There has been some squirming lately about the potential college choices of some of our top in-state talent in the class of 2012. I, personally, hate the idea of losing out on the best Michigan high schoolers, and some have been predicting doom for the program if we aren't able to secure the likes of Ross, Jenkins-Stone, and Richardson this year. Jon Chait over on Rivals has laid the gauntlet, suggesting that this recruiting cycle will determine the destiny of the program for the foreseeable future (how great is it, by the way, that Jon Chait, a world-class writer and social commentator, contributes to our piddly Rivals site?).
Facts, data, and stuff
In response to the anxiety, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the college-selection fate of Michigan's top H.S. talent over the course of the past ten years. Using Rivals recruiting rankings, I compiled data for all the 4- and 5-star recruits out of the state of Michigan since Rivals launched their rankings in 2002. In the ten recruiting classes between then and now, there have been 76 such recruits out of Michigan high schools. That’s an average of seven or eight top-end athletes per year, and most of these recruits are regional—if not national—targets. Now, Michigan does not pursue every four-star athlete in the state, and there is less regional and national attention for some four-star players versus others. However, Rivals rankings are a close approximation for identifying the top in-state talent in any given year.
What fate befell Quincy Landingham?
The data show that, of the 76 top recruits from 2002-2011, 28 (or 37%) chose to play for U-M. Fewer than half of the top high-school players opted for the Maize and Blue. Our biggest competition, as you may expect, was Michigan State, which reeled in 24 (32%) of all 4- and 5-star players. Another 24 of these players went out of state, with Penn State being the most popular destination (four players), followed by Purdue and Ohio State (three players each). Tennessee and USC are the only other schools to sign more than one top state-of-Michigan recruit during this period (Landingham, out of Bloomfield Hills Lahser in 2007, is the only four-star guy to choose Wisconsin).
There has been some variation from year to year in U-M’s success in securing top in-state talent. Some attribute this variation to the head coach’s recruiting prowess, our on-field success, or the historical relationship between recruits’ high schools and U-M. The table below shows the college destination of top in-state talent by year from 2002 to 2011.
A few things stand out from the data. U-M has typically been able to pull in roughly half of the top in-state recruits in any given year, but got hammered in 2010, 2009, and especially 2007, a year in which the state was loaded with top-end talent. The former two classes were Rodriguez’s first two full classes and the latter 2007 class was Carr’s final full class. The 2010 and 2009 classes followed losing seasons. The 2007 class followed an excellent season, capped by one of the most high-profile games in Michigan football history. Only two of the 13 best in-state players seemed to care.
And your point is?
Few would argue that we don't need to bring in the best in-state recruits in order to achieve a high level of play. However, even during the “stable” years of the program in the early part of the decade, U-M still lost out on roughly half of the top in-state recruits on an annual basis (save 2005, a weak year talent-wise in which U-M pulled in all three 4/5 stars). Another semi-myth that the data dispel is that Ohio State has been making major inroads on state-of-Michigan talent. Ohio State has signed three total Michigan 4/5 stars during the past ten years: Gholston in 2004, Taurian Washington (meh) in 2007, and James Jackson (meh) in 2009. That record hardly constitutes an impending coup.
MichiganState is by far the biggest threat in stealing in-state talent, and one could view the last three recruiting cycles as disturbing in that regard, as MSU has signed 12 of the top recruits to our six. The Ohio States, Penn States, and USCs are much smaller threats.
Of course, U-M recruits nationally, and thus has a distinct advantage over MSU in overall recruiting. But if we want to dominate in-state recruiting, MSU has been our biggest historical obstacle. Not pulling in Ross, Jenkins-Stone, and Richardson this year would be wrenching. Precedent suggests that it may not spell doom for Michigan football, but it sure would feel goddam good.