Kirk Herbstreit praises Michigan's turnaround, 'excited' for program's future
If there were some that still believed Kirk Herbstreit was an Ohio State homer, his comments on Michigan football probably came as a surprise.
The ESPN college football analyst joined a conference call on Thursday to discuss the College Football Playoff National Championship. Of course, the conversation shifted to B1G topics.
Herbstreit was asked about the Wolverines doubling their win total in the first year of the Jim Harbaugh era and what this team is capable of in the future. What the 2015 squad accomplished, Herbstreit said, laid the foundation for Michigan to build itself back into a national power.
“The team (Harbaugh) inherited is what it is, it should be a team Michigan fans remember for a long time as, hopefully, a turning point for their program,” Herbstreit said.
Harbaugh’s first real recruiting class is what Herbstreit feels will lift the program back to national prominence. Michigan got one of the great single-season quarterback efforts in program history out of graduate transfer Jake Rudock, who became the second Wolverine quarterback ever throw for 3,000 yards.
The quality of Rudock’s replacement at quarterback is what Herbstreit said could determine Michigan’s ceiling. Houston transfer John O’Korn, who went to the same high school as Rudock, could be the leader of the competition after sitting out the 2015 season because of transfer rules. Shane Morris, Wilton Speight and true freshman Brandon Peters could also be in the mix.
But whoever starts at quarterback, Herbstreit said Harbaugh will have plenty of incoming talent to build around.
“In my opinion, (Harbaugh) is going to recruit quarterbacks, he’s going to recruit offensive linemen, he’s going to recruit running backs and receivers that are going to fit in his philosophy better,” Herbstreit said. “I’m not trying to take anything away from what those players did (this year), but I think you’ll see the talent level in Ann Arbor continue to climb year after year after year with his recruiting efforts, because offensive players are going to want to play for him and they’re going to want to play in his system.”
Harbaugh’s fourth-ranked 2016 class is already evidence of that.
Herbstreit didn’t want to put a timeline as to when Michigan would be back competing for national titles. But he did throw out a reminder that the 2015 group wasn’t that far off.
“They’re already kind of where they need to be as far as competing for a Big Ten championship,” Herbstreit said. “Think about it. If Ohio State beats Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan are playing for the right to get to the Big Ten championship game. So they’re already right there.”
The two teams Michigan looked up at in the B1G East both will have to reload at key positions. Ohio State lost nine underclassmen to the NFL draft while Michigan State graduated first-team All-B1G selections Connor Cook, Shilique Calhoun and Aaron Burbridge.
Michigan, on the other hand, didn’t have any underclassmen declare for the NFL draft. All-B1G players like Jake Butt and Jourdan Lewis will be back to lead the Wolverines in 2016.
It remains to be seen whether or not Michigan’s returning talent will surpass the fresh faces in Columbus and East Lansing. But like Herbstreit predicted, 2015 at least proved that the Wolverines are back in the conversation.
“I was as excited as anybody could be outside the Michigan fan base, just because I knew what this meant for the Michigan program, for the Big Ten to get one of your key members back up to where they belong,” he said. “I knew it was just a matter of time.”