"East Lansing's Big Ten Team" Doesn't Have The Same Allure, For Some Reason
It's been a quiet week, relatively speaking, for Michigan recruiting, so today's roundup kicks off with an update on the program making a serious run for the #3 spot in the Big Ten recruiting rankings: Northwestern.
Yes, you read that right.
No, seriously, you read that right.
The Wildcats built upon their on-field success under Pat Fitzgerald with a solid recruiting class in 2013, landing consensus four-star QB Matt Alviti, underrated RB Godwin Igwebuike, and a solid group of three-stars—not just Midwest kids, either, with signees hailing from Texas (3), California (3), Florida, and New Jersey.
On the heels of a ten-win season and their first bowl win in 63 years, Northwestern is now poised to put together their best recruiting class in... ever? The Wildcats have already hauled in another four-star signal-caller, Clayton Thorson, giving Northwestern future four-star depth at quarterback, a position where they've already managed to turn an array of middling recruits with varying levels of scrambling ability into competent (at the very least) conductors of their up-tempo spread in recent years. Now the Wildcats have jumped up to 19th(!) in the 247 Composite Team Rankings after reeling in MI OL Tommy Doles and OH ATH Dareian Watkins in the last week.
Doles, of course, was long thought to be a heavy Michigan lean—I lost count of the number of times the Grand Rapids Christian product has been on campus in the last year. Given his other offers—Army, Air Force, Iowa State, and Northwestern—and the fact that he seemed on the verge of committing for months, it appears Doles' choice has as much to do with Michigan backing off as Northwestern coming on strong; regardless, the Wolverines should be fine when it comes to O-line recruiting, and the academic-minded Doles found a great fit from an on- and off-field perspective in Evanston.
Watkins, who announced his choice this morning, is the more interesting example of a prospect choosing the Wildcats over several Big Ten (and beyond) options previously thought to be more desirable. Michigan State was his other finalist, and he also held offers from Illinois, Iowa, Louisville, Maryland, NC State, Penn State, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, among others. When Watkins' father explained his choice, Northwestern's academics were cited as a huge reason for the commitment, but the football reasons played a large role as well ($) [emphasis mine]:
"We're all very very excited about the chance to go to Northwestern. We think it's not just an amazing academic opportunity, but an amazing football opportunity. The academics overshadow the football part sometimes, but Coach Fitz has turned the program around. They were 10-3 last year, won the Gator Bowl against an SEC football team, and he was 2-0 against the SEC last year. We think it's undervalued what they are as a football program. As much he chose a life path, he's also very competitive. He wants to be part of a Big Ten Championship and compete for national championships and we think that can be done at Northwestern."
We'll, um, see about the national championships, but there's no question Fitzgerald has put the program in a position to contend for conference titles.
Unlike me, Brian is willing to wade into the shallow end* of the RCMB, and he passed along this glorious response to the usual unhinged ranting following Watkins pledging to Not Michigan State:
*There is no deep end, thankfully. It's actually an inflatable kiddie pool filled with horse manure.
[For the rest of the roundup, including updates on Jamarco Jones, Clifton Garrett, and Jae'Sean Tate, hit THE JUMP.]
There will be a more complete roundup later in the week as scouting reports continue to come in from the Rivals and Nike camps held in Chicago over the weekend, but today we got updates on a couple of Michigan's receiver commits. First, TomVH ranks Drake Harris sixth on his list of standout performers from the Chicago NFTC ($):
The Michigan commit had a great day, especially in one-on-ones and skeleton drills showing off his hands. Harris has the ability to make catches in traffic and can play physical enough to show off his skills in this type of environment.
He isn't the fastest guy on the field but makes up for it with his route running and ability to hang on to the ball with a defender in his pocket.
Harris was one of only two wide receivers to earn an invite to The Opening on the day.
The Opening, for those unfamiliar, is Nike's elite invite-only camp, which are all the rage these days. Also making Tom's list at #10 is IL LB Kyron Watson, who "loves to hit" despite not being the biggest linebacker prospect (6'1", 210 lbs.)—given that Watson seems very likely to join the class soon, a solid camp performance is good news.
Rivals Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt scouted Moe Ways at the Rivals camp, ranking him 11th among offensive players and noting improvement from the future Wolverine ($):
The recent Michigan commit was a prospect from whom we were looking forward to seeing some offseason progression. After only playing his first year of varsity football last fall, Ways has noticeably improved in his overall grasp of the position. Because of his long stride, Ways is not overly explosive off the line of scrimmage, but he is a very easy mover down the field and caught the ball well on this day.
If Ways can make a move up to four-star status and/or the Wolverines pull in another receiver, this would be Michigan's best haul at the position since at least 2008, when they brought in the trio of Stonum/Roundtree/Odoms.
Pittsburgh hosted a Rivals camp last week, and following a standout performance there 6'8", 296-pound rising junior offensive lineman Sterling Jenkins earned a Michigan offer, his biggest thus far per Tim Sullivan ($):
The offer from the Wolverines was the biggest one yet in Jenkins' mind.
"It's really exciting, because I talked to them a few times last year," he said. "That was the first team who I've heard to even consider giving me an offer, and they followed through. So far it's the biggest school I've gotten an offer from. I'm extremely excited for it, and will continue to work and stay humble in the recruiting process."
