Bob Hunter commentary | Rumblings: Key football recruit could bring others to Ohio State, too

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Ohio State and football coach Urban Meyer got on a commitment roll this week, gaining three pledges for 2015 in three days. But there could be an avalanche in the coming weeks, depending on the choice that linebacker Justin Hilliard makes.

Hilliard, of Cincinnati St. Xavier, is the top-ranked outside linebacker in the nation, according to 247sports.com, and the 13th-best prospect overall. Rivals.com rates him as the best inside linebacker prospect, and 49th overall.

If he falls OSU’s way, as some analysts are projecting, it could mean good things to come “ because he’s pretty well connected” with other prospects, said Bill Kurelic of Bucknuts.com.

“He talks with a lot of these other guys on social media all the time,” said Kurelic, who cited defensive end Jashon Cornell of St. Paul, Minn., and running back Damien Harris of Berea, Ky. “That doesn’t mean they all will (commit to OSU), but it definitely could happen.”

The Buckeyes have six commitments so far, but none with the headliner impact of Hilliard, Harris or Cornell. Hilliard, reportedly down to OSU, Alabama, Michigan, Iowa and Notre Dame, has said he expects to announce his choice late this month or no later than July.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has two Ohio State players ranked highly on his early list of top NFL prospects for next year. Michael Bennett is listed as the top senior at defensive tackle, and Braxton Miller is the No. 3 senior at quarterback, behind Bryce Petty of Baylor and Sean Mannion of Oregon State.

Bennett is one of two Big Ten players Kiper has high on his board; he lists Randy Gregory of Nebraska as the top junior at defensive end.

The Big Ten hasn’t had a top-10 pick since 2008, when Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long went No. 1 overall and Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston went No. 6.

Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman is still mowing down hitters, but he is doing it a little differently. After he pitched a hitless ninth inning for on Wednesday, fangraphs

.com showed that he has thrown only 64 percent fastballs this season, down from 82.6 percent a year ago.

Chapman is throwing his slider 26.1 percent of the time (up from 14.7) and his change-up on 10 percent of his pitches (up from 2.7). At the same time, the average speed of his change-up has dropped from 93.7 to 88.6 mph. Chapman’s fastball averages 100.1 mph, the highest of his career.

Chapman’s 1.29 ERA is a testament to his increased use of secondary pitches.

Crew officials hope to use the World Cup break to find offensive help; Major League Soccer’s transfer window opens on July 8. While World Cup games would seem like the most logical place to find a goal-scorer, Crew coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter said that isn’t likely to happen.

“I don’t necessarily see us pulling players from the World Cup,” Berhalter said. “We’d like to be in that position, but I don’t think that’s our scouting model right now.”

Berhalter said he is looking both within the league and internationally.

“Right now, it’s a lot of people without contracts in Europe,” he said. “The work has been ongoing since January, when the European window closed. We’re working on that. I would expect something the next couple of weeks.”

The Crew has one available roster spot.

Some Clippers fans probably wonder how the so-so Corey Kluber who spent most of 2011 and ’12 in Columbus turned into the ace of the Cleveland Indians.

Even though the Indians’ bullpen has let him down in a couple of starts, Kluber is 6-4 with a 3.35 ERA in 14 starts this season, a year after he went 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 24 starts. From 2010 to ’13, Kluber was 20-20 with a 4.69 ERA in 52 starts with the Clippers.

Kluber’s improvement seems to coincide with increased use of his two-seam fastball. He relied on a cut fastball with the Clippers, and that didn’t translate well at the big-league level. When he began to throw the fastball more, his velocity began to rise; he now usually hits 94 to 96 mph.

When West Virginia guard Eron Harris chose Michigan State, 2 1/2 months after he announced he was transferring, some Mountaineers fans must have scratched their head. Harris averaged 17.2 points last season and had said that coach Bob Huggins’ coaching style “probably wasn’t the best fit” for him.

Huggins is an intense coach who wanted to see Harris play better defense — a combination that isn’t going to change when he plays for Tom Izzo.

After selling roughly 19,000 student season football tickets in 2013, Michigan is expecting that number to dip to around 13,000 for the 2014 season, according to mlive.com. Athletic director Dave Brandon blamed that in part on the schedule and in part on a 7-6 season in 2013.

“We don’t have any of our big rivalry games” this year, he said. “Coming off a 7-6 season, that could have an impact.”

Interestingly, a Michigan student ticket to all seven home games costs $295, the highest price in the Big Ten. Ohio State is next at $252, followed by Penn State ($218) and Wisconsin ($188). For that price, a UM student gets to see Appalachian State, Miami University, Utah, Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana and Maryland.

Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.

bhunter@dispatch.com

@dailyhunter

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