One would think that a Big Ten-title winner wouldn’t have too much trouble on the recruiting trail, especially when that team is Michigan — one of the most iconic and well-known programs in college football. However, the 2023 cycle has been anything but easy for Michigan, despite coming off a win against Ohio State and appearing in the College Football Playoff.

Last week, 4-star LB Raylen Wilson stepped away from his commitment, citing his desire to explore other options. Wilson was UM’s highest-ranked commit, so that one stings a bit. But there’s more: 5-star in-state QB Dante Moore isn’t joining the Wolverines, and neither is 5-star QB CJ Carr, the grandson of former UM coach Lloyd Carr.

Joel Starling, a 4-star DL commit, reconsidered his pledge to Michigan, and so did 4-star TE Andrew Rappleyea.

Transfers have been common during the Jim Harbaugh-era in Ann Arbor, but this recent trend of decommits is something new — and it’s likely connected to thoughts of stability. What high-end player wants to commit to a school, only for the coach to entertain other job offers at the end of every season? Or, if not “entertaining,” they’re at least mentioned for other positions following each season.

That has been the norm for Harbaugh, who interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings during the offseason, only to return to Michigan. He’s done the contract restructuring thing, he’s said things to make people believe he’ll stay at Michigan for years to come — but it doesn’t seem like the blue-chips are buying into that song and dance, hence the number of decommitments and swings-and-misses when it comes to the nation’s top talent.

Detroit 5-star QB Dante Moore is scheduled to announce his college choice at noon (ET) Friday on ESPN, but he isn’t projected to pick Michigan. Most analysts have him headed to Oregon. Moore is first 5-star QB the state has produced this century and is the highest-rated QB recruit from Michigan since Shane Morris, a 4-star in the 2013 class who picked the Wolverines.

As of now, the Wolverines don’t even have a top-50 class, let alone top-10 or top-15, as originally anticipated. Maryland is out-recruiting Michigan — and so are Illinois, Northwestern and Nebraska. Michigan State is currently at No. 22 in the nation, while Purdue sits at No. 20. Of course, Ohio State, as usual, is raking in all sorts of treasures from the recruiting pool.

But where is Michigan?

The Wolverines are at No. 53, per 247Sports’ most recent composite rankings.

Michigan has 8 commits, with in-state 4-star RB Cole Cabana topping the charts. The Wolverines are still in the running for 4-star in-state OL Amir Herring, but most of the Mitten’s top stars aren’t even looking at UM. Cincinnati, an up-and-comer, has 3 of the top 11 players from Michigan. …

Yeah, something is wrong with this picture.

Harbaugh’s desire to coach in the NFL has seemingly come back to bite him in the end. There is no other logical explanation for the current state of UM recruiting.

Out of the top 29 prospects in the state, Michigan has commitments from just 3, with interest from a fourth in Herring.

During the 2022 cycle, Michigan pulled just 2 of the state’s top recruits, the No. 1-ranked prospect Will Johnson, a 5-star CB; and 3-star DL Joey Klunder.

While Michigan has set its focus on other, higher-profile states, it should still have a solid grasp on its own backyard — which isn’t the case these days.

It doesn’t take an expert to see what’s happening: Michigan’s recruiting simply isn’t as effective as it was during Harbaugh’s earlier years, when he routinely secured solid classes:

  • 2016: No. 7-ranked class
  • 2017: No. 5
  • 2018: No. 22
  • 2019: No. 10
  • 2020: No. 12
  • 2021: No. 13 (including 5-star QB JJ McCarthy)
  • 2022: No. 9 (including Johnson)

Star rankings have never really mattered to Michigan, but the rankings are there for a reason — they identify the top-rated prospects. Development has been a hallmark for the Wolverines’ coaching staff, but let’s face it: lack of high-end commits, or even being seriously considered by them, has been bad for optics.

Harbaugh has been mentioned for NFL jobs for roughly the past 3 or 4 years, so last year was nothing new … in a sense. The only difference was that he actually went public with plans to interview and then returned to Ann Arbor, only to practice a little PR damage control while trying to piece together future classes for what it is now the defending Big Ten-champion.

Does the slow progress in recruiting have something to do with the NIL landscape? Of course. But every team has to deal with that part of the game. One of the main differences is that other coaches weren’t having side talks with NFL teams — so that must be what’s ailing Harbaugh’s Wolverines, right?

If you have a better explanation, let’s hear it.