The B1G 10: Jim Harbaugh poised to finally hit the elite level in recruiting at Michigan
Every Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten …
1. The B1G Story
This is when you know you’ve made a mark, when your program has moved into the high rent neighborhood of college football that is elite recruiting.
If all goes as expected later this week, Michigan will land a commitment from 5-star 2024 QB Jadyn Davis. He’ll sit behind a table at Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C., and declare for all things Maize and Blue.
And Michigan under coach Jim Harbaugh will have officially turned the corner.
While back-to-back Playoff appearances clearly indicate Michigan’s march toward the college football elite, nothing sustains that mark — at a more organic level — than landing a top 5 recruiting class along with it.
After the 2021 Playoff, Michigan landed the 12th-ranked recruiting class according to 247Sports composite rankings. After the 2022 Playoff, it dropped to No.19.
In fact, in 9 recruiting classes at Michigan, Harbaugh has landed 1 Top 5 class (2017) — which was followed by the No.22 class. That’s not how you win a national title.
There’s no secret to this thing, no magic formula that lifts a team to the top of the mountain. It’s as foundational and real as it gets.
Players win games. Elite players — top 5 recruiting classes — win national championships.
Phil Fulmer was the best recruiter in the SEC in the 1990s, and there was no better recruiter than Bobby Bowden. Butch Davis restocked Miami, Jim Tressel took back Ohio and Pete Carroll did the same in Los Angeles.
Mack Brown went from Coach February to collecting all the B-Bs at Texas and getting them back in the box — together, at last.
Urban Meyer declared recruiting was like shaving: If you don’t do it every day, it shows.
Then a guy named Saban showed up, and his top lieutenant, Kirby Smart, soon followed.
There are outliers to the tried and true formula, though Dabo Swinney (Clemson) and Gene Chizik (Auburn) used rare talent at the quarterback position to get there. So did Ed Orgeron at LSU (Joe Burrow) — along with a couple of Top 5 classes.
Michigan’s average recruiting class rank in Harbaugh’s 9 seasons is 15.2. How did he get to the Playoff with those numbers, you ask?
He has figured out how to beat Ohio State (more on that later), and the Big Ten champion, if it had no more than 1 loss, was almost guaranteed a place in the Playoff.
That doesn’t mean it’s always Playoff worthy — especially when playing teams with similar talent (TCU) or significantly more (Georgia).
2. The position, the statement
This is when championship teams are built, the slow, mundane spring to early summer months when elite high school juniors commit and zero in on preparing for their senior seasons.
Michigan currently has the No.3 class in the 247Sports composite, and the potential addition of Davis will not only strengthen the ranking, it gives Michigan an elite quarterback to recruit for Harbaugh over the critical spring and early summer months.
This is how it works in the world of big-time recruiting: Elite quarterbacks commit early, then do everything they can to recruit other elite players to join and build a “championship class.”
CJ Carr is recruiting for Notre Dame. DJ Lagway is a shining light despite some fairly uneasy times at Florida, which currently has the No.7 class.
When QB Dylan Raiola — the nation’s No.1 recruit — commits, he’ll help lead his school into the rare top 5 air. Nebraska, Georgia, Alabama and USC are among his top choices, and all would benefit greatly from his commitment.
Arch Manning, the No.1 player in the 2023 class, committed last June, and before the season began, Texas had built a top 5 class despite a 5-7 record in coach Steve Sarkisian’s 1st season. The Longhorns finished with the No.3 class.
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That’s where the Davis commitment enters the equation. It would not only be another 5-star QB recruit for Harbaugh, it would be a statement of stacking elite blue-chip quarterbacks on the roster despite the uncertainty of playing time.
Players see each other on recruiting visits; they talk extensively before, during and after visits. At times, they work together to build a class.
Landing Davis would go a long way toward Michigan securing its first top 5 class since 2017, the momentum of 2 Playoff appearances and high expectations for 2023 fuel for the next 3-4 critical recruiting months.
3. Recruiting is everything, The Epilogue
Think about this: Harbaugh has figured out how to beat Ohio State despite the Buckeyes having the clear recruiting (see: players) advantage.
Michigan’s recruiting ranking average over the last 4 classes is No. 14. In that same span, Ohio State has had Top 5 classes every single year.
But while Ohio State was recruiting quarterbacks and skill players to thrive in the pass-happy era of college football, Harbaugh was building an SEC team from the inside out. He focused on the lines of scrimmage (specifically, the defensive front), ran the ball, and delivered his “winning with character and cruelty.”
In a quarterback-driven sport, he won in 2021 with game manager Cade McNamara. Then JJ McCarthy won the job, and we saw what elite lines of scrimmage and an elite quarterback can be (the rout in Columbus).
The only thing that’s left is supplementing this plan, this philosophy, with a few blue-chip skill players to make McCarthy (or Davis in the future) more dangerous. Those will arrive if and after Davis commits.
And then the turn for Michigan will play out on the field.
4. The slog schedule process
The further Big Ten officials delve into a new schedule format, the more exposed is the reality of USC and UCLA alone on the West Coast.
