Football Recruiting: How close are we?

Submitted by champswest on February 8th, 2016 at 9:20 PM

Recruiting is the lifeblood of a college football program. It is one of the three key components along with player developement and sceme/game day coaching, that leads to championships. Many of us feel that we have 2 and 3 covered with the current staff, but how far are we away in the talent department if we want to compete with the big boys?

To answer that question, I looked at the last four recruiting classes with the focus on five and four star players using the 247 Composite Rankings. This a simple method and has some flaws, but it is a starting point for discussion. One problem is that 247 only awards 25 five stars and in 2016 they awarded 313 four stars. That seems a little off to me. Rashan Gary, as the #1 player, was given a score of 1.000 while the #25 player was rated at .9835. That is a fairly tight grouping. The four stars range from #26 at .9821 to #338 at .8901. Player #339 drops off by only .0002 to .8899, yet he becomes only a three star. So with this method of only counting the number of stars a team takes, no weight is given to which end of the scale those stars were nearer to. And then there are the issues with the ratings themselves and how subjective they are. Did this player attend our camp and what does his offer sheet look like?

Lastly, this method looks only at incoming classes and doesn't account for incoming grad transfers, PWOs or attrition.

Before we can win a natty, we will first need to win the Big Ten. How well do we stack up against our fellow conferebce members? Pretty well, thank you. I broke this down by division because I found it to be very interesting.

  2013       2014       2015       2016       2013 - 2016
Team Rank 5* 4*   Rank 5* 4*   Rank 5* 4*   Rank 5* 4*   5* 4* Total
Ohio State 2 1 19   3 1 15   7 0 15   4 1 17   3 66 69
Michigan 4 1 17   20 1 8   37 0 6   5 1 14   3 45 48
Penn State 33 1 3   24 0 5   15 0 13   19 1 7   2 28 30
Michigan State 35 0 4   25 1 3   22 0 5   22 0 9   1 21 22
Maryland 41 0 3   40 1 3   49 0 2   42 0 3   1 11 12
Indiana 42 0 4   48 0 1   52 0 0   56 0 0   0 5 5
Rutgers 50 0 1   53 0 1   56 0 1   74 0 0   0 3 3
                                  10 179 189
Nebraska 22 0 7   36 0 2   30 0 4   24 0 5   0 18 18
Wisconsin 38 0 1   33 0 3   40 0 2   32 0 3   0 9 9
Northwestern 52 0 1   47 0 4   54 0 0   51 0 0   0 5 5
Illinois 49 0 1   72 0 0   48 0 2   71 0 0   0 3 3
Minnesota 66 0 0   57 0 1   63 0 0   48 0 1   0 2 2
Iowa 54 0 0   59 0 0   60 0 1   46 0 0   0 1 1
Purdue 62 0 1   69 0 0   65 0 0   79 0 0   0 1 1
                                  0 39 39

In the last four years, the Big Ten has landed a total of 228 five and four star players and 189 of them, including all 10 five stars, went to the east division. In the 2016 class, the ratio is 53 to 9. Wow! Talk about competitive balance. Not. Iowa and Purdue each managed only one four star in the last four years. WTF?

We appear to be in a two-team race with OSU and we were pretty much in a dead heat this year. Over the four-year period, these two teams landed 51% of the top talent taken by the Big Ten. A current problem for Michigan is that we have two weak classes sandwiched between our strong 2013 and 2016. We have a great shot at winning the Big Ten this year based on talent.

Here is the top recruiting competition on the national scene.

  2013       2014       2015       2016       2013 - 2016
Team Rank 5* 4*   Rank 5* 4*   Rank 5* 4*   Rank 5* 4*   5* 4* Total
Alabama 1 6 12   1 6 15   1 5 15   1 3 14   20 56 76
LSU 6 0 19   2 4 13   6 2 11   3 2 16   8 59 67
Notre Dame 5 2 17   11 0 16   13 0 14   15 0 10   2 57 59
Florida State 11 2 8   4 2 14   3 4 10   2 1 17   9 49 58
Auburn 10 3 8   6 2 11   8 1 20   9 1 11   7 50 57
Georgia 12 0 15   8 3 10   5 2 12   7 3 10   8 47 55
Southern Cal 13 4 8   10 2 8   2 3 15   8 2 12   11 43 54
UCLA 7 1 18   18 0 9   12 3 10   12 1 12   5 49 54
Texas AM 9 1 14 5 5 3 11   11 2 12   18 0 8   6 45 51
Clemson 15 1 10   17 0 10   9 3 9   10 1 12   5 41 46
Tennessee 24 0 4   7 0 16   4 1 15   14 0 10   1 45 46
Texas  17 1 8   16 0 8   10 1 13   11 0 13   2 42 44
Ole Miss 8 4 7   15 0 6   17 0 7   6 3 12   7 32 39
Florida   3 2 13   9 1 8   21 2 3   13 0 9   5 33 38
Oklahoma 16 1 7   14 1 7   14 0 10   20 1 8   3 32 35
Miami 14 0 10   12 1 7   26 0 6   21 0 10   1 33 34
Oregon 19 1 7   21 0 7   16 1 6   28 0 6   2 26 28
Stanford 51 0 4   13 1 7   24 0 5   16 0 9   1 25 26
Baylor 27 1 3   26 1 3   36 0 3   17 0 8   2 17 19

