A play in three acts: Balancing out the classes

Submitted by Rasmus on January 31st, 2015 at 6:26 PM
[SUMMARY: There's been a lot of talk about banking scholarships. 2015 and especially 2016 is not the time to do this. It will not help. However, 2017 and especially 2018 may be the time to do it.]
Okay, so everyone can probably agree that the ideal situation is to have at least 20 recruits each year, thereby leading to a steady supply of juniors and seniors to lead the team on the field. This is the best way to always be in contention for top-tier recruits -- sustained excellence on the field.
So let's assume that one of Harbaugh's goals is to lay a foundation over the next six years for this kind of balance. Is that even possible? I think yes, but it will take some luck -- mainly with the talent in 2015 and 2016 -- these classes need to both stay and be productive. 
Act One is make the 2015 and 2016 classes as large as possible. Do what Harbaugh appears to be doing, which is to encourage non-essential redshirts to play their graduate year elsewhere. That is a no-brainer. They've done all they can for 2015, given the short time frame -- fill the spots and hope for the best. Positional needs will have to be filled next year.
Act Two is get the 2017 and 2018 classes down to sustainable numbers, like 25 at most. Fewer if possible. There are 16 redshirts in the 2017 class, and 15 in the 2018 class. A lot of those need to stay around for their graduate year.
Act Three is to get the numbers up to at least 18 for the 2019 class and then at least 20 for the 2020 class. Thereby achieving the above-stated goal, going forward. There are 12 redshirts in the 2019 class -- even without any attrition among those 12 (unlikely), you still need maybe five players from the 2015 class to NOT redshirt. Right now, that seems like a pretty tall order. David is a lock, but who else? 
Bottom line is, if the will-likely-play-as-freshman recruits are not coming this year, then Michigan should look for players who can at least contribute on special teams and graduate in four years. There's no harm in doing so. You're going to need those scholarships in 2019, and they are useless in 2017 and 2018.



January 31st, 2015 at 6:53 PM ^

I'll be 42 in 2020, so don't feel too bad. Actually, many regulars on the site will be even older than that by then, so you're not dealing with the youngest crowd out there certainly, but damned if we aren't technologically savvy for the most part regardless. 


January 31st, 2015 at 10:44 PM ^

6 months older than JH! in 2020 I'll be 56! Just 8 more years until retirement and getting to watch all Michigan football games at home and on the road! I hope JH is still the coach in 2029 season and beyond! I wonder how many National Championships we will have by then!


January 31st, 2015 at 6:51 PM ^

I highly doubt JH pulls in 5* recruits if he's redshirting players. Non linemen 5* aren't going anywhere that'll redshirt them. So the better the class the less upperclassmen.


January 31st, 2015 at 7:03 PM ^

Take 85 5-stars every season and let them compete. All go pro. Kentucky of CFB.

In all seriousness, the idea that we should take 20 per year is suboptimal.  The program's aim should be to NOT red-shirt people, a la Meyer's stated practice.  If you get everybody contributing right away you get more players cycling through the program. More players means more liklihood of finding superstars.  The next Woodson, Brady, Hart, etc.

Of course, here in reality, it makes sense to red-shirt kids who aren't going to contribute, especially OLmen and 4th string QBs.  If you haven't broken into the 2 deep or special teams rotation by game 4, it's time to think about it.


January 31st, 2015 at 7:05 PM ^

Stop being a bunch of GITS! We got HARBAUGH, Tyree, cole, some road graters, and two of the strongest ARMS in the class! Durkin and Matt both coach our defense with #6 in the backfield! Take out you MANpons, grow a pair to hold up your Jock, and dream about September as your blood boils and iron sharpens iron during the spring!



January 31st, 2015 at 8:13 PM ^

Donald, I'm assuming that you're not okay with me calling you Donald, so I am going to anyways. No, your assumption of my age is not correct, your response to reaffirms a conclusion I came to after your first post, so before you shake your head and scroll away or are premature to respond and not finish reading this let me simply give a little insight into my previous post.
The post was not a whim or emotional response to the original post, I actual considered not responding until my wife read the responses and asked why the ][\/][ are up in arms. "We got the coach, we have a decent recruiting class, what's the problem?" That was why I produced the response.
However, your two quick witted responses provided great insight into your identity. As a sycophantic cynic who probably spends more time criticizing than cheering, undermining than hoping, and is the first to jump on the band wagon when the wins come easy and the first to demean when the road gets tough, you are missing a simple thing called intestinal fortitude. I challenge you Don to remember what Bo said about winning and losing, but more importantly, about standing by your TEAM! Try to live up to it.

“When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can make you soft. On the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing!"


January 31st, 2015 at 7:06 PM ^

Regardless of what your 'ideal' is, I hope everyone can agree that letting scholarships go unused is the exact opposite of oversigning.  Oversigning is a competitive advantage.  'Banking' (i.e., not using) scholarships is a competitive disadvantge. I don't know why any team would inentionally put themselves in a disadvantageous position like that.