Officials continue to work through format proposals — 3 permanent opponents and 6 rotating is still the likely choice — even though it could all be scrapped once a new commissioner is hired and if expansion is revisited.
Multiple Big Ten officials expressed concern about travel logistics with USC and UCLA, and earlier this month told Saturday Tradition that athletic scheduling/travel and academic “stress” for all student athletes at all member institutions (not just football players) must be addressed — and that USC and UCLA can’t be left “on a geographic island.”
The Big Ten and the SEC both will likely announce in May new schedule formats for their 16-team leagues in 2024. The Big Ten schedule could be reworked — and allow more flexibility for USC and UCLA — should the conference add 2 (Oregon, Washington) or more teams (Stanford, Cal) in expansion.
5. The Weekly 5
CJ Stroud is now the betting favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. The top 5 Big Ten picks:
1. QB CJ Stroud, Ohio State (-300): The No.1 QB on the board may be the cleanest quarterback — with the least questions — in the draft.
2. WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (-200): The No.1 WR in the draft didn’t run the fastest 40 (4.5), but his tape from 2021 is spectacular.
3. OL Paris Johnson, Ohio State (-125): The No.1 OT in the draft, but some teams have Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski rated higher.
4. TE Sam LaPorta, Iowa (+5,000): The No.4 TE in the draft is a likely Day 2 pick.
5. CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois (+175): The No.2 CB in the draft has passed Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. (No.3) and could be selected ahead of No.1 Christian Gonzalez of Oregon.
6. Your tape is your resume
An NFL scout analyzes a draft eligible Big Ten player. This week: C Joe Tippmann, Wisconsin.
“Smart guy who can grow into a big frame. He’s all of 6-6, which is a concern for some teams. The shorter quarterbacks get in our league, the more this becomes an issue. He has great reach, and is further along as a pass blocker than a run blocker. High football IQ will allow an easier transition. He reminds me of (Luke) Fortner with the Jaguars.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: With a 9-game Big Ten schedule beginning in 2024, the toughest 10th game for each team in 2024:
1. Michigan: Texas. May be the first true big non-conference game for Texas QB Arch Manning.
2. Ohio State: Western Michigan. The Buckeyes last month canceled a series with Washington to add a rent-a-win 8th home game TBD.
3. Penn State: at West Virginia. The annual rivalry ended in 1992, not long after Penn State joined the Big Ten.
4. Wisconsin: Alabama. Ohio State cancels a game with Washington to add an 8th home game, the Badgers add the king of college football.
5. Minnesota: North Carolina. The first-ever meeting between the teams.
6. Iowa: Iowa State. The annual rivalry increasingly looks like Iowa’s only Power 5 non-conference game through 2029.
7. Illinois: Kansas. The first meeting between the teams since 1968.
8. Purdue: Notre Dame. The once annual rivalry returns to West Lafayette for the first time since 2013.
9. Maryland: at Virginia. Former ACC rivals haven’t played since 2013, and Maryland has won 3 of the last 4 meetings.
10. Michigan State: at Boston College. 2 physical teams, 1 ugly rock fight.
11. Indiana: at Louisville. A critical non-conference game (and win for bowl eligibility) for both teams.
12. Nebraska: Colorado. The legendary Big 12 rivalry. Buffs won a home-and-home in 2018-19 by a combined 8 points.
13. Rutgers: at Virginia Tech. Former Big East rivals last played in a bowl game in 2013 (VT win), and prior to that in 2003 as members of the Big East.
14. Northwestern: Duke. The Blue Devils have won 4 in a row in the series.
15. USC: LSU (Las Vegas). 2 teams favored to make the Playoff playing in the first week of the season.
16. UCLA: at LSU. You’re reading this right. LSU plays both USC and UCLA in 2024.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: What’s your gut? Does Dylan Raiola choose Nebraska at the end of the day? — Shelly Fisher, Atlanta.
It’s easy to say new coach Matt Rhule’s offensive line coach and Raiola’s uncle, Donovan Raiola, will be the driving force. Don’t believe it. Dylan Raiola initially committed to Ohio State, and decommitted in December.
He’s wide open, and 3 of college football’s best recruiters — Kirby Smart (Georgia), Nick Saban (Alabama), Lincoln Riley (USC) — are on Raiola’s short list. But so is Nebraska, and he visited Lincoln again last weekend along with a few top 100 recruits.
The family connection will be important, and the best thing Nebraska has going for it. The pitch is fairly simple: do you want to build a new legacy at Nebraska, or follow others at Georgia and Alabama?
8.0. Penn State QB Sean Clifford’s average yards per pass attempt in 2022 was 8.0, more than a yard less than the high under coach James Franklin at Penn State (9.3 in 2016).
This is where former 5-star QB Drew Allar could make his biggest impact in Happy Valley: driving the ball to intermediate and deep throws. Clifford didn’t have the arm strength to consistently make those throws that extend and stress defenses.
10. Quote to note
Ohio State coach Ryan Day: “When we talk about where are the quarterbacks at, it’s hard to tell until you stack these days. One practice is one practice. Can you learn and grow from it?”