To no surprise, Alabama is in a class by themselves. Only OSU, LSU, FSU, Auburn, Georgia and USC are even in the conversation. Michigan is about two full recruiting classes away from catching up with Alabama talent, meaning they would need to add about 28 more 5 and 4 stars. If Michigan continues recruiting at this years pace, we will be fine. At a minimum, I think that we need to achieve an on-going four year cycle of two top 15 classes and two top 7ish classes to stay competitive with talent. I think that is very doable as long as we continue to show results on the field.



February 8th, 2016 at 10:55 PM ^

What catches my eye is the way some teams under-achieve relative to recruit success (LSU, Notre Dame) and some over-achieve (Michigan State, Stanford, Oregon). 

Alabama is a football factory.  Success breeds success.  They are pulling the classes they are because they are the most likely -- based on recent history -- to turn the talent into championships and NFL draft picks.

I am hopeful we are seeing the first fruits of success breeding success in this year's recruiting class.  But man-oh-man, how important it is to keep the trend line going upward in 2016.

Nice write-up.  No analysis methodology can perfectly correlate recruit rankings (an imperfect value to begin with) with football success (which is subject to so many variables).  But as you say, a start ... and a basis for conversation.


February 10th, 2016 at 1:13 PM ^

If success breeds success we should feel great about our '17 & '18 recruiting classes.  With all the talent OSU and MSU is losing, next season should be our best opportunity to win the B1G for the next couple years bc we will lose a bunch of senior after next season.  A conf champ will help us clean up in recruiting.


February 8th, 2016 at 11:59 PM ^

When we beat the buckeyes, our recruiting should start taking off even more than it has. Right now I think we should chip away at the northwest corner of the state. Toledo is a border town and the recruits shouldn't be quite as loyal to Ohio State.


February 9th, 2016 at 9:13 AM ^

Are there any decent recruits in Toledo? I'd rather keep going after Prattville/American Heritage/IMG/Flanagan/St. Thomas Aquinas/De La Salle/Paramus Catholic kids than worry about "securing" a portion of Ohio.

On a related note, I'm fiercely disappointed with myself for remembering all of those schools off the top of my head.


February 9th, 2016 at 5:47 PM ^

if theres talent in ohio and michigan, harbaugh will go after it - if he believes the kids worthy of m offers and if he thinks they have legit chance to land those prospects.  

if they can find better prospects elsewhere, why target guys lower on their board just bc theyre located in ohio / michigan?


February 9th, 2016 at 2:10 AM ^

in the next couple years to win the B1G and get into the playoffs. This all depends on how O'korn can develop. I think our D will be excellent despite the weakness at LB and if O'Korn can play better than Rudock did in the 2nd half of this past season, then we have a great chance of defeating IA, MSU and OSU.

A good 2016 season with 10 or 11 wins will help Harbaugh to get another top 5 class. Give Harbaugh top 5 classes for the next 3 years and we will be on the same plane as AL.


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Honk if Ufer M…

February 15th, 2016 at 10:07 AM ^

2Blue, your screen name is my screen name on another site except I use U for you.

Now we know who I'm replying to, because I named him, but there are obviously many ways to make it clear who people are replying to via the structure of the posting section as anyone can see on millions of other websites. Additionally, anyone should be able to think of endless ways to solve this even if you've never seen it done elsewhere. It's not just when posts are deleted that it's often impossible to know who people are replying to when it's helpful or necessary to understanding them.

Mr Miggle

February 9th, 2016 at 11:18 AM ^

A few other powerhouses recruit at such a consistently high level as to stay in the playoff conversation. Most of the other contenders are going to cycle in and out. They lack the depth those classes bring. Other factors are very important too. #1 is QB play. #2 is retaining your contributors. We're expected to be better than OSU this year because they lost nine underclassmen to the NFL and we've got Lewis and Butt coming back. #3 is related, having a lot of experience on the roster, especially along the lines. We're real strong in #2 and #3 and optimistic about #1.

