Michigan recruiting taking a step back


ANN ARBOR — In 2016 and 2017, Jim Harbaugh and a group of sleep-deprived assistant coaches who mined every corner of the country for elite talent — Connecticut, New Mexico, Indiana, Iowa, Alabama, Rhode Island — cobbled together recruiting classes that can win national championships.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh hasn't signed a five-star recruit for this year's class, but a pair of remaining wild cards could reshape the Wolverines' 2018 class.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh hasn't signed a five-star recruit for this year's class, but a pair of remaining wild cards could reshape the Wolverines' 2018 class.

Michigan signed 31 four-star prospects and four five-stars in back-to-back classes, providing the foundation for a team worthy of national aspirations. But the 2018 class, which will become official Wednesday during the recruiting cycle’s second national signing day, is devoid of the blue-chip players that are a prerequisite for the College Football Playoff.

The Wolverines have zero five-stars and just eight four-stars, a surprisingly low number for a blue-blood program with a head coach who carries significant cache on the recruiting trail. Meanwhile, Big Ten East Division brethren Ohio State and Penn State have two of the nation’s best classes.

Michigan’s class is ranked No. 14 by ESPN and No. 17 by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com. Perhaps the most frequent criticism of Harbaugh and Co. is their penchant for taking projects, or players who are unheralded but could develop into stars.

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There are 11 three-stars and one two-star prospect among Michigan’s current 20 commitments. A majority of those players could be defined as diamonds in the rough, players who had few other Division I offers.

Before receiving an offer from Michigan, two-star receiver Ronnie Bell was committed to Missouri State ... for basketball. Three-star defensive end Julius Welschof is Michigan’s first player from Europe. The German previously was committed to Georgia Tech before UM flipped him during the December signing period. Three-star running back Hassan Haskins, a Missouri native, was leaning toward Wyoming before Michigan surprised him with an offer. Haskins also had offers from Indiana State, Eastern Michigan, New Mexico, and Western Kentucky, among others.

“I think they have always taken some kids who did not have big offer lists but they evaluated as contributors,” said Allen Trieu, a recruiting analyst for 247Sports. “Sean McKeon, Benjamin St. Juste, and others come to mind. I think maybe the fans have been more exasperated by it this year because there wasn't a big Rashan Gary or Aubrey Solomon kind of get late in the class, so it seems like Michigan is taking sleepers to fill spots.”

Coaches aren’t going to lose sleep over a top-20 class — top 15, according to some. And there are two wild cards that could make Wednesday night’s dinner taste sweeter.

Four-star linebacker Otis Reese is a longtime Michigan commit, but the Georgia native’s flirtations with his home state school have left many wondering if he’ll flip to the Bulldogs.

Five-star offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere remains the big fish who hasn’t been hooked. The Wolverines practiced at his high school, Berkeley Prep in Tampa, before the Outback Bowl, and Petit-Frere was in attendance. The 6-foot-6, 272-pounder’s offers list reads like a who’s who of college football — Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida.

Hanging on to Reese, one of the nation’s top linebackers, and securing the commitment of Petit-Frere, who could start as a true freshman, would paint a sunny portrait of a class that’s more Joe Btfsplk, with a rain cloud muddying the proceedings.

Contact Kyle Rowland at: krowland@theblade.com, 419-724-6110, or on Twitter @KyleRowland.