Jenkins mentions possibly making a decision after his junior season; with schools just beginning to show an interest in the mammoth 2015 prospect, a lot can change between now and then.
2014 Target Updates
Chicago De La Salle four-star Jamarco Jones is one of Michigan's top remaining targets on the offensive line; this week, he announced a top four of Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State (no order) and detailed his upcoming decision to Scout's Beth Long ($):
"They are all pretty much equal. So I am going to take visits this June and try to get a last feel," Jones said. "To see the little things and the little differences with them and try to break it down and make a final decision."
That decision will be June 27th for the four-star lineman and will take place in a low key ceremony at his high school. Jones plans on giving himself about a week after visiting all four schools again to weigh his options.
All seven 247 analysts who've weighed in have Jones ticketed for Columbus, so Michigan likely has work to do; with Jones planning to visit each campus one more time, though, it's hard to rule anything out.
GBW headline asks if Michigan is "back in it" for four-star IL LB Clifton Garrett, who's yet to add a Wolverine offer to his lengthy and distinguished sheet; the answer is pretty clearly "no" ($):
Holding offers from Alabama, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, USC, and Ole Miss, to name a few, Garrett, 6-2, 227-pounds, says the Wolverines interest might be a little too late.
“Probably not too much,” said Garrett on Michigan impacting his recruitment. “I’m starting to kind of shy away from the Big Ten anyway.
“At this point I’m starting to narrow my list down a little bit so if any new schools come in, unless it’s a huge school I’ve been waiting for, I’m not going to really be interested in new schools. I basically have all of the schools that I wanted to offer.”
As long as Garrett doesn't land at Ohio State—which doesn't sound likely, given the above—then this one doesn't sting too much. He seems pretty set on the SEC.
6'6", 255-pound OH TE Chance Sorrell, who Michigan looked at as a tight end but did not offer before picking up Ian Bunting, may get another look from the Wolverines as a tackle, per Scout's Bill Greene ($):
"I'm going back to Michigan State for sure to play offensive line this time, because they're recruiting me as a tackle. I went as a tight end last year," Sorrell said. "I'm also definitely going to Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska. Michigan has filled up at tight end, which is where they were recruiting me. I thought things were done with them, but Coach (Brady) Hoke told me this isn't over because they are recruiting me as a tackle and he wants to see me in camp."
It's still unlikely that Sorrell earns an offer what with Michigan's small class and remaining targets on the line (read: four-stars), but he'll get his shot at camp.
Tight End Dominoes
Speaking of tight ends, Rivals has a great (and free) look at how the run on that position group—sparked by Bunting's commitment to Michigan—played out in a matter of hours:
[Bunting and now-ND-commit Nic Weishar] met on an unofficial visit to Notre Dame on April 13. They spent the trip together and have stayed in touch since, talking about what they liked about different schools and found a common bond in the recruiting process.
Bunting said that the two players each had Michigan and Notre Dame in their top two and while it wasn't an agreed-upon situation, there was an unspoken understanding that whomever chose first would essentially be making the decision for the other.
"We mentioned it but I don't think we ever really said it would go that way," Bunting said. "It wasn't a race to see who would commit first or anything and it just kind of happened for us."
Two other tight end recruits—Jeb Blazevich (Georgia) and Daniel Helm (Tennessee)—holding similar offer sheets made their decisions in the six hours between Bunting's commitment and Weishar's. In an era when recruits across the country stay in constant touch with each other through social media and camps, I don't think this is the last time we'll see a run like this.
Basketball recruiting followers know the name Jae'Sean Tate; the 2014 small forward from Pickerington Central (home of Taco Charlton and Caris LeVert) chose Ohio State over Michigan last November. Tate's been solid in his Buckeye commitment, but Sam Webb says that could change if his focus—like Drake Harris'—drifts from the hardcourt to the gridiron ($):
“Football is actually my first love,” Tate said. “That’s the first sport I ever played. I didn’t really like basketball.”
So what are the odds he chooses football moving forward?
“50/50,” Tate replied.
It should be noted for the record that the four-star small forward reiterated that he is ‘all buckeye,’… so there was no talk of decommitting. But if he switches sports… an obvious possibility… it appears that there will be an opportunity for football schools to make their moves based on his new reality.
At 6'4", 205 lbs., Tate is thought to be an outside linebacker or weakside DE prospect should he choose football.
Top overall 2014 recruit Da'Shawn Hand made a surprise visit to Auburn over the weekend; while he plans to return and said the trip exceeded expectations, those expectations weren't particularly high in the first place ($):
“It exceeded my expectations,” Hand says. “I thought the visit was going to be real boring, but it turned out to be good. The people are good and the food was good. Everybody is just so nice there and easygoing. What you see is what you get…I have a different impression about Auburn. I’m definitely coming back for another visit. I’m definitely coming back for the Iron Bowl.
Florida, FSU, and Clemson are on Hand's list of planned future visits; unless he says otherwise, this still looks like a race between Michigan, Virginia Tech, and Alabama.
If you haven't had enough of Jabrill Peppers recently, Sam Webb's latest Detroit News feature is on him, though it recycles several quotes from last week's Scout post.