2016 should be an up year for us, but we need two more strong recruiting classes stay at that kind of level going forward, at least in terms of expectations. 2017 is hopefuly the last year where a couple of relatively weak classes will be a concern.

Ron Utah

February 9th, 2016 at 12:13 PM ^

Great data, thanks for doing the legwork.

We are still pretty far behind the nation's elite on a four-year rolling scale.  We would be ranked #11 nationally, and 'Bama, OSU, LSU, Notre Dame, and FSU all have at least 10 more 4/5* prospects than we do.  To put that into perspective, that means they have almost one whole unit (offense/defense) more of top prospects.

That said, a few teams are conspicuously absent from the top of this list: Michigan State, Oregon, Baylor, and even Clemson are all ranked lower than we are.  Those teams use player development and scheme to keep with college's elite programs.

2016 feels like our best chance for the next few years, but if Harbuagh is on the same level as Dantonio, Kelly/Helfrich, Briles, and Swinney (and I believe he is) there is reason to believe that Michigan is set-up for consistent and long-term success.  2017 presents some obvious roster challenges, but it is also a home/home year for MSU/OSU.  Unfortunately, we open with Florida in 2017.

What will be interesting to see is how some of the lower-ranked recruits from the 2015 class start to play.  This season should at least give us some hints about how good Harbaugh is at maximizing 3* talents.

Pierre Despereaux

February 10th, 2016 at 9:37 AM ^

The teams ranked lower than Michigan here are all very good teams that have had great success. The teams ranked above though are the ones that are winning the national championships.

I think it just shows how you can coach up/scheme guys to have great success, but you really need that elite talent to take the jump to a championship team.


February 14th, 2016 at 9:24 PM ^

As a long time coach at the high school level, I can state, unequivocally, the greater the talent, the better our team.

Running a defense very similar to Brown's in theory, it gave us a decided advantage at the high school level because the majority of the OL at that level just don't see that much of a defense that presents the same front but  allows you to blitz any given player or a combination of many at any given time. I felt ulitizing this approach, no matter the talent level, gave me a huge advantage prior to the game even beginning. I mention this because of your mention of a need of coaching and schemes suited to your personnel. And as you correctly pointed out, without actually stating it, the talent at this level offsets a distinct advantage enjoyed at the lower level, therefore making it absolutely necessary to unbderstand the skill set of every player and with that knowledge, you have a much better understanding of which schemes provide the greater chance of success.

Because the higher ranked players earn their stars based on tangibles such as speed, strength, quickness, vertical jump, etc. I believe, however,  a large percentage of the higher ranked recruits, although possessing many of the attributes mentioned above, earn their stars due to the combination of their skill and receiving excellent coaching at the high school level.

I know for a fact the perennial high school powers in the  state of Texas show no hesitation in pursuing and providing the best high school coaches a salary much greater than the average in their state and absolutely disproportionate to the national average. This allows TX high schoolers the opportunity to be coached by the likes of Art Briles and many others who have gone on from the high school ranks to become successful collegiate coaches.

I have little doubt that we have one of the best coaching staffs in the nation and we saw proof last season of their ability to coach the fundamentals at all positions at a significantly higher level than we've seen lately. . This, coupled with some very clever schemes on both sides of the ball took these players from virtual unknowns to the point that a select few, as proven by the AA voting, to be considered among the best in the country.

You will always have a few players that allow you to be competitive simply by utilizing them in the best possible manner. Peppers immediately comes to mind, along with Butt, Lewis and Jehu. But, as you point out when your recruiting classes, over a period of a couple of years, result in a roster resembling the likes of Alabama and OSU, often times the deciding factor when these type of teams meet is which coach is able to put together the best game plan and know exactly when to use those plays and personnel packages designed specifically for that opponent.

It's a given that Saban and Meyer share a huge advantage over many by nothing other than geography. Both coach in areas of the country that provide them the opportunity to recruit players, who for the same reason, location, already possess a great desire to play at these particular schools. Harbaugh has a much more difficult time in assembling an equally talented roster. He has, however, proven he's up to the task, by using the resources that Michigan provides to recruit players from virutally all regions of the country and is establishing pipelines in certain areas, with NJ being the prime example, that have already paid dividends but will do so to a greater degree when the high schoolers from these areas begin to view Michigan as those from the S.E. and those from OH view Bama and OSU.

Earning very high marks based primarily on their coaching ability in their first season, I have little doubt those grades are going to continuously move upward as the disparity in talent begins to equal out. I predict a very bright futue for the program, and I believe it may arrive far faster than most believed.