There is no good reason to bank scholarships, ever.


January 31st, 2015 at 9:33 PM ^

If you are sitting there two weeks before signing day in 2018 with 22 top recruits at positions of need already in the class thanks to great seasons in 2016 and 2017, and you are looking at a tiny 2019 class, then yes, you have to think seriously about "banking" some 2018 scholarships by giving them to worthy walk-ons for a year to get the numbers up in the 2019 class...

The principal reason for this is that recruiting is still a crapshoot. Some years you are going to get more players who don't work out than other years. That's just reality. The uneven nature of high school competition basically guarantees that. It's important to try to have a decent amount of new blood every year, to absorb the tyranny of the law of large numbers.


January 31st, 2015 at 10:29 PM ^

It's a "crapshoot" in that the endevour is fraught with uncertainity and variance, with a chance of winning and a chance of losing.  Same goes for playing the lottery - which is a better analogy for recruiting.

"Banking" a scholarship is throwing away lottery tickets. It's giving up without trying. 

The benefit is you reward walk-ons.  Which, OK, nice for the kids who are rewarded - but if that was a great thing you'd just build your entire team on walk-ons and call it a day.  Let's agree that rewarding walk-ons is suboptimal.  It's Plan B.  Preferably your recruits pan out into all-americans and future NFL all-pros.

It's BECAUSE recruiting is so uncertain that you can't pass and taking advantage of every opportunity.  You don't skip out on a 3-star kid because you MIGHT get a 4-star kid the following year.   Mike Hart was better than David Underwood. You take the 3-star kid and you hope to develop him into a star.

Bigger classes just mean more attrition.  That's how OSU and the SEC schools do it.  They bring 30 guys in.  Standard attrition drops 5-10 of them, then a handful more realize they're never going to start and transfer and bam - you take 30 more again the next year. 

The mistake in all this is assuming that no attrition and tons of red-shirts are optimal.  They are not.  Alabama would have cut Russell Bellomy 3 years ago and they'd be cutting Blake Bars and Terry Richardson.  Not saying I want Michigan to do this stuff but if you're a cold-hearted football-focused machine that's the way you operate.

People here think it's a tragedy if every recruit doesn't turn into a 5-year player and... not only is that unrealistic... it's also suboptimal.  The real ideal is 4-year players and a healthy level of attrition to increase the people coming through the program.



February 1st, 2015 at 6:55 AM ^

So one form of gambling ("lottery") is a better analogy for recruiting than another form of gambling ("crapshoot")? It doesn't matter, but I can't agree -- the odds of a five-star being a contributor are better than those of a three-star. In the lottery, the odds for every ticket are the same. Playing dice, the odds are part of the game. 

Despite your various straw men, I get what you're saying, but I'm not talking about skipping out on a three-star one year to get a four-star the next year. If you read my post, you'd know I expressly said we should NOT do that this year, or next.

You're also ignoring my premise that a critical mass of junior and senior leadership is necessary for success on the field. These are "kids" we're talking about, and there is a significant difference between ages 19 and 22.

And yes, it's possible uneven attrition will render the whole balance problem moot by 2017 and 2018. But if it does not, then what? If you take 56 (the B1G maximum) in those two years, you start the cycle again, resulting in teams that aren't ready to play.

It wasn't just uneven attrition that got Michigan into this mess. It was two problematic coaching changes in just three years. Ignoring the problem isn't going to fix it.

Finally, even if we accept your premise (i.e., limiting the role of redshirts in player development) and four years becomes the standard in order to move the maximum number of players through the program (i.e., buying the maximum number of lottery tickets), then balance becomes even more important, as does the wisdom of putting one's thumb on the scale in 2017 and/or 2018 just enough to shift the momentum toward balancing things out in future years.


February 1st, 2015 at 11:43 AM ^

 Therefore the problem will tend to take care of itself.

Despite perceptions, Michigan has actually done this for a long time at the RB position.  Take a bunch of guys, let them compete, and then the guys who don't emerge end up moving on or shifting to FB, LB, etc.

Harbaugh did the same thing at QB at Stanford.

A lot of programs are figuring out that this is a reasonable approach for other positions as well. 


Attrition is certain, but the specifics are unpredictable.  The idea of balance is appealing as a concept but in practice it is not acheivable because there is attrition and then there is the uncertainty of recruits panning out as well. 

In short - you can't acheive balance, even if you try.  You shouldn't sacrifice talent or depth in order to strive for balance.  Banking scholarships is doing that.

I guess I'm missing your point about 'balance' mattering more or less if you red-shirt kids or don't. I don't see a difference.


