if they hope to continue the success of the past few years, and landing one or two of these recruits will place the Wolverines in a position to do that. Winning over either West or Scott will also demonstrate Michigan’s revamped ability to snag coveted recruits from deep inside enemy territory.

As long as the Buckeyes have fleets of five-star receivers, they will be more than willing to air it out. Will Michigan be able to counter? West, Scott, and/or Nichols may have something to say about that.