Does Michigan Recruiting Suffer Because We Are An "Academic Tweener"?

Submitted by LKLIII on February 19th, 2018 at 4:58 PM

Slow day at work.

With the recent news of a likely/impending flip of Herron to Stanford, it got me thinking more broadly about our positioning in the college football ecosystem.

We tout ourselves as a big-time football program with strong academics. basically selling ourselves as the pinnacle of the "student-athlete" ideal.  But it seems like the ground is shifting under our feet to the point where it's now a net-negative rather than a net-positive due to how other programs are currently positioned.  Is this a common perception, or am I totally out to lunch on this?

TL:DR version:

Instead of being "well rounded", has the college football landscape shifted to the point where we now come off as being mediocre at both and thus the worst of both worlds in the eyes of many recruits?

Longer version:

Clearly if a kid's top goals are to simply land in the NFL & to compete for CFP slots and championships, other power schools have us beaten if you look at recent history.  And let's face it:  For some kids, rather than 'strong academics' being a sales point, we all know it can also be a hinderance.

So for these elite athletes that are ambivalent or even intimidated by strong academics the (unintended) interpretation of our current sales pitch effectively becomes, "Trust us, Harbaugh is here & we'll be at the top of the football world in 2-3 years; it's totally worth the extra academic effort you'll have to put in.  Why win now with an easier course load & more free time, when you could work so much harder for some potential winning in the future?"

This is not an effective value proposition. It's akin to arguing that "one bird in the bush is better than two birds in the hand." 

As a result, it won't make sense for many of these elite athletic/ambivalent academic kids to go with us until Michigan can convince them that their path to the NFL & CFP is at least as good if not HIGHER than the other schools & therefore WORTH the tougher courseload.  So if anything, Michigan's more rigorous academic system requires more proof of likely football success, not less proof. At least for the elite athlete/non-academic oriented kids.

Maybe you say we shouldn't be going after most of those kids anyway as they aren't the stuff of "Michigan Men."  Fine.  But we also don't seem to be holding up too well on the other end of the spectrum.

Stanford right now has maintained a pretty strong program since Harbaugh departed, clocking in route 10+ win seasons .  Notre Dame less so, but they've also got the Catholic presteige thing going for them.  Northwestern does not automatically suck anymore.  

For these elite academic types, the (unintended) interpretation could be viewed as, "Trust us, Harbaugh is here & we'll leapfrog Stanford's record soon; it's totally worth taking a notch down the academic reputation ladder on the marginal increased chance that Michigan & not Stanford will hit the CFP during your football career."

For these academic gunners, it just doesn't make sense to take a permanent half notch down academically in exchange for a very small marginal increase in likelihood of CFP appearances compared to Stanford. 

And it won't make sense for them to make this tradeoff unless the Stanfords & Notre Dames take a consistent nosedive for several years and/or Michigan improves significantly to the point where the likelihood of CFP appearances is not simply a marginal improvement, but a very BIG one.

At that point, the sales pitch will basically revert back to what we've been telling kids for decades, but it'll have more credibility. Namely:  "You don't have to sacrifice your academic goals by going to Clemson, Bama, etc--you can win right here at Michigan and still get that great education."


Bottom line:  There will always be "tweener" kids who truly want a balanced student-athlete experience who might not *quite* have the grades to get into Stanford, but who also want more rigor than the juggernaut SEC style programs out there.   But it seems that niche  is either shrinking in overall numbers or schools like Stanford are stepping up their game to grab a bigger percentage of that niche we largely had to ourselves for a long time. 








February 19th, 2018 at 5:30 PM ^

I made this thread about Travis Walton's victim calling him and Izzo out a couple weeks back. Stop calling reasonable people trolls - it's one of the worst things about MGoBlog.

Back on topic... MSU has made it clear that it's possible to beat OSU and win the Big Ten with good but not elite recruiting.

Harbaugh absolutely had the talent to beat OSU and win the Big Ten his second year. He should have. And if he had, then this down year would have been 10x more bearable.

But for whatever reasons - and it's clearly not just recruiting - Michigan Football loses as an underdog under Harbaugh. Every time. Hopefully that will change soon.


February 19th, 2018 at 5:11 PM ^

They play off of each other. A coach generally gets a little recruiting boost from the hype of the new hire, then he has to win, then recruiting will follow the winning. Sometimes coaches are great recruiters and that begets more winning (Franklin), sometimes coaches are great schemers and win first and that begets better recruiting (Dabo). 


We've seen that with Harbaugh already. He got two big classes, the first mostly built on hype, and then on back-to-back 10 win seasons. Now we have about the level of talent that Bama had when they went 26-2 over 2008-2009 with 2 SECCG appearances and a national title. It's time for Harbaugh to win approximately at that level. 