February 16th, 2016 at 1:28 PM ^

Brady Hoke actually recruited well at Michigan and Harbaugh won with his players; many of whom are graduating after this year.  I'm not sure the 2015 3*s will be on display this year, but definitely the following year.  Hopefully we don't have a huge dip in performance.


February 9th, 2016 at 1:16 PM ^

Ohio State didn't have a down year even with the coaching change. 


We also have good recruiting classes after a coaching change and then peter out towards the end of a coach's tenure. Don't know if that is a trend or was it just Hoke. 


February 9th, 2016 at 5:41 PM ^

Because OSU's coaching change was a blip.

There was not the long slow decline that eats away at recruiting.  

Tressel got caught cheating, he got booted, and Meyer came in . . . all over the course of just a couple months.  No time for recruiting decline.  

And Meyer was not coaching at the time he came in, so he was able to recruit 100% in Dec. and Jan.

Some "punishment".



February 9th, 2016 at 2:15 PM ^

Thank you . . . great analysis. I have been concerned, if you will, about the talent gap between Michigan and OSU. We had a great recruiting year, but the two years prior were down. It is because of the talent gap that I'm willing to give Harbaugh somewhat of a pass in how he has done recruiting this season, and even next. Harbaugh has to be brutal in cutting dead weight. It could be current commits (Swenson), it could be underperforming 5th year guys (Stroebel), it could be guys that don't get behavior (Cole). Regardless, we don't have the margin and the recruiting classes to afford to keep guys who aren't contributing, and who we don't see potentially contributing down the road.

LSA Superstar

February 9th, 2016 at 2:31 PM ^

This is the "money graph" I made in a similar post comparing OSU, Michigan, MSU, and PSU with respect to their recruiting classes.  You can see that we recruit the top-end guys at the same weight as our peers.  But the distance between us and Ohio State comes with respect to our 11-18th best recruits.  The gap between Ahmir Mitchell (our tenth best recruit) and Brad Hawkins (our eleventh) is massive.  But OSU trails off slowly with four-stars all the way down.  Then the tail ends of our class are similarly rated.



February 9th, 2016 at 3:55 PM ^

We are basically even, or very close to OSU this year.  On paper we also were in 2013, but that class was either way over-ranked or way underachieved.  Lets look at some of our top rated guys from 2013 that underachieved.


Ben Gedeon - Is a senior next year and hasn't been a starter yet

Jaron Dukes - Not much needs to be said

Kyle Bosch - No longer on the team

Chris Fox - Medically retired

Shane Morris - Entering his 4th season without much contribution

Taco Charlton - Entering his senior season.  Has made some contributions, but not enough to live up to to a top 150 player.

Mike McCray - Entering his senior season without playing a meaningful snap

LTT - No longer on the team

Patrick Kugler - Appears to be being passed by younger guys...jury is still out

David Dawson -Same as Kugler

Dymonte Thomas - Was raw and showed flashes of athleticism, but hasn't contrubuted a whole lot for a recruit of his ranking

Derrick Green - No longer on team


That's a pretty dismial level of production for some highly rated recruits.  Now, fast forward 3 years assuming we continue to recruit at the same level as we are now and I think it all works itself out.  But, IMO if we expect to do anything more than just be competitive with OSU we need to out-recruit them, which is something I haven't seen with any consistency in a long time.  It's understandable that after winning a NC with Meyer and Harbaugh only finishing his first year that they'd out-recruit us.  It's even encouraging that our classes were as close as they were.  But, before we beat them on the field I believe we have to beat them in recruiting and that will take some thinking outside of the box, which Harbaugh is doing.  So, we shall see.


February 9th, 2016 at 5:47 PM ^

We have never consistently out-recruitied Ohio State.  Even when we were beating them regularly on the field.

We don't have to wait until we out-recruit them to expect to beat them.  We just have to recruit in the ballpark, develop that talent, and put it in a coherent system.  Then we will beat Ohio State.  

Not every single year, but enough.



February 9th, 2016 at 7:11 PM ^

That's a good point...I think.  I have no idea what our recruiting looked like in the late 80s and 90s for example when we were beating them.  I'm sure recruiting rankings existed, but there weren't as accessible, so who knows.  Also the 85 scholarship rule didn't exist until 1992 and social media and the internet has changed recruiting quite a bit, so I'm not sure those are fair comparisions.  But, back then OSU was playing a pro style with pocket passers.  Ever since they went to using more mobile QBs with T. Smith, Pryor, Miller, & now Barrett we have not fared so well. 


