So on Monday I said something like "talent? what talent?" A few readers had objections to that; one went so far as to dredge up Michigan's class rankings from the last few years.
Here you go:
Just dug this up.
Recruiting rankings of the Michigan classes by Rivals:
2008 - #10
2007 - #12
2006 - #13
2005 - #6
2004 - #5
First, let's stipulate that whatever talent exists in the 2008 and 2007 classes is young. Even if those guys are all "talent" you can take freshman five stars and lose to senior three stars by 40. So let's just look at the three classes that comprise Michigan's upperclassmen.
Second, what is "talent" according to the gurus? Four and five star guys, mostly, with definite gradations between the two. Sometimes a player has offers that defy their ranking; I'll try to note that were possible.
- Eligibility Expired: Henne, Branch, Graham, Adams, Hart.
- Transferred, Injured or Quit Before Rodriguez Arrived: Walton, Cheathem, DeBenedictis, Ciulla, Mitchell, Martin, Rogers, Gallimore, Allison.
- Departed After Rodriguez Arrived: Arrington (NFL draft).
Tim Jamison: a top-50 player who didn't quite live up to expectations but was an above-average defensive end.
Will Johnson: four-star who played like it.
Morgan Trent: four-star who ended up a three year starter; two disappointing years sandwich a good one.
Doug Dutch: top-100 player who was an obvious bust well before Rodriguez arrived.
Mike Massey: Four star DE who lost his job at TE to Carson Butler. Think about Carson Butler, and think about Lloyd Carr, and think about Pat Massey. What does that say about Massey's talent level?
There are only two other players from the class on the roster, John Thompson, a fringe three star who picked Michigan over Wisconsin and Minnesota who was a poor starting linebacker, and Charles Stewart, mid-three star, who was buried on the bench until Morgan Trent broke his hand during the 2005 Wisconsin game. Then he was torched by Minnesota, moved to safety, languished until graduation forced him into the lineup. He did not do well.
That's it. The entirety of the 2004 class that made it to this year was seven guys, two of them obvious busts before Rodriguez arrived, three of them high rated guys who played well (Trent is iffy, I guess), and two low-rated guys forced into the lineup who played poorly. Only one departure can even sort of be blamed on Rodriguez, and Arrington was just barely hanging on already.
Notable: every offensive lineman in this class washed out.
- Injured, Transferred, or Quit Before Rodriguez arrived: Bass, McKinney, Schifano, Germany, Simpson, Forcier, Sears, McLaurin, Richards
- Left After Rodriguez Arrived: Manningham (NFL Draft), Slocum (academics).
- Injured and Unavailable After Rodriguez Arrived: Zirbel.
Michigan pulled 11 four or five star prospects in the class of 2005, and Rodriguez got to use four of them:
Kevin Grady. Bust, and one that was obvious before Rodriguez's arrival.
Terrance Taylor. Very good multi-year starter who played well.
Brandon Harrison. Fringe four star was a middling multi-year starter.
David Moosman. Fringe four star looked locked on the bench; started at RG all year and was okay.
Other than Mark Ortmann, the rest of the class are non-contributors: Logan and Criswell never saw time except on special teams, Carson Butler is Carson Butler, and Tim McAvoy was never going to start until Boren transferred, at which point he was put out there until they were comfortable with their switched defensive tackle.
This class is the killer, a complete disaster with one very good starter, three meh starters, and no one else from the #6 class in the country.
- Injured, Transferred, or Quit Before Rodriguez Arrived: Mixon, Woods
- Left After Rodriguez Arrived: Patilla, Boren
This class is mostly intact. (Jason Kates just left, but Michigan had him at his disposal if he wanted to use him.) The big recruits:
Five star Brandon Graham is a beast.
Five star Steve Schilling is a two-year starter but has just been okay; his first year under Carr was much worse. He has improved.
Carlos Brown is injury-plagued; had a good Northwestern game.
Jonas Mouton was a first-year starter after shifting from safety, was okay, and is now getting pretty good.
Stevie Brown is Stevie Brown.
Greg Mathews is a starting wide receiver.
Adam Patterson saw about a dozen snaps this year.
Brandon Minor was Michigan's most effective running back.
John Ferrara saw some PT as a redshirt freshman on the DL, then moved to guard. Dorrestein is a backup OT. Ezeh is a mediocre starting linebacker. CONER.
So, A Count
How much four and five star talent actually resides in the upper classes? We can discount Grady, Dutch, Massey, and Patterson; all appear to be busts and were definitely headed that way before Rodriguez arrived. The answer:
- The Entire Defensive Line. And it played like it.
- Minor and Brown. When healthy, played like it.
- Mathews. Michigan's best receiver; ideally a #2 on a good team.
- Mouton. Rough start due to inexperience; very good finish; likely future star.
- Harrison, Trent, and Brown. Collectively, an enormous disappointment.
- Schilling. Slightly disappointing but at least serviceable.
That's your talent. Four guys on offense who collectively missed about 15 games, the badass DL, one linebacker, and the secondary. Is that enough to make up for the worst quarterback situation in the conference, and possibly the entirety of BCS conferences, a lack of depth at linebacker and offensive line, and a slew of injuries and a slew of freshmen making stupid mistakes? No.
A second note: "talent" is only talent if there is depth behind it. There is always a chance a guy is a huge bust. When it's Grady or Patterson he's sitting behind other guys who were high rated and play well. When it's Brown, there are zero other options and you're forced to play the guy. You see depth of talent at RB (Minor, Brown, Grady) and DL somewhat (Patterson is left over), and nowhere else.
Michigan got killed by back-to-back classes that saw a ton of attrition at key spots. Basically the only thing Michigan has to show from the 2004 and 2005 classes is the defensive line, which was Big Ten championship caliber.*
The rest of the team? Is not.
*(Though it should be noted that the 2004 class wasn't exactly a bust; it's just that most of the awesome guys in it didn't redshirt. And the OL was a disaster.)