Smile wide, Brady. You earned it. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Last Saturday started pretty much like every other Saturday for me. I got out of bed around nine o'clock in the morning and made a pot of coffee before starting my daily internet reading routine --- I am, if nothing else, a creature of habit. The day ended about one million miles from what I ever thought possible. Some have been calling it the best sports day in Michigan history. While it feels like hyperbole it also has a bit of seriousness to it. If this wasn't the best sports day in Michigan history it is certainly up there, and in my admittedly young memory it is far and away the best February day in Michigan sports history that I can think of.
There is the matter of the basketball game --- which we have already covered extensively --- and the hockey game. Both were wins with some significance, things that matter concretely in the here and now.
But the hardcore Michigan football faithful can't help but be drawn to the other events of the day, a massive weekend for visits from some of the best 2013 prospects in the Midwest and the nation that when all was said and done netted six verbal commitments from six players considered among Rivals.com's top-200 juniors in the nation. After adding two more four-stars Sunday, Michigan's recruiting haul from last weekend stands as such:
- #46 OL Chris Fox (6'6", 297 lbs) from Parker, CO
- #60 OL Kyle Bosch (6'5", 285 lbs) from Wheaton, IL
- #96 TE Jake Butt (6'6", 230 lbs) from Pickerington, OH
- #109 OL Logan Tuley-Tillman (6'7", 300 lbs) from Peoria, IL
- #160 RB/DE Wyatt Shallman (6'3", 255 lbs) from Novi, MI
- #167 CB Jourdan Lewis (5'11", 170 lbs) from Detroit, MI
- #183 DE Taco Charlton (6'6", 240 lbs) from Pickerington, OH
- #199 OL David Dawson (6'5", 305 lbs) from Detroit, MI
That is eight four-star recruits all considered to be in the top-200 to Rivals.com, two linemen with a realistic chance of moving up to five-star range, and one of the best single day hauls outside of Texas's annual Junior Day Commitment Extravaganza.
Combined with Michigan's two other commitments --- #16 QB Shane Morris and #77 S Dymonte Thomas --- Michigan now has five commits in Rivals.com's top-100 and five more in the top 200. Michigan also has four players in the top-100 in the initial ESPNU rankings. Depending on the ranking of TE Khalid Hill, Michigan could be looking at a class made entirely of four-star prospects (unlikely --- Hill is most likely a mid to high three star --- but hey it is a possibility).
This is all huge news for one day in February, but the fluid nature of recruiting means that it is hard to put into context exactly what happened.
There is the possibility of decommitments*. Three of Michigan's junior commits from last year's class --- Caleb Stacey, Pharoh Brown, and Anthony Standifer --- all decommitted for one reason or another, however, from the comments each of this year's recruits has given it is hard to believe there will be any second thoughts. Some players (Lewis, Charlton, Butt, Tuley-Tillman) held Michigan as an outright leader while others (Fox, Bosch) raved about the coaching staff and knowing they wanted to end up blue. The other two (Shallman, Dawson) are local prospects from friendly high school programs that seemed like they would eventually be blue anyway.
Past that there is also the possibility that, like Texas in the past, Michigan's early commits plateau as players and while the class itself remains well regarded it doesn't produce the kind of overall impact that is expected of it*. It is not entirely uncommon for early four-star players to regress with mediocre senior seasons while other less heralded prospects blow up.
But that is all the negative, nit-picky stuff that isn't very fun to think about and isn't very productive to talk about before it happens.
This class has many more positive implications for the future, and right now focusing on anything other than that is doing a disservice to these kids. Michigan has put together a single weekend of recruiting success that will be hard to top (Florida tried this weekend, but didn't come close). More importantly the impact of last weekend is going to be felt for a long time on the recruiting trail, and its ripples will have an effect far and wide on the 2013 recruiting cycle and beyond. Here are the five reasons why:
*(The possibility. This isn't a prediction. I know nobody likes to talk about it, but these things do happen and they have a big effect on a recruiting class's makeup and momentum. It is important to keep in mind nobody is a guarantee until they sign on the dotted line almost a year from now. That being said, I am pretty confident in all of these players being all-in.)
**(This is a very real problem, and one of the main suspected culprits for Texas's decline over the last few years. Recruiting for the Longhorns became so simple at one point that Mack Brown could just offer and lock up 10-15 of the top players in Texas early in the recruiting cycle. The problem lies in a failure of these players to develop between committing and getting on campus, and other players emerging as seniors well after Texas has the space to recruit them. I'm not saying this is likely with any or all of Michigan's commits, just that someone (probably a Spartan fan) is going to bring it up at some point.)
