Part of our expanded coverage of recruiting on BSD is looking into where our peers and competitors stand, and, by extension, how that may or may not impact Penn State on the recruiting trail.
In the first in what looks to be a series of posts, we decided to start at the top with what is unarguably the Big Ten's best 2013 recruiting class so far, the Michigan Wolverines. MGoBlog's Ace was gracious enough to answer some of our questions on where Michigan stands on the recruiting trail, and where he thinks they should go from here.
BSD: What are your overall feelings of the 2013 class so far? I'm thinking they're pretty positive.
Ace: I was guardedly optimistic about the 2013 class after seeing what Hoke managed to pull together in his first full class, but I don’t think anybody expected this. Not only is the staff reeling in a class that will almost certainly finish in the top five nationally, they’re hitting every position of need, bringing in high-character guys, and generating a ton of positive buzz around the program. I never thought I’d see Michigan pull off Texas-style (or video game-style) recruiting, if for no other reason than the fact that the state doesn’t produce nearly that level of football talent, but Hoke is doing some serious work in the Midwest—15 of the 16 commits are from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, or Pennsylvania.
Yes, I’m feeling pretty positive, especially since Michigan is still in on a large number of blue-chip recruits. They can afford to be rather picky at this juncture, which is absolutely insane considering it’s still March.
What areas/position groups do you think are most important for the 2013 class? How is the class measuring up to this so far?
Quarterback was perhaps the biggest position of need, and potential five-star Shane Morris has been in the fold since last spring. Despite a strong group in the 2012 class, offensive line numbers depth is still an issue, and five four-star linemen are in the fold. A blue-chip running back was needed, and they brought in an every-down back in DeVeon Smith, a bulldozer in Wyatt Shallman, and are still very much in the race—quite possibly the favorite—for Ty Isaac. Tight end may be the weakest position group on the roster, and there are two commits to go along with two more from last year’s class. With the class already 2/3 full, the team is running out of needs to address.
There are still a couple, though. Michigan isn’t deep at wide receiver and need probably two more in the class to go along with Jaron Dukes, who’s a big target but not a burner. Laquon Treadwell might just be the most important prospect left on the board, and if the Wolverines can get him, they’ll likely go after a speedy slot guy—AZ WR Devon Allen is a top target—to complement him. They need help on the defensive line as well, especially on the interior—Henry Poggi is the big name being thrown out there. Other than that, Michigan has mostly taken care of the big holes on the roster.
What recruit in the 2013 class are you most excited about and why?
The obvious answer is Morris, who’s the highest-rated guy across the board. I’ve seen him a few times in person, and the kid can really play—he’s got a cannon for an arm and solid athleticism to boot. He’s expected to be a future superstar, and he’s certainly got all the tools to do so.
For a guy who’s flown more under the radar, I like cornerback Jourdan Lewis out of Detroit Cass Tech. CT won the state title last season and I watched them play three times; in each game, I thought Lewis was the best player on the team, and he was playing with a pair of All-Americans and 2012 commits in CB Terry Richardson and LB Royce Jenkins-Stone. He’s very athletic, smooth in his movement, and great at playing the ball in the air. He could also factor in as a returner, as well, and I think he’s got more upside on defense than most of the corners Michigan has landed in recent years.
Why do you think Hoke has been so successful in recruiting since he took over, especially for this upcoming recruiting class?
Every commit I’ve spoken to has mentioned two things about not just Hoke, but the entire coaching staff. The first is that they treat everyone in the program—right down to the trainers, student managers, and academic staff—like family. I haven’t heard an ill word spoken about Hoke since he took the job, and that wasn’t exactly the case under Rich Rodriguez. Secondly, the recruits all talk about how this staff is honest, forthright, and not in the business of showering unnecessary praise on anybody. This staff keeps it real, and the recruits—and their families—really appreciate that.
While it sounds, for lack of a better term, hokey, it’s also tough to underestimate the impact of Hoke’s absolutely genuine love for Michigan. When he took the job, he said he would’ve walked from San Diego and coached here for free, and I absolutely believe him to the extent that anyone can believe such a thing. Greg Mattison came over to be defensive coordinator from the same job with the Baltimore Ravens, saying that Hoke was the only coach for whom he’d do that. There’s a reason for that—Hoke makes you want to be at Michigan.
Do you think Hoke will be able to maintain this momentum? Why or why not?
