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How Michigan’s 2018 recruiting class overcame all odds to drive a Big Ten Championship team

Jim Harbaugh’s lowest-ranked class turned into the backbone of his best team at Michigan.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Iowa vs Michigan Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 football season was one to forget for Michigan football. A poor quarterback situation led to a lackluster offense and the solid defense Michigan fielded could only do so much. The result was an 8-5 record, which was a disappointment following back-to-back 10-win seasons under Jim Harbaugh.

Michigan’s recruiting class reflected that mediocre season on paper. As the cycle went on, Michigan was unable to close on a number of high-profile targets and finished with a class ranked No. 22 nationally. This was a far cry from the top 10 classes Harbaugh collected his first two full cycles and caused much consternation and concern from the fanbase.

However, following Michigan’s unexpected ascent to Big Ten champions this year, it’s become clear members of the 2018 class became the backbone of this team and proved it easily outplayed its ranking.

One of the biggest issues of the 2018 class was the lack of blue chips. There were seven four-stars, none ranked in the top 100, compared to 13 three-stars.

The highest ranked player is someone who has proven he was still ranked too low. Aidan Hutchinson ended up at No. 112 at the composite and wasn’t even ranked that high for most of the cycle. Hutchinson was outside the top 200 until the very end of January, thanks to his performance at the All-American Bowl.

The only other blue chipper who has helped Michigan this season is the left tackle, Ryan Hayes, who was right on the borderline of four-star status, out of the 376 four-stars in the 2018 class, he was ranked No. 335.

Two other four-stars in the class were positive contributors to Michigan, but left for the NFL before this season. Linebacker Cameron McGrone was second to Hutchinson in the rankings, and was drafted in the fifth round. Jalen Mayfield was the sixth-highest ranked player and was a third round draft pick last spring.

The remaining three four-stars did not do much wearing the winged helmet. Joe Milton was the starting quarterback for the disastrous 2020 pandemic season before getting benched for Cade McNamara. He transferred to Tennessee, where he began the season as the starter before being benched again. Tight end Mustapha Muhammad was dismissed from the team after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct, and cornerback Myles Sims never saw the field and transferred to Georgia Tech.

To find the real meat of the class, you have to start at the bottom. Coming in last, we have unranked Jake Moody, who went 22-for-24 on field goals this year en route to the Big Ten Kicker of the Year award.

Next to last we have Ronnie Bell, who was a late flier set to play basketball at Missouri State before Michigan swooped in at the last minute. Bell was set to be the team’s No. 1 receiver this season before tearing his ACL in the opener. While he wasn’t able to contribute on the field, he has served as the heartbeat of the team and helped set the culture that has led to this success.

Skipping over German Green for the moment, we arrive at Hassan Haskins at fourth to last on the list and just inside the top 1,000 at No. 975. Not much has to be said about how big of an impact Haskins has made on this season. First-Team All Big Ten, record for most touchdowns in a season at Michigan, five touchdowns against Ohio State, you get it.

That’s three out of the bottom four players in the class who have had success that exceeded even the most wild expectations based on their recruiting profiles.

Moving up the list again, we have a handful of more solid contributors and another starter. Tight end Luke Schoonmaker out of Connecticut caught two touchdowns against Indiana this year and had a great one-handed grab against Iowa in the championship game. After the Viper position was basically eliminated from Michigan’s defense, Michael Barrett came on late in the season to earn much more playing time and also threw a dime on their kickoff return throwback against Maryland. Julius Welschof and Taylor Upshaw both rotate along the defensive line.

The final two contributors from this class were Michigan’s starting cornerbacks to start the year, Gemon Green and Vincent Gray. After getting torched in the Michigan State game last season, Gray has had a stunning turnaround under the tutelage of Steve Clinkscale and has proved to be a reliable corner. Green emerged as a bright spot in 2020 but ceded time to DJ Turner as this year went on.

The remaining players left in the class either transferred out or have yet to contribute. Ben VanSumeren and Christian Turner transferred to Michigan State and Wake Forest, respectively, last offseason. Defensive backs German Green and Sammy Faustin are still around but down the depth chart.

When you add up the impact players in this class have had on this Big Ten Championship season and it’s clear they’ve outperformed expectations by leaps and bounds. Comparing it to the much higher ranked 2017 class, and there’s an argument you would take this group of three-stars and plan Bs over the top-100 blue chips the year before.