When at West Virginia, the coaching staff had a certain set of players available to them as potential recruits. Because of the limitations inherent in that set of players, they would quite often have to take risks on kids with baggage of one kind or another, or they would simply have to take a flyer on some kids with potential who may have been overlooked. “Talent + issues” or “10% chance of being an overlooked 4-star player” simply equated to being better in the overall analysis than “mediocre but serviceable boy scout.” West Virginia’s set of potential recruits is inherently riskier than, say, USC’s. Another way to put it is USC is looking for ways to pare down their universe of recruits, while West Virginia is looking for ways to expand theirs. In the end, USC’s batch of incoming recruits typically has a smaller zone of variability than West Virginia’s does.
Then WVU clearly made two other decisions to help mitigate the limitations of their recruiting pool.
First, they decided to outwork the other guy, or at the very least not allow the other guy to outwork them. Enter Barwis and the OL running to the line of scrimmage in the 4th quarter, etc. I’m not suggesting this was successful or not, just that they clearly believed it to be something they had to do. When you have less talent overall, or more inherent variability, you have to wring out every last drop of effort.
Second, they implemented a particular specialized offense. The WVU spread is even different than other spreads. Why? I would argue it is another attempt to expand the set of potential recruits. By taking some subset of your 85 scholarships (15? 20?), and making them fit characteristics of players that other teams don’t value, you’ve just dramatically reduced the amount of work you need to do to fill a roster with 85 good athletes.
Let me explain that some more. The slot receiver characteristics seem to be fast, fast, good hands, fast (in that order.) When that is your only criteria, and the offense is designed to make that profile of kid succeed, you don’t need the #3 wide-out in Florida. You can take Rivals’ #93 WR from wherever and you’ve probably filled that need with a 5-star for your system. WVU just made a 5-star recruit from basically nothing, because they changed their objectives and recruited a kid who has a high probability to succeed in that particular role. Now you have just reduced the risk of recruiting failure by looking for something (someone) different than the other guy.
Now, is that philosophy going to beat USC? I don’t know and neither do you, but it beat the snot out of Oklahoma once. The risk of pursuing this strategy is that the system you crafted can be attacked or beaten in some fashion, that is, it is a weaker overall offense than something else. But so far, so good for the spread.
What does that mean for Michigan?
I think the mindset to outwork the other guy is going to be a major factor in the program’s future success. As much as I love the Wolverines, I think we had lost something somewhere and this coaching staff will bring it back. They clearly believe they will, at the very least, not be outworked.
I do not believe they have fully adjusted to their new recruiting reality. This is not to say I think they are doing a bad job, I don’t. But I also don’t think that they realize they can recruit a fast, fast, fast, tall or at least not short slot receiver yet (and lots of other recruiting possibilities as well.) I say this because those philosophies were very deeply ingrained and it is very difficult to change your paradigm that quickly. As they become accustomed to Michigan’s set of potential recruits, they will begin to manage the risk differently. I interpret the commitment of Drew Dileo as the coaching staff not yet properly managing the risk of their new situation. They don’t have to take a flyer on this kind of player, they can get someone more dynamic for that specialized position, or change the position's role in the offense entirely, and they simply haven’t realized that yet. They will.