Michigan's rough recruiting morning a reminder of Jim Harbaugh's reality

ANN ARBOR, MICH. - As far as recruiting stretches go, Michigan had as rough a 15-minute period Wednesday morning.

The Wolverines watched as 5-star offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, a player they offered before anyone else, picked Ohio State. Then less than 15 minutes later they watched linebacker Otis Reese, who had been committed to Michigan for 18 months, sign with Georgia. 

You don't get to go 8-5 and pretend like it never happened. 

More U-M football news:

Meet the Wolverines' 2018 recruiting class

Jim Harbaugh impressed by RPO impact in Super Bowl, will study film

Wednesday morning was not some new revelation that Jim Harbaugh's football program lost ground in 2017 and has a lot of work ahead. 

It was a reminder. 

Michigan's 2018 recruiting class started out more than fine. By the time the 2017 season began, the Wolverine had 11 solid commitments from players who appeared to be the backbone of what was always going to be a smaller class. Michigan signed 56 players from 2016-17 and the bulk of that group, which featured three 5-stars and 31 4-stars, will be back next season.

There wasn't going to be a ton of room in the 2018 class for Michigan, but there still were opportunities to finish off a strong start with some elite prospects. 

Michigan indeed had those opportunities. And it whiffed on all of them. 

The Wolverines hosted Petit-Frere for an on-campus visit for their game against Ohio State on Nov. 25. Michigan had recruited the country's top-rated offensive tackle longer than any team in America, offering him in the fall of 2015 — Harbaugh's first season. 

Petit-Frere watched Michigan lose to the Buckeyes that day. A month later, the Wolverines set up shop at his high school in Tampa, Fla. for a week in preparation for the Outback Bowl. He watched them lose that, too. 

And Wednesday, Michigan watched itself lose one of the country's best players to its biggest rival. 

Back in November, when it had Petit-Frere on campus for the OSU game, Michigan hosted 5-star defensive end Eyabi Anoma, 4-star defensive end Tyler Friday, 4-star athlete Talanoa Hufanga, 3-star tight end Tommy Tremble, 4-star defensive end Jayson Oweh and 4-star receiver JaMarr Chase.

Those players signed with Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Notre Dame and Penn State, respectively. Chase was still up in the air as of Wednesday morning, but Michigan has reportedly been out of the running for some time. 

Reese committed in the summer of 2016, but he wavered in his commitment as Michigan struggled and 2017 wore on. He took three unofficial visits to Georgia during the season. Georgia was in the process of putting together a phenomenal year that wrapped up with an appearance in the College Football Playoff championship. Michigan was in the process of losing to both its rivals — Michigan State and Ohio State — and closing the year on a three-game losing skid.

Not exactly a shocker how things turned out. 

After signing heralded classes in 2016 and 2017, Michigan's going to wrap up its 2018 cycle without a player ranked in the top 100 in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Linebacker Cameron McGrone is a 5-star recruit via 247's rankings, but not the 247 Composite. Michigan still had a top-20 class as of late morning. With signatures from 3-star prospects Vincent Gray and Michael Barrett, the Wolverines' class includes 19 players.

Those numbers don't mean everything, but they shouldn't be dismissed, either. 

When a school makes a splash hire, like Michigan did with Harbaugh in December 2014, that coach's first two full signing classes can be built on name and opportunity alone. By the time his third class rolls around, and 2018 was Harbaugh's third, results have to show up. 

That didn't happen for Michigan this past season. You can roll out every excuse in the book and the answer will remain the same. The quarterbacks were hurt, the team was young, the Big Ten East is tough. 

But 8-5 is 8-5.

And when you're in the business of trying to reel in big fish late in the process, you'd better be able to sell something other than hope if you want to hang out in the deep end of the pond with the likes of Ohio State, Alabama and now Georgia.

Harbaugh's job was difficult when he got here and it remains difficult today. You can keep moving the goal posts if you want, but reality's still reality. Michigan's no closer to Ohio State than it was when Harbaugh took this job. And the distance between the Wolverines and a league title still appears to be sizable.

Michigan's off to a fine start with its 2019 recruiting class, a group that already features 5-star lineman Christopher Hinton and two top-70 players in defensive end Stephen Herron and Noah Rumler.

But recruiting's not about how you start, it's about how you finish.

And those 15 minutes said plenty.

Contact Nick Baumgardner: nbaumgardn@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter:  @nickbaumgardner.

© 2018 Detroit Free Press


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment