When you watch Ohio State sign one of the best on-paper recruiting classes of all time, complete with a last-second five star offensive line commit, there's really nothing to stop you from being smug as all hell about it for the next seven months except your own sense of shame. Anyone who has read anything of mine from Eleven Warriors dot com over the past almost eight years would know that that's not really an issue for me, so when it comes to rubbing this class in the faces of the University of Michigan and its fans, I have no qualms about risking a scolding on a message board I'll never read.
Besides, any snark from me comes from a place of love: I genuinely want to see Michigan not suck, because a rivalry without competence on both sides becomes Illibuck. And unfortunately, The Game doesn't have the world's greatest trophy to buoy some one-sided badness.
Michigan football recruiting needs to get its act together.
Unfortunately, National Signing Day wasn't a good indicator that they've done this. I'm not a recruiting expert, but I feel like phrases such as "The biggest disappointment of the day" and "The Wolverines whiffed on a pair of recruits that they had been courting for some time" and "You don't get to go 8-5 and pretend like it never happened" and the absolute cherry on top, "Let's not mince words: this isn't going to be enough if it continues like this. Not to beat OSU" in a section labeled FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE CLASS probably are signs that things went sideways somewhere.
Michigan ended up with the 21st ranked recruiting class nationally, cozily situated between Tennessee and Nebraska. It should be noted that while all three schools are traditional college football powerhouses, two of them just had coaching changes (and one of those was incredibly public, drawn out, and embarrassing), whereas the other has a head coach that they're paying somewhere in the realm of ten million dollars per year to presumably challenge Ohio State for Big Ten supremacy.
Apologists for Michigan will point out that this was a weird year for them because they're returning so many starters, and given that playing time is frequently one of the biggest motivators for a recruit, the Wolverines lost a valuable bullet in their chamber. Plus, hey, 2017 was a good class, and dropping into the 20s doesn't really mean anything if you really think about it.
Look, I know how dumb that sounds. I'm trying.
Anyway, this column isn't about problems, it's about solutions. I want Michigan to be good, and that involves recruiting classes that are comparable to... Washington's? That'd be nice. Here are some suggestions.
1. TRY NOT TO LOSE THREE STRAIGHT GAMES TO FINISH THE SEASON
This seems simple enough: of the last three games of the year, do not lose every single one. But hang on my friends, because this is much easier said than done! Jim Harbaugh was on the verge of avoiding this very difficult trap, but alas, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina. In 2016 Michigan only lost the last two games of the season, but the win before that was a 10 point victory against Indiana, which is functionally the same thing as a loss. Also the game before that was a loss to Iowa (which, as Ohio State knows, counts for like three losses).
Anyway, kids like winners. And winners don't do drugs and don't lose to damn near everyone in the last two months of the season.
2. MAYBE HARBAUGH ISN'T FUN WEIRD, AND IS ACTUALLY WEIRD WEIRD
Keep him away from recruiting, is what I'm getting at here. There have been rumors tossed around that he's been doing that voluntarily, but let's operate under the assumption that Harbaugh is fully engaged in recruiting and is as weird as ever.
Maybe there's a tipping point with that. You know the kid in class who would do stuff like drink milk through his nose or flip his eyelids and touch his eyeballs? And then you'd laugh the first day, and maybe the second, but by the eighth and ninth day straight of this you start finding a different place to eat lunch? That's Jim Harbaugh.
Jim Harbaugh works better in the abstract, or as a meme. Having extended contact with him and inviting him over for recruiting pitches and dinners and the like starts to seem like bad parenting at a certain point. Throw Don Brown in there and hope for the best instead.
3. BECOME LITTLE BROTHER
"Never!" you scream into the void, not willing to accept the truth, which is that Michigan needs to start winning the recruiting game by casting aside their pride and playing up the underdog angle.
Beat Michigan State at their own game. Cast off the pretensions of greatness, and rebrand yourself as the little school with an 11 billion dollar endowment that could. Here's the reality: there isn't a single person of college age that remembers back-to-back wins by Michigan in The Game. The last time that they won a Big Ten Championship, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was in theaters.
So don't bother telling kids about Bo and Woody and Yost and the tales of how Michigan dominated before the invention of powered flight. Sell them instead on trolling the hell out of the big dogs of the conference.
4. I DON'T KNOW... CHEAT?
Hey, it's an option.
5. REPLACE ENTIRE ROSTER WITH ANGRY GERMAN WOODSMEN
While rare, international recruiting is pretty fantastic, and while I don't think that a small-batch artisanal Wolverine team made up of Quebecois fur trappers, Algerian nomads, and New Zealanders with warrants out for their arrest in Cambodia would fare any better than what they're currently fielding, it'd also be a hell of a lot interesting than waiting to see which carbon-copy quarterback will throw 2-3 interceptions on any given week.
Michigan made a small step towards this goal during the most recent recruiting cycle, but it's not nearly enough: if a mustachioed 34 year old Swede isn't calling plays under center by 2020, I will be very upset.
Recruiting has always been much more of an art than a science, at least when it comes to getting players to commit to a team and a coach that has a pedigree but no real recent success. There may not be a solution for 2019, but I do know this: if the Wolverine reaction to a poor recruiting class is to double down on the same kind of attitude that got them in this place to begin with, things aren't going to get better.
Because sometimes, it isn't the children who are wrong.