In 2007 when Mike Hart made his infamous little brother comments in the press conference after he helped Michigan knock off the Spartans for the seventh time in eight years, recruits in the class of 2019 were in first grade.
After that, we all know what came next.
Pride comes before the fall, Joe Bolden driving the stake into their field, the trouble with the snap. All of that resulted in a 2-8 record against Michigan State over the next decade.
There’s been plenty of consternation over in-state players like Devontae Dobbs, Logan Brown and Julian Barnett this cycle. Three top-100 players, none of them committed to Michigan. Fans wonder how they could possibly choose any school other than Michigan, the school with the most wins in college football history and a historically dominant record over their in-state rival.
Well, when you look at that 2-8 record, you have your answer. The fact is these players never experienced Michigan being the prominent program in their home state. Why would they listen to all of the history and stories of games that happened before they were born, when they saw Michigan State handing out embarrassing losses every year? They’re thinking about their future, not the past, and when they go back to their small hometowns, they want to be able to say they were on the winning side.
But with Saturday’s victory, Michigan is starting its own stretch. They’ve won two out of the last three, with only a once in a lifetime play keeping that from being three out of four. As Michigan starts winning consistently again, its turning the tide back in its favor in the eyes of young prospects.
In the short term, a large handful of recruits were on the sidelines to witness Michigan claim a commanding victory in East Lansing. Several of them were on the sidelines in Ann Arbor last week, which means they got to see Michigan crush two ranked teams in back to back weeks. These games stick in their memories, and undoubtedly create a favorable impression of the Wolverines, at the expense of the Spartans.
This two-week stretch of games silenced so many narratives about Harbaugh and his record against teams ranked in the top 15, ranked teams on the road, against rivals and on and on. These seemingly incessant #hottakes from so many media members seep into these young men who are consuming it all. Over time, without realizing it, these narratives can become internalized, and before long that’s the prevailing opinion. But Harbaugh has stymied those opinions, at least briefly, and is laying out his own evidence to the contrary on the field.
And that’s the benefit in the long-term. If the team can keep this success going, Michigan will once again return to the days of being the unquestioned power program in the state. They’ll be in contention for conference titles and playoff berths.
Future recruits will grow up wanting to be a part of the program they can brag about when they go back to their divided towns. The team people reverently say “ooh” about when they tell them where they play football. That stuff is small and stupid compared to the thousand other factors that go into making a college decision, but it means something to these players choosing between two schools in their state, hiding in the back of their minds.
If this success continues and spreads to other games, most notably The Game, that attitude will extend even further across the country. Harbaugh has recruited well during his Michigan tenure, but he can reach another level. Keep winning games like this, and that level will be attained sooner rather than later.