ANN ARBOR — The rickety 2017 Michigan football season ambled along for five months before ending New Year’s Day with a crash, bang, and boom.
Inopportune injuries, suspect coaching, and meager quarterback play sabotaged a year that began with glowing reviews. One month after the Outback Bowl disaster, the Wolverines welcomed the nation’s 24th-ranked recruiting class, which didn’t elicit much in the way of headlines — zero five-star prospects and only seven four-stars at a time when division foes Ohio State and Penn State collect four and five-star recruits by the bushel.
Times certainly have changed. Five months before the early signing period opens, Michigan has received a flurry of commitments. The class of 2019 is 18 players strong and ranked third nationally by Rivals.com — behind only Alabama and Texas A&M — with one five-star and five four-stars.
Coaches and UM personnel aren’t permitted to speak directly about committed (or uncommitted) prospects until they sign in either December or February, but the subtweets from recent days carry an obvious message of excitement.
Matt Dudek, Michigan’s director of recruiting, tweeted a meme of Scrooge McDuck swimming through his gold coins and a scene from Zoolander, running backs coach Jay Harbaugh tweeted the now-famous meme of a young, pudgy Memphis Grizzlies fan enthusiastically cheering, tight ends coach Sherrone Moore shared a video of Drake strutting, and cornerback commit D.J. Turner II tweeted, “The crazy thing is..... we still not done.”
The reaction underscores the importance recruiting — and momentum — plays in college football. It takes only one commitment for the floodgates to fly open. Since June 22, eight players have committed to the Wolverines’ 2019 class.
“There are varying thoughts from analysts and college coaches on how real recruiting momentum is. I actually think it is real,” said Allen Trieu, a recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com. “And I think the couple weeks Michigan has had is an example of that. Given that recruiting seemed to slow for Michigan for a period, this burst before the dead period was very important.”
Eric Gray, the nation’s No. 1 all-purpose back, gave UM his pledge Sunday. The Memphis native chose the Wolverines over Alabama, Penn State, and Texas A&M, among others. The 5-foot-10, 191-pound Gray rushed for 3,151 yards and 45 touchdowns as a junior.
Four-stars Mazi Smith (defensive tackle) and Zach Charbonnet (running back) also were part of the recent onslaught. Michigan’s also had three players commit to the 2020 class.
“The excitement is justified based on what has happened recently, which is a lot of kids committing in both the 2019 and 2020 classes,” Trieu said. “Top recruits have come to campus and not committed, but have seemed to leave with a higher opinion of Michigan.
“As a recruiting analyst, I sometimes have to fight the idea that a three-star is nothing to get excited about. There is such a wide variance of three-stars from the top of the three-star range to the bottom that you have to look at the rating, positional rank, and state rank — and Michigan has some guys in the higher end of that three-star category.”
A handful of players are expected to be added between now and February in what projects to be a top-10 class. The wish list includes Lewis Center, Ohio, native and five-star defensive end Zach Harrison, one of the top players in the country. Ohio State and Michigan are on a collision course for the central Ohio native’s commitment.
Five-star safety Daxton Hill (Tulsa, Okla.), five-star running back Quavaris Crouch (Charlotte), four-star safety Lewis Cine (Everett, Mass.), and four-star offensive tackle Trevor Keegan (Crystal Lake, Ill.) remain on the radar.
“Tackle is still a need in the class,” Trieu said, “and to get a kid who seemed destined for Ohio State at one point would be significant.”
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