February 19th, 2018 at 5:24 PM ^

Regardless if some saw it coming or not Michigan shit the bed this year and the did the same thing to close out the year before that. Recruits want to play for winning programs. Harbaugh hype is over. He has the recruits on the team now to get this train rolling but he has to win big this year, otherwise you’re going to see a big chunk of third year players taking off to the nfl draft a year early and not having the recruits to take their place.


February 19th, 2018 at 5:41 PM ^

I agree that Dabo is a great example of it taking more than 2 years to build a machine - don't misinterpret my comment, I am still fully supportive and enthusiastic about Harbaugh. I think he's been exceptional and I often bring up Dabo myself. 


That being said, Dabo still won before he recruited well. From 2009 to 2012 Dabo's classes were ranked 36th, 27th, 10th, and 20th. 2011 was his first 10 win season, and they have not won fewer than 10 games in a year since. From 2013 on their classes have been ranked 15th, 16th, 9th, 11th, 16th, and 6th. 


Dabo's first 4 full classes averaged a rank of 23.25. They broke through on the field in his 4th and 5th year. Since then they have averaged a recruiting class rank of 12.2.


February 19th, 2018 at 6:21 PM ^


Saban won at MSU as well in his 5th year. Harbaugh won at Stanford in his 4th year.

It does take time. But Dabo had a run of two great QBs.

It gets hammered over and over, but it doesn't make it any less true: Harbaugh's big failing has been finding a QB, which is baffling to most, but don't forget Andrew Luck was a NFL-legacy-QB, his father had groomed him to play QB his entire life. Which is sort of upsetting given Harbaugh's alleged talent as a QB coach. But the main problem has been at the QB position.

EVerything else is just details. Yeah the O-Line is mediocre (but plenty of college QBs/teams win with mediocre lines--and yes, they've also been flat out bad at times too), and we've had high disproportionately most experienced team in the country, then least experienced team in the country, RB vision, WR seperation, LB-to-RB matchup problems, (i especially love the "our defense fades in the 4th"--ignoring the constant turnovers and 3-and-outs). And this board is essentially based on picking out those details, which is fine, of course.

But with a good QB, that's all just details.

We've never had great QB play, maybe Rudock in the later half of the season, and Speight sporadically. 

And, currently, we're still unsure when/who is this great QB coming.

Harbaugh's been great as far as every other detail goes, we've got a great DC, great defensive playcalling, offensive play-calling has been creative and innovative when he's had the personel to execute it, recruiting is actually great (there was some stat something like through 4 years only Saban and Meyer had higher recruiting), we've put great defenses on the field, statistically great seasons from 1st year CBs, LBs= good scouting/teaching etc, he's reformed the program's attitude/image to his liking, and he's still attracting a lot of attention to Michigan (which is why there's now blowback--but better than zero attention/expectations). The program has turned around, and that's a fact.

But we're still waiting on a QB...


February 19th, 2018 at 6:41 PM ^

I would argue that Don Brown needs to step up as well. It is axiomatic that defenses win championships. Brown's defenses cough up leads in the fourth quarter. Time and time again, they have had an opportunity to win games with a stout defense and almost in every instances they blew it.

Also, JH is not the QB whisperer that many think he is. At the U. of SD he was blessed with a fast QB who could run and throw the ball. It was a run and shoot offense. He was so good he played in the NFL. With Luck that was a no brainer. Luck would have succeeded under any coach. At SF he had Smith and Kapernick. He traded Smith away and we all know where Kap is. The reason why SF succeeded under JH is because the team was loaded with talent.

I am not saying JH is bad coach. He is a good. But to expect him to out coach Saban, Debo, Myers or even D'Antonio is expecting way too much from him. Unless he changes his coaching philosphy to better suit college football and becomes willing to let family and friends go if they don't perform, accept mediocrity for the foreseeable future.


February 19th, 2018 at 9:53 PM ^

This is utter nonsense. So much wrong I don’t even have the patience to address it all. Luck was not a consensus star out of high school. The 49ers were horrible before Harbaugh arrived with many of the same players he won with. He rebuilt Alex Smith, and Kaepernick went from pro-bowler under Haraugh to out of the league.


February 20th, 2018 at 12:30 PM ^

Clemson prior to the 2015 CFP was a marginal player on the big stage, more famous for blowing sure wins than winning big games.

Being "patient" may have grinded them, but it wasn't done out of a plethora of great options!

Michigan, with JH as coach, is now in that exact same position - albeit with a WORLD more history, prestige & the attendant expectations heaped on its FB back. 

There are no better options than patience with Harbaugh, whose track record is mind-boggling but whose inability to duplicate it here thus far is head-scratching.

As for the OP's thesis - IF Herron flips to Stanford (as Devery Henderson did, causing some of our current OL woes), and with Okiyafor flipping to Bama, Reese to Uga - he may have a valid point to keep an eye on.

