So… yeah: someone in Michigan's compliance department got the idea that there had been a rule change and that Michigan would not be able to cram more than the NCAA-mandated maximum of 25 players into this recruiting class, and from this person the idea spread to Sam Webb and Rivals and Tom VanHaaren, all of whom talked to similar folk in compliance and got the same answer: rule change, 25 is a hard maximum, no funny stuff with the early enrollers.
This made no sense when combined with recent events. Michigan offered sleeper safety Ray Vinopal and instate NT Jonathan Hankins and got back involved with a half-dozen other prospects, including Pahokee DT Richard Ash and a bunch of Californians. The numbers weren't going to add up.
Further probing has finally revealed the hypothetical rule change to be inaccurate. Probably. An email from the Big Ten's director of compliance indicates there has been no rule change. A small snippet of a longer reply from this official posted on the Rivals premium board:
Nothing has changed, although you’ve never been able to “backdate” and count a student-athlete (SA) in a year in which they weren’t in attendance. What I suspect you’re thinking of is the fact that mid-year enrollees (except SAs receiving aid under the “mid-year replacement” rule?described below) count against the overall limit of 85, but may count against the initial limit of 25 in either the year of initial enrollment (if there’s room) or in the year immediately following.
I guess there's some chance that this is not definitive, but it is this guy's job to know these things and he has explicitly shot down the idea that anything has changed. And it was always very strange that this fairly important change to recruiting rules would go without a single mention in a newspaper, or get brought up by any other fanbase. I'm guessing a few people got confused in compliance for some reason and started this whole thing. It's the simplest explanation.
Anyway: since the Big Ten is not imposing a 25-per-class limit—Penn State enrolled 27 freshmen last year—Michigan should be able to go to 28. This makes Michigan's recruiting binge of late seem much saner from the outside. With Donovan Warren probably off to the NFL and Brandon Smith probably off to some other school, Michigan is obviously planning to take a full 28.
Take the current commits, add in expected commits from MD LB Josh Furman, FL CB Tony Grimes, and FL DE Clarence Murphy, and plan for an inevitable decommit or guy who doesn't look like he'll qualify and finds his offer withdrawn*, and you're looking at two or three more guys in this class. If Michigan can go to 28, that works out just fine. If they can't, Michigan's already at –1 slots and is steaming full speed ahead into an uncomfortable first couple months of 2009. Occam's Razor says it's 28, and Michigan intends to get there.
*(Which, BTW, seems okay by me. If a player isn't eligible by the time his first-semester senior grades are in I think a school is within its rights to say "sorry, but we can't take the chance." I'd rather not see Michigan in a spot where they took a marginal guy with marginal grades, but offers are contingent on grades.)