Michigan Can Aim for the Stars
As it stands right now Michigan will have a graduating class of around 18 player which it can fill with new recruits. It isn't even March yet and Michigan already has over half that class filled and almost all of it is four-star talent. Helluva start, eh?
Now in all likelyhood Michigan will have anywhere from 20-22 open scholarships to fill in the 2013 class --- a level of attrition on par with most teams on a year to year basis. Considering this, let's assume that Michigan takes another 10 prospects in the 2013 class.
This isn't a very big group to fill (unless you are Wisconsin coming off a second straight Big Ten championship, amirite?) and it should allow the coaching staff to be much more selective about who they target. Michigan currently has offers out to over 60 players on Rivals.com's top-250, and while Brady Hoke seems to be prolific in extending scholarship offers, this is the perfect situation in which Michigan can focus extensively on its top targets for the next few months before needing to worry about filling out the class. This also allows for more time to scout potential sleeper recruits in the 2013 class, as well as build up contacts for 2014.
Essentially Michigan has set itself up to be in the perfect position for the long, drawn out spring and summer recruiting period. With a nearly half-formed class Michigan now knows much better what it needs to do to fill out the remaining spots and can focus on a smaller pool of highly desireable targets.
Michigan's Has Defined Its Needs
One of the biggest concerns coming into the 2013 class was building more quality depth along the offensive line after back-to-back disappointing hauls in 2010 and 2011, and thanks to the commitment of four very highly regarded offensive linemen yesterday Michigan has basically wrapped up the 2013 O-line class --- a group that has a chance to be the best O-line class of 2013.
Chris Fox and Kyle Bosch are both player that could rise to five-star status with strong camp appearances and good senior seasons. It looks like Fox is slotted at tackle and Bosch will slide inside to guard. Adding Logan Tuley-Tillman on Sunday gives the Wolverines a second blue-chip offensive tackle prospect for the class and two solid bookend tackles that will be coming on campus at the same time Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield (who I still think ends up at tackle) will be seniors. David Dawson should be a solid four-star player barring any significant blow-up in either direction (unlikely as he spent his junior year playing in Texas and spent two years before that at Cass Tech in Detroit --- where he has returned for his senior season --- so he is to say the least a known commodity). Dawson is a prototypical inside mauler that is the kind of lineman Brady Hoke and staff have been craving.
The one problem is that none of these three project well at center --- a position that will have absolutely no depth when these players step on campus in 2013. It is possible that Dawson (or less likely Bosch) can slide inside to center if need be, but it seems quite likely that Michigan focuses on a true center prospect to fill out the class (or in a less likely alternate universe Michigan gets a commitment from Alex Kozan in the 2012 class). Although it would be hard to turn away the commitment from one of the two top-25ish OT's, Laremy Tunsil and Ethan Pocic, that the staff has been pursuing, with a smaller class and a dire need at center the coaches may not want to invest six scholarships in the offensive line. Go ahead and tag this one #BradyHokeProblems and move on since it probably isn't happening.
Outside of a hole at center Michigan's main worry is at the skill positions on offense. The last two classes have been short on a true feature running back (Norfleet and Hayes are both third-down backs and Rawls and Johnson are local project types). The addition of Wyatt Shallman provides an interesting backfield option both running the ball and playing a hybrid fullback/H-back/tight end role --- one that could also grow too big for the position before he even steps on campus --- and also makes the need for a feature back clear. When the 2013 class steps on the field the only four-star, every down running back on the roster will be senior Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Michigan has offers out to eight other running backs right now. Three of them (Ty Isaac, Justin Davis, and Derrick Green) are in Rivals.com's top-100 and two more (Jordan Wilkins and Keith Ford) are in the top-250. The implications are clear: Brady Hoke wants a big time running back in 2013.
Finally, the last big hole is wide receiver. Michigan will look to most likely take three in this recruiting cycle and is in on some big names already. Check out DGDestroy's 2013 WR recruiting preview for more on the hunt there. Hint: The staff wants at least one big time receiver who can play early (Laquon Treadwell, come on down).
Defensively Michigan can now afford to be picky. With a safety and a cornerback already on board there is no rush to fill out either position. Michigan will likely take one or possibly two more cornerbacks, and the Wolverines are already in on some very highly rated players. The linebacker position has been addressed extensively over the past two years, but Michigan will most likely look to add one or two strongside linebackers, and again the focus is on premium talent. More depth on the defensive line is always welcome as Michigan will continue to be thin at the 1-tech defensive tackle position after the graduation of Will Campbell next year.