No easy answers except ONE:


Easy, right?!


February 19th, 2018 at 5:28 PM ^

It’s constructed terribly. They play in a weaker conference and beat an Auburn team that was probably mentally checked out because they weren’t playing in the playoff. They took advantage of their disadvantages by playing a high octane spread offense that racks up points as quickly as possible. A team like them would have zero success playing an offense like Michigan does. Which is a whole other story to why I would like to see the dinosaur NFL offense changed to a successful college offense.


February 19th, 2018 at 5:07 PM ^

You're putting Stanford, ND, and NW at one level and UMich "half a notch" beneath them.

At the undergrad level, Michigan trails Stanford by a comfortable margin if you're measuring things like SAT scores. I think the margin is meaningfully smaller with the other two schools or close enough that it wouldn't be a consideration for most players (at least ones whose parents aren't infatuated with private schools).

Beat Rutgerland

February 19th, 2018 at 5:14 PM ^

I don't know (or care) what the latest US News rankings are, but Michigan and Northwestern are basically percieved as equals academically, Stanford is a little bit above those two, and ND is probably a little bit below those two.

I can't imagine somebody who's a D1 athlete is going to care that much about the relatively minor differences between the academics of 4 of the best academic programs in D1. I mean, it'd be a bad idea for an undergrad who wasn't even playing a sport to try to select between Northwestern and Michigan by trying to judge the tiny difference in reputation.


yossarians tree

February 20th, 2018 at 1:39 PM ^

The OP puts too fine a point on it, but is essentially on the right track. All four of these schools face the very difficult disadvantage of having high expectations that kids can handle the school and meet the academic requirements. This puts them all on an unlevel playing field against the programs that are now dominating--Bama, Clemson, most of the SEC, Ohio State, etc. For every 4-star that buys our Michigan Man pitch, 10 more are looking at a school for football only. They want to go to the League, and they are mostly knuckleheaded 17 year olds who are too dumb to know that the odds are seriously stacked against them playing even one year in the NFL much less have a long career.

Another thing the OP doesn't mention is that most of the big programs have bag men, and while not all the players are getting paid, they each have at least a handful of very big stars who have been paid. If we don't do that we are at a distinct disadvantage there, too. We are also in cold weather, which we KNOW has likely cost us a great many recruits over the years. Granted OSU is also a northern state but they do have bagmen and they don't require guys to "play school."

The path for Michigan to a national title is to have great coaching, a lot of talented, high-character, relatively more intelligent kids who can band together and realize that a true team can beat a collection of talented parts. That is hard to do, but I wouldn't love Michigan football if the mission was anything less than this.

Everyone Murders

February 19th, 2018 at 6:26 PM ^

Notre Dame's admission standards are really very high, and it's certainly a fine school.  But Notre Dame can't touch our engineering, medical (because ... ), hard sciences, mathematics, and many of the LS&A majors.

Notre Dame is difficult to get in to, and has a tremendous alumni network.  And it's a really good school.  For business networking purposes, a Notre Dame degree is probably more valuable than a Michigan degree. 

But it's not at all "every bit the school" that Michigan is. 

Everyone Murders

February 19th, 2018 at 6:37 PM ^

I prattled on with a similar point above, nearly an hour later.  To answer your question, my perception of Notre Dame has been that it's acceptance rates are extremely low, so it draws a really good academic student body.  But it's a stifling academic environment (in part because of its C.S.C. background, in part because of it not being a research institution, and for other reasons), and does not always draw the best and brightest in diverse fields.

It is a really good school, and a degree from Notre Dame opens many doors - especially in business and related fields.  But yeah - it's not an academic peer to Michigan.


February 20th, 2018 at 3:39 PM ^

It's a fine school.  And absolutely, certain specialties it will do well (I have heard good things about Mendoza, though no more or less than Ross).  But I've always had an issue with schools that are really, really good at lots of things being ranked against what are somewhat niche schools that provide a far less robust options, just because it truly is apples to oranges.  Notre Dame can't conceivably compete with large state schools for resources wrt research, and large state schools can't be as selective and fine-tuned as ND.  I have friends who graduated from ND and they got great educations there, but probably no better nor worse than you'd get from a handful of other "lower" rated schools.


February 19th, 2018 at 5:17 PM ^

I've always wanted someone put together some type of formula and chart to determine the best Football-Academics combo schools. It wouldn't be that difficult  - just take Win % over the last 25-30 years, US News Rank, and some other way of measuring academic success like grad earnings, maybe another football metric, and create some formula - I just don't want to take the time to do it lol. I'm assuming you're looking at Notre Dame, Texas, USC, Michigan, OSU, Florida...I probably missed an obvious no particular order.