Like the Buckeyes, the B1G is off to a hot start on the 2013 recruiting front. We thought it would be smart to spend some time catching up with where the rest of the conference stands, starting with the school atop the rankings - Michigan. Zach Travis of Maize n Brew was nice enough to answer a few questions to give a much more in depth look at what is going on with Hoke and the Wolverines.
What should Buckeye fans know about Michigan's 2013 class? What are your feelings about the class thus far?
If there is one thing that Ohio State fans should learn from the 2013 class that Michigan has thus far put together, I would say it is that Michigan is once again a major recruiting threat both in the Midwest and nationally. That isn't to say Michigan is taking over in recruiting, Ohio State recruits very well and with Meyer on board I don't expect that to stop. I simply mean that it looks like Michigan has reestablished itself as a solid top-10 recruiting program with some of the other national powerhouses. If Hoke and his staff can continue to coach these kids up, the sky is the limit for Michigan in the coming years.
As for the class itself, I am very happy with it, but it would take a lot of nit-picking to feel otherwise. To have a blue-chip quarterback, arguably the best collection of offensive lineman of any 2013 class, and a rapidly filling list of defensive playmakers, leaves little doubt that this class will end up in the top-5 nationally. If Michigan can reel in a few of its remaining high priority targets it is hard to see this class not being in strong contention for the number one spot on most scouting services. So yeah, I'm pretty stoked.
Which position groups do you think are the most important to fill in this class? How has the staff addressed those needs?
There are plenty of roster holes that are still being addressed after the Rich Rodriguez years (something I'm not touching with a ten-foot pole). First and foremost is quarterback, and Michigan seems to have hit a home run with the commitment of Shane Morris. Morris is not only the highest regarded player in the class, but he has been an active recruiter as well. Hoke and his staff have done a marvelous job with this class, but Morris deserves a great deal of praise as well for the way he has networked with other recruits and consistently sold the school on numerous unofficial visits.
More troubling is wide receiver which was ignored in 2011 (ask a Michigan fan about Devin Lucien and see the exasperated reaction) and is just solid in 2012 (Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson are both borderline four-star types that aren't likely to be instant impact players). Now, Michigan is looking at a 2012 season where there are only five scholarship receivers until the two freshmen show up in the fall, and those already on campus are either unproven or ill-fitting in the offense. This position is going to be a huge question mark all year and Michigan desperately needs three receivers in the 2013 class. One of those receivers, three-star Jaron Dukes, is already in the fold, but Michigan still needs a truly big-time recruit who can step in early and contribute. That guy is Laquon Treadwell. He is almost certainly the biggest target left on Michigan's board and will be one of the most hotly contested recruits in the Midwest this year.
Other than that Michigan still needs to add depth along the defensive line and a true NT type would be a huge help to depth down the road. The defensive line suffered a lot of losses this offseason as three starters graduated, and there aren't a lot of players on campus already to step in and fill the spots.
Are there any recruiting misses that have hurt?
It is a little too early in the cycle to say that there are any recruiting misses that have hurt. There are guys like Adam Breneman who would have been nice to have but was never really a realistic option. Then there are guys like EJ Levenberry, who was high on Michigan but ultimately chose FSU. Levenberry hurts because Michigan was in his top two, but with six very talented linebackers in the last two classes, he would have been a luxury.
Bad recruiting misses are about context. There is simply too much time and too many options still left for any miss to truly hurt. Talk to me in eight months if Michigan misses out on Treadwell or Ty Isaac and then I will have something for you.
Which committed prospect are you the most excited about?
I am most excited about Morris, obviously. Not only is he the most highly thought of recruit, he is the key to the offensive shift that Al Borges and Brady Hoke are planning on instituting over the next two or three years. Morris is the kind of big armed gunner that will open up the downfield passing attack that Borges wants --- the same one that has been hit or miss with Denard Robinson at the helm. Outside of him I really like the offensive line class and I am excited to see defensive guys like Taco Charlton develop under Greg Mattison.
Hoke and company have gotten off to a blazing start with 17 commitments in this class. What do you think is leading to that success?