I think I agree, but we also haven't been in the same ballpark for more than 2 consecutive years (since internet recruiting tracking became accessable).  So, I think we are kinda making the same point.  If we are withen a few class rankings for 4 straight years, sure we'll probably do OK as long as we find an answer for the mobile QB.  Their offense under Meyer seems to be pretty reliable in terms of putting up points  The jury is still out on our system since the players to fit it are still being built.  Nonetheless, if we can only match them for a few years only to have the other 2 years be way better than ours it will never work.  There is still quite a bit of time before we will know.


February 9th, 2016 at 6:06 PM ^

osu has pretty much always out-recruited m - theyve consistently pulled in higher ranked classes, top to bottom, year after year in the modern era.

osu typically out-recruited m even when m enjoyed success or winning streaks on the field (coopers teams are great example).  1900 or the 40s or 50s mightve been different but osu seems to have routinely brought in higher ranked classes since the 60s or 70s


February 9th, 2016 at 7:23 PM ^

Is there an online ranking system that goes back that far?  Otherwise we are just speculating.  There was a time when we could get our fair share of OH's top talent with guys like Grbac, Desmond Howard, and Woodson.  That doesn't really happen any more.  In fact, Meyer is much better at taking MI's best talent than the other way around.  He's taken Damon Webb, Mike Weber, and Michael Jordan in the past 3 classes.  I think Harbaugh will have to be very creative to overcome that if we expect to beat them on the field.  So far he has been with sleepovers, climbing trees, taking his shirt off, doing camps down south, recruiting of the stars etc., but I don't know if that works long term with anyone not named Harbaugh.


February 16th, 2016 at 1:16 PM ^

Although recruiting rankings are highly correlated to winning it's not a perfect system.  It also doesn't take into account injuries, coaching turnover, player development, scheme, fit of players to the scheme, or transfers.  Those things are somewhat atypical, but all happened to UM and very little to MSU.  Although we've out-recruited MSU they were clearly better than us in 2013 and 2014.


What made MSU better than UM, despite not having the same level of success recruiting?  It starts with coaching.  Not only did they have good coaching, but they had proficiency in a scheme they have been doing for a number of years.  From there I'd go first to the lines and the QB.  They had great lines on both sides of the ball.  They had one of the best left tackles in college football and one of the best QBs in college football, who was recruited for that system, had experience, and was in his 4th year.  Our QB was a dual threat QB in Gardner and wasn't meant for our system.  Our o-line struggled, was young, and had some transfers as well as some underachievers at least according to their stars.  Also we had a first year coordinator after having Borges for 3 years.


On defense they had an elite pass rusher in Calhoun, an aggressive blitzing system, LBs they had played for a number of years together, and a lock down corner with an all conference safety.  That was good enough to slow down OSU's offense.  MSU is an outlier when it comes to W/L records versus recruiting rankings as are we prior to this year, unfortunatley on opposites of the mean.  I think we started to see our recruiting pay off on the defensive side of the ball as the 2012 and 2013 classes became upperclassman.  Unfortunately we lost depth as the season went on, particularly on the defensive line without Mone and Glasgow in the middle.  If we had those two plus Henry back in 2016 that's what MSU has been.  Our QB and o-line situation however has been a challenge for us for a few years now, but seems to be turning around.


February 10th, 2016 at 1:14 AM ^

We will be going up against many of those OSU 4-star players this year.  30 of them between 2014-2015, with many of the 2013 guys gone to the draft.


February 11th, 2016 at 7:08 PM ^

BTW in case anyone hasn't noticed, and I hadn't until just now...OSU already has 5 of the ESPN top 40 verbally committed, including both the top 2 CBs in the class and one of the top S, RB, and OT.  One of them is the IMG S FWIW.  


I know 2017 signing day is a loong way off but we have a LOT of ground to make up to get anywhere near their class in 2017.  Just sayin

Dr. Emil Shuffhausen

February 14th, 2016 at 6:48 PM ^

and with such a tremendous staff, we should have

great success coaching up basically everyone to

be the best they can be.


Recruiting should get a bit easier with

our name regaining it's luster amongst the

younger guys who haven't seen Michigan having

much success growing up.


Talent wise, we are REALLY GOOD now

and shouldn't see too much of a drop off year to

year thanks to the foresight and skill of our Amazing Coach!


Chances of winning the NC this year?  Really good IMO.



February 18th, 2016 at 7:54 PM ^

Michigan's recruitng class is off to a good start with McCaffery commiting. We also have four other plays committed. This class has the potential  to be really good if we get Donovan Peoples-Jones and Isaiah Wilson and others.