The Wolverine staff writer Matt Pargoff was kind enough to answer a few questions about football recruiting for the blog. Topics run from the glut of three-star commits in the 2010 class to how the current class will shape up and much more. Read on to get some knowledge from a guy whose full-time job it is to follow this kind of stuff.
Chris Perry, member of the "disastrous" 2000 recruiting class.
AA: Many Michigan fans are concerned with the number of three-star recruits being taken this year by Rich Rodriguez and his staff. Do you share this concern?
MP: In general, it is not too concerning. For starters, the class is not complete, so there is still room to add more talent to the existing commit list. But beyond that, recruiting rankings are far from an infallible means of measuring talent. Some kids in every class pan out above expectations and some below. If just a third of the class ends up producing at a high level, it can generally be looked back on as a successful recruiting campaign.
I’m of the opinion that recruiting rankings don’t mean everything, but they don’t mean nothing either. There is some level of validity to them, even if tons of kids are missed, overrated and underrated. Teams that get higher rated recruits do tend to produce better on the field. But regardless of that, one recruiting class is never going to make or break a program or even an individual team. The 2000 Michigan recruiting class was seen as a disaster at the time, but it produced a Rimington Award winner, a Doak Walker award winner, two trips to the Rose Bowl and a pair of 10-win seasons.
If Michigan were to load up on three-star prospects every year, it might become a concern. But the 2010 class for Michigan looks to be very similar to all of the Penn State classes that made up an 11-2 team last year. Now, because Penn State has done that every year, I have my doubts about their ability to sustain such a high level from year to year. I think they will take a dip in their play this season because they have not consistently recruited on the highest level. But if Michigan recruits on a comparable level to Penn State for one year, then bounces back to where they were in the previous two classes, it should not affect the sustainability of success on the field.
Finally, many Michigan fans complained over the years that the Wolverines recruited top, top players, but had a minimalist approach to scheme. Now Michigan is making the move to become more of a “system team,” and some of the same folks complain when players recruited to fit that system aren’t ranked highly enough.
Small slot receivers, running quarterbacks and defensive tweeners don’t get the same respect in the rankings. If they’re needed for the system though, they’re needed for the system. Nebraska was a dominant force in the 1990s and rarely if ever got top 10 recruiting classes. And that doesn’t mean that recruiting rankings mean nothing, but they are just something that should always be taken with a grain of salt. How many top 25 classes has Utah had in the five years?
Tom Osborne was able to build a powerhouse with lesser recruiting classes that featured players who fit his system (like Tommy Frazier, above). Can Rich Rodriguez replicate Osbourne's success?
AA: Do you think Rodriguez should be “offering” players and then telling them to wait when they try to commit?
MP: All scholarship offers are conditional on variety of factors. The kid has to keep his grades up, stay out of trouble, and yes, decide on a timetable that works for the coaching staff that offers. It can lead to unfortunate circumstances from time to time, but it is, and always has been a part of recruiting at Michigan and all schools.
Former Notre Dame running back Ryan Grant wanted to commit to Michigan early and former North Carolina linebacker Doug Justice wanted to do the same, but by the time they were deciding, there just wasn’t a place for them anymore. Typically in the past, Michigan would just stop recruiting kids they had offered along the way as spots became full, but there was a regular slow playing of certain prospects late in the game as scholarship numbers became tight. It’s just part of recruiting.
If hypothetically a school needs a quarterback in its class, it would be unwise to put all eggs in one basket and offer just one. Instead, five, six or seven might be offered to ensure that the school gets one. But what happens if two or three want in and there just isn’t room? Welcome to the harsh world of football recruiting – first come, first served.
Former Notre Dame running back (and current Green Bay Packer) Ryan Grant was nearly a Wolverine.
AA: How do you see this class shaping up? Can Rodriguez possibly pull this into a top-10 caliber class?
MP: Given the number of players already committed and where they are currently ranked, it is unlikely that Michigan will finish in the top 10 in the recruiting rankings. The Wolverines have around 20 scholarships to hand out, which may continue to go up. Some kids in the class could be bumped up in the rankings and a strong finish is always possible.
But it would take a lot of things going right for a top-10 finish at this point. It should not be expected.
AA: How much do you think this recruiting class is being affected by the team’s unusually poor performance last season?
MP: Actually, I don’t think it is being affected that much by the season at all. Michigan is still getting a lot of top rated prospects interested. They are still coming in for visits and talking about Michigan for official visits in the fall. It’s just that most of the recruits that have offers that have been ready to commit so far were not the ones with the most stars next to their names.
If the recruiting rankings are really, really important to you, then an argument could be made against the strategy that has been employed in offering such a large number of kids. But people also have to remember that the coaching staff wouldn’t offer someone that they didn’t want, and they have a better understanding than anyone of what their greatest needs are and which players best fit their system.
Lloyd Carr's recruiting strategy changed over the course of his tenure at Michigan.
AA: Do you think Michigan fans should expect this type of high-volume (in terms of offers), wide-range (in terms of star talent) recruiting from Rodriguez in the future?
MP: That is a difficult question to answer, because recruiting strategies can change over time. When Lloyd Carr was head coach, it changed drastically over time. Early on, he followed Gary Moeller’s more aggressive approach to recruiting and took some risks on certain personalities. As he found great success on the field, see the 1997 season, that became less necessary, but Michigan still placed a significant amount of energy on regions outside the Midwest.
Following the disastrous 2000 recruiting class, there was a significant shift in favor of recruiting the home region with greater energy. When Bill Sheridan replaced Bobby Morrison as recruiting coordinator following the 2002 season, there was an emphasis placed on not taking as many early commitments as in the past. Over time, and further changes at the recruiting coordinator job, methods were developed for primarily offering recruits with a higher level of mutual interest. But looking at the big picture there, it was never one single recruiting strategy, but rather a constantly evolving one.
It is anyone’s guess how that will play out with Rodriguez in charge. More prospects were offered last year than fans were familiar with, and even more have been offered this time around. But you need more than two data points to plot a trend. Folks at West Virginia noted that his offensive recruiting started out a lot stronger than his defensive recruiting, but evened out over time. It would not be a surprise to see a similar evolution in recruiting at Michigan.
For better or worse, each class tends to develop in its own unique way. I think that inconsistency may be a universal constant in recruiting. In other words, fans should always expect the unexpected.
For more Pargoff, and more on Michigan recruiting, and much more on Wolverine sports in general, check out TheWolverine.com.