Michigan Has Reversed Recent Momentum
It is hard to say that Michigan had developed negative momentum after finishing 2012 with a consensus top-10 class that included two five-star linemen and the second most four-star recruits in the Big Ten, but recruiting is funny like that.
Michigan's 2012 class was --- much like the direction this one looks to be heading in --- almost completed before the start of the regular season. Of Michigan's 24 eventual 2012 signees, 20 of them had given verbal commitments before the middle of September (including the three decommits for a total of 23 players on board in August). Conversely, of Ohio State's 25 signees, 12 of them came on in the last two-and-a-half months before signing day and two-thirds of those were four-star prospects and above.
Recruiting, like anything involving a bunch of high school kids, is a fickle process prone to wild swings in momentum and emotion. Excitement builds because of a new coaching hire that is to be the savior of a program (both Hoke and Meyer apply). One schools gain is another loss. Recently it has seemed more and more like Michigan was losing steam.
Of course this is mostly a matter of perception. Michigan's mostly complete class didn't allow for a strong finish to the recruiting season --- although a few high profile misses hurt --- while Ohio State's abysmal start to the 2012 class played right into the idea of Urban Meyer as the Pied Piper of four-star Midwest talent.
Michigan's strong weekend has helped turn the tide and reestablish some positive momentum that had previously been Ohio State's. The Buckeyes not only closed out 2012 strong, but opened 2013 with a bang as well. Ohio State currently has four commits. One of whom is a five-star, two more of which are top-50 players to Rivals. The fourth is just a four-star ranked #130th by Rivals.com.
It was important for Michigan to reestablish itself in the 2013 cycle, and last weekend has done that in a big way. With the class beginning to fill up with premium talent it will be even easier for Michigan to sell itself as a prime destination while keeping legions of worrisome Wolverine fans from developing ulcers at the thought of Urban snagging another top-250 recruit.
Michigan's Big Picture Strategy is Paying Off
One of the more interesting contrasts in recruiting style between Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke isn't in regional preference but quality of offers.
The first thing anyone talks about when bringing up the recruiting strategy of Rich Rodriguez is how much he loved tiny Floridian recruits with dreadlocks and frail little bodies not capable of holding up to Big Ten play (or something, it all just blends together). While that is to a certain extent true --- Rodriguez did focus on Florida extensively --- he also seemed less likely to go after top talent. If this was a remnant of his years at West Virginia (a school with a lower recruiting profile) or simply a function of him knowing exactly what he was looking for be it five-star or three-star, it all led to the same outcome.
Hoke, on the other hand knows exactly what he wants: top ranked talent. It is the "this is Michigan, fergodsakes" ethos translated directly to the practice of recruiting. Hoke's early offers are heavily weighted toward the top prospects in the nation with a strong contingent of solid local and regional players. Look at the breakdown of offers in Rodriguez's first two years of full classes (2009, 2010) with Hoke's first full year (2012) and the beginning to 2013.
(All offer info courtesy of Rivals.com. *Only the top 250 recruits are rated, thus all un-ranked prospects are listed as three-stars.)
While the very top of the class is close in terms of five-stars offered (keep in mind small sample size), Hoke's 2012 class has nearly one and a half times the four-star offerees. In fact, Hoke's 2013 class has nearly surpassed the number of four-star offers that Rodriguez extended during each of his two full recruiting cycles, and it's only February. Hoke is clearly targeting more of the best talent in the nation while handing out three-star level offers more selectively.
So far this strategy is paying off in two ways:
- Michigan is building a strong Midwest recruiting presence. Seven of the eight recruits that committed this weekend are from the Midwest including three of the top players in Michigan, two of the top players in Ohio, and two of the top players from Illinois. This is to go along with a top prospect from Michigan (Morris) and Ohio (Thomas) that came on board last year. This follows a 2012 class that consisted of nine players from Michigan and nine players from Ohio. A Big Ten title team is primarily built on strong classes of Midwestern kids (especially Ohio and western PA). Michigan has already established itself as one of the premier destinations for top Midwest talent.
