Each week, college football insider Matt Hayes tackles the biggest topics in the game, in and around the SEC:

For those who still believe recruiting is “overrated” when it comes to program development, I give you the Ohio State recruitment of wide receivers over the past 4-year cycle.

And how it has led to 2 teams primed to play in the College Football Playoff.

Ohio State WRs Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave will be first-round picks in next year’s draft, and former Ohio State wideout and current Alabama All-American candidate Jameson Williams will, too.

Then there’s sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njiba, who leads Ohio State in receiving and is the best of the group — and will be a potential top 7-10 pick in the 2023 draft.

“I’ve never seen a run of players like that,” a Big Ten defensive coordinator told me. “The kid no one talks about (Smith-Njiba) is the best player on the field. But he gets no pub because two other guys are first-rounders. There are only so many balls, and they’ve got 5-star guys that aren’t playing. They have (high school) receivers coming to them, and they’re basically picking and choosing who they want.”

To that end, Ohio State recruited 11 wide receivers over the past 4-year cycle. The breakdown:

  • 3 are All-American candidates (Wilson, Olave, Smith-Njiba).
  • 1 is an All-American candidate at another school (Williams).
  • 5 are still on the roster, including 5-star recruits Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming, and talented 4-star Marvin Harrison Jr.
  • 1 changed positions (Cameron Brown to CB), and 1 transferred to Missouri (Mookie Cooper).

Of the 11 recruits, only 1 (4-star Jayden Ballard) is from the state of Ohio.

The portal plan

The emergence and impact of Kenneth Walker III at Michigan State has numerous programs zeroing in on another potential huge tailback transfer for the 2022 season.

Syracuse sophomore Sean Tucker said this week that he believes he’ll return to the Orange for his 3rd season, but a coaching change could alter those plans.

Syracuse coach Dino Babers, who has 1 winning season in 6 years, likely needs a win Saturday against Pittsburgh to save his job. Tucker can enter the transfer portal, and use his 1 free transfer season to play immediately at another FBS school.

Tucker is No. 3 in the nation in rushing yards (1,467) and is averaging 6.3 yards per carry. An indicator of Tucker’s season: He had 157 yards on 22 carries against Clemson – which gives up 103.9 yards per game.

“There’s no hesitation with him,” an NFL scout told me. “He sees the hole and hits it. Great vision, strong lower body, good balance. He’s got a little burst, too. He would grade high right now, and will be interesting to see how it all plays out and where he is (in 2022).”

Walker wasn’t on draft boards this time last year. Now he’s projected to be among the first 3 running backs selected in the draft. One of his negatives is the same question for Tucker: Can he stay on the field in passing downs?

Tucker has 12 catches this season and hasn’t been a threat out of the backfield. But that’s also something that can be fixed in his third season in college, wherever that may be.

The lost 40 acres

Steve Sarkisian is staring at the abyss at Texas, and he’s barely through Year 1.

If the Longhorns (4-7) lose the season-finale Friday against a solid Kansas State (7-4) team, Sarkisian’s first year at Texas will finish with the worst record since 1956 (1-9), and the tied for the 2nd-most losses in school history (1-8 in 1938).

More disturbing: Texas has never lost 7 conference games in program history.

The Texas administration fired Tom Herman after last season because it felt the program was trending downward. The Longhorns were 7-3 in 2020 and 15 starters returned for 2021.

Herman’s biggest sin was he couldn’t win consistently within the conference (22-14), but those numbers look championship-worthy compared to what could be under Sarkisian after Saturday.

In 8 seasons as a head coach at Washington, USC and Texas, Sarkisian has won more than 7 games only twice (8 at Washington, 9 at USC), and has a career record of 50-42.

The Bearcats have arrived

Now that Cincinnati has reached the top 4 of this week’s College Football Playoff poll, it’s time to – once again – explain why Group of 5 schools have no business in a 4-team Playoff.

You don’t get a one-shot season, win the game, and get a direct line to the Playoff.

You don’t get to meander through a Group of 5 conference schedule, and have that reality ignored because you’ve won 1 game of significance against a Power 5 team.

The Notre Dame win on the road was impressive. The other 11 games on the schedule in no way, shape or form back up what happened in South Bend, Ind.

Of the teams in the current top 4 of the CFP poll, No. 1 Georgia has the 2nd-toughest schedule in the nation according to the NCAA. No. 2 Ohio State has the 9th-ranked schedule, and No. 3 Alabama has the No. 1-ranked schedule.

Cincinnati? No. 48 in the nation.

The rest of the top 10: Michigan (12th-ranked schedule), Notre Dame (No. 13), Oklahoma State (No. 22), Baylor (No. 24), Ole Miss (No. 10) and Oklahoma (No. 25).

“If (Group of 5) teams can beat a (Power 5) school, there’s an advantage there,” a Power 5 athletic director told me. “I know that’s not a popular thing to say, but if you’re going through the AAC week after week, as opposed to the Big Ten or SEC, who do you think has the advantage? (Group of 5) teams in the past have needed chaos to happen to get in. Now it’s almost as though it’s a rite of passage for Cincinnati.”