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Why Michigan doesn’t have more momentum on the recruiting trail

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Despite a 9-1 record and a top 10 ranking, recruiting is trending in the wrong direction.

Michigan v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

For all intents and purposes, Michigan’s 2021 football season has been a pleasant surprise. In the preseason, the over/under wins total was set at 7.5 at most places, which has been exceeded in just nine games. Michigan has notched impressive road wins at Wisconsin and Penn State and has shown the ability to adapt to a new defensive scheme quicker than anyone thought.

But right now, it doesn’t seem like this success has translated over to the recruiting trail at all. In fact, players are more often trending away to schools with less current and historical success than being attracted to Michigan. Let’s run down a few events that have fans following recruiting a little bummed:

Despite having a pair of future first round NFL draft picks with double-digit sacks, Michigan’s top EDGE target Joshua Josephs is trending away, with another planned visit to Tennessee this weekend and no plans to visit for the Ohio State game.

The Wolverines thought they found a JUCO player who they’d actually be able to get in four-star defensive lineman Jeffrey M’ba, but he had to cancel his planned official for The Game.

The other top defensive lineman left on Michigan’s board, Cass Tech four-star Deone Walker, will be taking an official visit to Georgia this weekend. Georgia currently has three top 100 defensive line commits, but one is getting Crystal Balled to flip to Florida State and the Bulldogs could be looking for a replacement. This is even before the news Kentucky has surged with Walker and has made this a coin flip instead of Michigan solidly leading.

Five-star cornerback Domani Jackson decommitted from USC after Michigan has been pursuing him heavily for years. But after one official visit to Alabama, NIL has become the forefront of his recruitment and predictions are rolling in for the Tide.

A pair of defensive backs committed to Michigan have been taking visits elsewhere. Four-star safety/nickel Kody Jones has taken an official to Illinois and multiple trips to Tennessee. Meanwhile, three-star Myles Pollard quietly took a visit to Auburn this past weekend.

To be fair, Michigan did just land four-star linebacker Jimmy Rolder on Tuesday over most of the Big Ten, and did get Walker on campus for the basketball game, which alleviates the pain a little bit.

Still, it’s understandably frustrating all this is occurring when Michigan is exceeding expectations for once and the main culprits stealing its juice are Tennessee and Kentucky, programs nowhere near Michigan on paper.

There are a few reasons why this could be happening. The first is that in order for Harbaugh to pull the program out of the tailspin they were heading toward in 2020, he had to overhaul most of his staff. That put them behind the eight-ball with this class, as many staffs have been on their targets longer and have been able to cultivate stronger bonds.

Prospects are also probably waiting to see if this new direction is going to produce results against Ohio State. While the big road wins helped change that narrative about Harbaugh’s teams a bit, they still lost to Michigan State again. It’s a huge question mark whether Michigan can finally get over the hump against Ohio State and until that happens, it’s hard to picture the program as one that can compete for conference championships and playoff berths. Even keeping it close this year instead of an embarrassing blowout like the last two games would be an improvement.

While it may have been too late to have an affect on the 2022 class, this season will play a larger role for prospects in 2023. By my count, Michigan has already hosted eight targets ranked in the top 100 by the 247Sports composite this season and has two new guys slated to visit for The Game.

Finishing strong this season will help carry the momentum into the offseason and could help Michigan build a 2023 class that reflects the performance on the field.