I don’t know if Michigan will have the top class in the country all the way through signing day, simply because Alabama exists—as do Texas, LSU, and (sigh) Ohio State—but I expect this class will easily finish in the top five after filling out with some big-time prospects. Going forward, I think Hoke has set up a very sustainable foundation for future recruiting (and on-field) success; it’s all about the team, being a part of the tradition and academic culture of Michigan, and continuing the tradition of on- and off-field success. Add in the fact that AD Dave Brandon is willing to schedule night games and even let the team wear alternate uniforms—which rankles the blue-hairs to no end, but also draws the attention of recruits—and I think Michigan will be battling with Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes for the Big Ten’s top-ranked class for years to come.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest difference in recruiting between the current staff and Rich Rod's staff? What about vs Lloyd Carr's staff?
Rodriguez recruited for his system, and with the spread that meant taking a fair amount of guys—many of them three-stars—who didn’t fit the more traditional mold for players at their positions. This worked incredibly well with, say, Denard Robinson, but not as much elsewhere. Rodriguez also focused a lot on the skill positions, seemingly to the detriment of the lines—there are now major depth issues at both OL and DL, and only some of that can be attributed to attrition. Hoke’s focus falls more in line with what the recruiting services value—Michigan is looking to go to more of a pro-style offense post-Denard—and he’s also put a ton of emphasis on improving in the trenches.
As for Carr, I didn’t follow recruiting as closely when he coached, but thus far Hoke has honed in even more on the Midwest. I also think Hoke is a more natural recruiter than Carr—his personality just fits that part of the job better.
When the 2012 class was signed and Meyer had flipped some other B1G recruits, much was made of the so-called "Gentleman's Agreement" in the Big Ten. What are your feelings on this? Do you think it has had any impact on Michigan's recruiting, in the past or present?
The whole "Gentleman’s Agreement" thing is utter BS. Michigan has made it a bit of a tradition to poach one of Purdue’s best recruits near signing day over the past several years, and the coaching staff knows that nothing is official until a player faxes in his LOI. I have no problem with any team recruiting committed players if they’re open to being recruited; it’s important to remember that this should be about finding the best place for these high school student-athletes to play and go to school, and if they find a better fit, good for them.
Hoke has a policy to help safeguard the team against decommitments: once a player commits, he can’t take official visits to other schools unless he wants to give up his spot. This happened with TE Pharaoh Brown last year, who visited Oregon without telling the coaches and subsequently wasn’t a part of the class, even though the need at tight end was dire. The players are aware of this before they make their commitment, so they know the deal before they make the pledge. I think if more schools instituted similar policies, fewer guys would jump ship late in the process.
What class of '12 or '13 players do you think will have the most impact when our two schools next meet up, in 2013?
2012 NT Ondre Pipkins was one of the biggest risers in last year's class, going all the way from a three-star to a five-star on Rivals and performing well in the Army All-American game. Michigan is playing senior Will Campbell at the nose this year, but Pipkins should push for playing time as a freshman and is the obvious candidate to start in 2013.
The other guy I could see making a big impact by 2013 is another '12 recruit, linebacker Joe Bolden. He was an Under Armour All-American this year and enrolled in school early; he's got a good shot at backing up senior Kenny Demens at MLB this season. By 2013, he should also be starting, and he's got the size and instincts to excel.
A few of our targeted players overlap. There are some we've recruited where we have virtually no shot, and others where both teams are in play. Where do you think Michigan stands on players such as Robert Foster, Henry Poggi, Derrick Green, or Greg Webb?
Of those four players, I think most recruitniks would agree that Michigan has by far the best shot at Poggi, who's already been on campus three times—Wolverine fans feel quite good about that one, and they should. Michigan's also in decent position for Webb, as he's visiting campus for the Spring Game in a couple weeks and speaks highly of the program. This staff has made some big moves during unofficial visits, so we'll see where Webb stands after his.
Green had a great visit to Ann Arbor a couple weekends ago, but Ty Isaac is the clear #1 priority at running back. Isaac sounds like he's going to try to get his recruitment over with before his senior season, while Green maintains he's not making a choice until signing day; if that's the case, I highly doubt Green has a spot in this class. As for Foster, he's a longshot at best; Michigan is focusing more on Laquon Treadwell, for whom they appear to lead.
And lastly, is there anything else you would want to add about the current state of Michigan recruiting?
Thanks again to Ace for the insight! For more info on Michigan football, recruiting, and anything else you could possibly want to know about the Maize and Blue, visit www.mgoblog.com or follow Ace on twitter at @AceAnbender.