I don't see any 'mess' on the Michigan roster, other than at the QB position, which is about to get fixed it seems with Harbaugh's preference for multi-QB classes.  Yeah, there are some imbalances here and there but no position is in red-flag territory or not readily fixable in the 2016 class. 

As you said, the issue comes down to transition costs.  The 2011 and 2015 classes are going to be outliers in terms of recruiting class rankings.




January 31st, 2015 at 7:27 PM ^

With post spring attrition (I'll estimate 2) and 5th year seniors (there are 13 next year versus this year's 8 pre attrition) I think the 2016 class will probably move up from 14 currently to 18 or so by the time we get there.  Without naming names 4 of those 13 potential 5th year seniors have played anywhere from almost never to almost never in a Big 10 game - similar to a Russ B.  Heitzman and Justice Hayes have played more than those 4 guys who will be in a similar boat 12 months from now.  So I could be conservative with my 18 class size next year; maybe it's 19-20 but that's a discussion for next Dec 1 or so.   There could always be a medical DQ as well (has anyone seen Chris Fox in the past year?).

So if 4-6 openings move from the 2017 class to the 2016 class we help to even things out.  That 26 2017 openings drops down to 22-20.  Of course in the 2017 class we will be facing all the same factors.  But I'd expect less post spring attrition by then as anyone who has not bought into Harbaugh by then will be gone.  And it will just be guys who don't see playing time in their future.  Way too early to talk 5th year seniors at that time but I count 15 in that class. 

This year is just very weird and in a way it worked out for us due to the coaching change but in the next cycle we don't want classes of 13-14; 18-22 is more of a target.  Or if you are OSU 24-26 every year.

I don't think it's going to take a full cycle.  We've had the combination of 2 very large classes (2012/2013) with very low attrition (4 players total from over 50) - that's a testament to Hoke.  That followed 2 disaster classes of 2010 and 2011 and hence probably a conference low in 5th year seniors.  I believe I read someone say MSU will have 21 this year - that's a full starting team minus 1.  We now have 5.


January 31st, 2015 at 8:23 PM ^

I don't know how you're getting 4 out of 50 for Hoke.

Presumably you are counting the freshman and sophomores on the team?  You might as well be making a "testament to Harbaugh" case based on how many decommitments he hasn't had.

The 2012 class:  24 out of 25 have made it through 3 seasons, which is a fantastic start. But the writing is on a the wall that a few these guys won't be back by fall, let alone next year.

The 2011 class:  10 out of  20 made it through 4 years (eveb that's counting Bellomy, Heitzman, Hayes).  If you consider these guys (who Michigan invested scholarships on in order to red-shirt for their 5th seasons) to be attrition, then you are talking about nearly 2/3s of Hoke's ONLY class that has gone through a cycle here to be attrition.

Attrition is normal. It happens every year. If we only lose 2 guys in the next 12 months that would be a record by a longshot.

The 2016 class will be over 20, probably well over.


January 31st, 2015 at 10:40 PM ^


I don't know how you're getting 4 out of 50 for Hoke.


Sometimes reading is hard.

I wrote exactly how I got to it - the 2012 and 2013 classes were 25+ and only 4 attrition thus far. So that is just under 50 kids from those 2 classes alone, out of 85 scholarships.


January 31st, 2015 at 11:06 PM ^

My fault for missing your parenthetical, but by "I'm not sure how you got it" I'm primarily trying to question the validity of your methodology. It's disingenous cherry-picking to ignore the one class that has been here for 3.5 years and say the guys who have been here for 2.5 and 1.5 years are a "testament" to the guy that got fired.

I wonder how much different Rodriguez looked at a comparable point.  Most of his guys from his 2008 class were around for a year and half too.  2.5 years later - fewer. 4 years on, with a new head coach, the numbers had shrunk significantly.

That's how attrition works. It takes it's toll over time, some go right away, others depart with unrenewed 5th years.  It's why the '2 years from now we'll be great' rule always works - it pretends attrition doesn't exist but attrition always exists.

Note: I'm not disputing that Hoke did a good job with keeping the 2012 class around or that he did a great job vetting viable college football student-athlete, but it's still the case that a good chunk of those guys are not going to play at Michigan for 4 years.

In other words - evaluating attrition 1 or 2 years in is kind of like evaluating recruiting classes the summer before signing day.  There's a lot that can happen between Shaun Crawford and Damien Harris to awww shucks we missed out on John Kelly and what about these guys from Rutgers, Washington State, UConn and CMU???


January 31st, 2015 at 9:53 PM ^

What Harbaugh needs to do is identify the position groups that may not be that deep in years 3/4 and nab generic three star recruits from the MAC/Big Ten or wherever. Part of Hoke's downfall was not doing this with the offensive line in 2011. You gotta at least have guys with some experience, even if they aren't the most talented at their position. Otherwise you get stuck with our 2013 offensive line.