- Brady Hoke isn't afraid to go after the best talent in the country, and it is paying off. Chris Fox, an offensive tackle from Colorado and one of the top linemen in the country commented after his commitment that he knew for months that he wanted to be a Wolverine. That is the kind of attitude Brady Hoke wants to build in elite recruits, and judging by the strong interest by some of the best players in the nation he is doing just that. Michigan is extending offers to some of the best players in the country and doing it on a national level. Of Michigan's 86 offers:
33 are Midwest recruits (13 Ohio, 5 Pennsylvania, 6 Michigan)
53 are from outside the Midwest (11 Texas, 9 California, 6 Florida/Georgia)
Those offerees outside the Midwest include a long list with a substantial amount of interest in Michigan. I asked DGDestroys for a rundown of some of the top national recruits with heavy Michigan interest. This is what he gave me:
FL OT Laremy Tunsil- Michigan is in his top 5NC LB Peter Kalambayi- Michigan is in his top 4VA LB EJ Levenberry- Michigan is in his top 3VA LB Matt Rolin- Michigan is in his top 3MD CB Kendall Fuller- Michigan is in his top 8CA S/LB/RB Su'a Cravens- Claims he'll take an official to MichiganKY DE Jason Hatcher- Culminating ties w/ Michigan. Doesn't have a top list, but if he did, Michigan would probably be there.TX WR Marcell Ateman- Seems like he'll stay in the Big 12, but intrigued by his Michigan offerTX RB Keith Ford- Michigan may crack his top 5? We'll see how honest he was to Tremendous.MD DT Henry Poggi- Seems to be a UM/Bama race right now.AL DT Rod Crayton- Just on campus, has a Michigan offer, impressed by Hoke. We'll see how genuine his interest in UM is.AZ CB Priest Willis- Will likely visit Michigan in the near future.VA DB Tim Harris- UVA/VT race, but will take all 5 official visits, likely one to UM
Between a list like that and eight four-star commitments in one weekend, it isn't a stretch to say that Brady Hoke's recruiting strategy is paying big dividends. Michigan has its foot in the door with nearly all the Midwest's best players while still having the national profile to go after players from the big-three recruiting states (Florida, California, Texas), the east coast, and the southeast.
A Top-Three Class is Possible in 2013
Alright, so you caught me looking a ways into the future. The fact is that last weekend put Michigan in a good position to build one of the top classes in the nation. Michigan has already moved up to second in 247's team rankings, and once the other sites start releasing team lists (and in Scout.com's case, its full player rankings) it is safe to say Michigan will be right near the top with the usual suspects like Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, and Florida State. Michigan has three advantages it can use to keep itself in contention for a top-three finish in the 2013 recruiting cycle.
1. A Solid Base - Last year Michigan got off to a strong start with eleven commitments by the middle of May. However, those were all borderline 3/4-star guys whose Rivals.com average was 5.74. Four of them ended up as top-250 recruits to Rivals.com and not one would be a top-100 recruit (although Jenkins-Stone and Ross flirted with top-100 status early and Bolden made a late push).
The beginning of the 2013 class that is at the same number of total commits three months sooner includes ten players in the top-200, five of whom are top-100. The combined Rivals.com average is 5.88 for the ten that are currently rated, and even if you give unrated TE recruit Khalid Hill a 5.2 rating (two-star and very unlikely) the average still comes out to 5.82.
Michigan has a much stronger base of talent on which to build the rest of the 2013 class, and that could help the Wolverines finish with a much higher rated class across the board.
2. Good Players Want To Play With Good Players - One of the striking things about the 2013 recruiting cycle is just how active Michigan's headline recruit, borderline five-star quarterback Shane Morris, has been thus far. If you followed along on twitter Saturday night you saw almost as many tweets about 2013 recruiting from Morris as from regional scout Sam Webb and the MGoRecruiting Team of Ace and Tremendous (who are probably in line for SixZero's next Michigan centric webcomic with a name like that).
The presence of a high profile recruit early has a huge effect on the rest of the class. Not only is it one more mouthpiece singing the praises of Michigan (one that is just a short car ride from campus for as many unofficial visits as he feels like taking in Morris's case) but it is a draw for players with goals of winning Big Ten titles and competing for national titles. It is much easier for coaches to sell the direction of the program when other big name prospects are buying in.
3. The Midwest Is Loaded With High Level Talent - This is a good year for regional talent, especially in the state of Illinois. Ohio is normally a rich football state, but in the years that Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana also produce above normal levels it pushes the region as a whole to a different level and benefits the Big Ten as a whole. In some cases the overall depth isn't present, but at the top end there are quite a few very good Midwest prospects. Michigan could finish out its class with just players from those three states and still be a top-15 class. Add in the number of inroads Michigan has already made with national recruits and the sky is the limit.
The impact of last weekend's recruiting haul is going to be far reaching in the long run not just because of what it does to Michigan's class, but what it does to affect the way the Wolverines approach the rest of the 2013 recruiting cycle, and the ripple effects through the rest of the Big Ten.
While we will have an answer to what Michigan's win over Ohio State means in the next couple weeks, the effects of February 18th on the next half decade of Michigan football could be monumental.