I read a lot about Michigan's recruiting success and it all boils down to the atmosphere around the program. Recruits talk about how much they love the staff and the way things are done, they talk about the family atmosphere and the stern but caring approach of Hoke and the other coaches. On top of it all they talk about wanting to be at Michigan to the point that you get the feeling that they aren't just commits but now are pretty big Michigan fans. Ultimately I think it is Brady Hoke's personality that is reflecting on this team and the recruiting success. Hoke clearly loves the University of Michigan and as much as his "this is Michigan fergodsakes" shtick wears on opposing fans who have had to deal with haughty Michigan fans for years, it seems genuine in a way that is almost touching in the age of Bobby Petrino, Todd Graham, and *ahem* Urban Meyer (I keed, I keed...kind of).
How many more spots are left in this class for Michigan? Who are the top targets left on the board to fill them?
This is a fairly fluid question as you never know how many players will be claimed by injuries, academics, or "other" problems, but as it stands Michigan should have room to add another six or seven players to its 2013 class assuming nobody decommits. Of those slots the only certainties seem to be two more wide receivers (a big play type --- fingers crossed for Treadwell --- and a speedy slot/returner type) and two more defensive linemen that will most likely be a 5-tech defensive end and an interior lineman. For the remaining two or three slots it comes down to first come, first serve among the handful of really highly rated players that you just don't say no to. These include Ty Isaac at running back (or less likely Derrick Green), S'ua Cravens at safety, Joe Mathis at DE, or Kendall Fuller at CB. Outside of that Michigan could always bank the scholarships or shoot for late sleepers to build depth at positions like tight end and defensive line.
What are your thoughts on the Meyer-Hoke recruiting battle?
I think the fact that you can even classify it as a battle is a huge victory for Michigan in the long run. Between Jim Tressel's iron grip on the state of Ohio over the last decade and Michigan's slow shift away from recruiting upper tier Ohio talent, a lot of the struggles by the Michigan program on the field over the past six or eight years can be linked to a dwindling number of players from Ohio on the Michigan roster. In the modern college football era Michigan was at its best when it was bringing in a large amount of talent from the state of Ohio, and the national demographic shifts in population (i.e. the mass exodus of people to the sun belt from the rust belt) have made Ohio --- the only high school powerhouse state north of the Mason-Dixon line --- an even more important focus in Big Ten recruiting. Michigan State has, as of late, gotten fat on mid-level Ohio talent that OSU had no room for, which shows just how deep the pool of quality high school players in the state is.
As for the recruiting battle between Hoke and Meyer, I must say I am pretty excited to see how it plays out. Both coaches have surrounded themselves with great assistants and recruiters, both schools have some of the best facilities in the nation, and The Game stands as one of the most historic, well fought rivalries in all of college sports. The pieces are in place for both Ohio State and Michigan to enjoy a run of success in the Big Ten that is second only to the "Ten-Year War"*. The past year and a half has shown that both coaches will be able to gain the interest of some of the best high school talent in the nation and that should translate into a great deal of success on the field.
There haven't really been any clashes outside of those for Bri'onte Dunn and Armani Reeves, and only the most dyed-in-the-wool Michigan fans really believed that Michigan had a better than 50/50 shot for either. I think that this is fairly indicative of what is to come on the recruiting trail in the next few years. Both schools will have their plan-A recruits and will only occasionally cross paths on two or three with heavy interest in both schools. The most important part isn't that Michigan or Ohio State is winning these few battles, but that both schools are able to pick and choose from the rest of the top Midwest talent with regularity. Ohio State will probably win a better than 50 percent share of the head to head battles just because the majority of the clashes will take place over Ohio recruits, but this shouldn't diminish Michigan's recruiting classes in any noticeable way.
*(Getting back to the days of Big Two, Little Ten isn't going to be easy in the modern college football world. There is too much parity as far as revenue when it comes to the major conferences and the proliferation of college football telecasts has given greater exposure to programs that previously had to fight for air. Teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa are capable of making serious runs at the Big Ten championship year in and year out, and that doesn't include traditional powerhouses Penn State and Nebraska. It will be nearly impossible to dominate the conference on the level which the two teams were able to under Schembechler and Hayes.)
Thanks again to Zach for his analysis. For more information on Michigan football and recruiting, check out http://www.maizenbrew.com or follow them on Twitter at @MaizenBrew.