It’s that magical time of the year around college football. It’s National Signing Day. It’s a free agent period of sorts as players are signing up for their next 3-4 years of their life. For many fans, finding out who will be coming to the university is just as big if not bigger than winning a championship. There’s an immense passion out there for these recruits and it reaches a dangerous level for some who clearly don’t realize we are talking about 18 year olds. For those high school athletes it’s one of the biggest days of their life when they get to announce to the world what university they will choose to go to.
This is also a day that upsets a lot of people who see 18 year olds paraded out in front of cameras to make their decisions. They will sit before a national audience not to announce anything more than they will get the chance to play college football. While I personally am not one who is yelling and screaming about it being wrong, I do understand why certain people do. These kids haven’t done anything but beat a bunch of chump high school athletes up and down the field and they are holding college programs and fan bases hostage until they make their decisions. It’s awesome for them that they get an opportunity like this, but the big spectacle probably isn’t needed.
I move on from that to turn my attention to each program around the state to take a look at how today turned out for each team.
Michigan completed this day in fairly good shape as Harbaugh was handed a very tough situation and made the most of it. This class is nothing close to what it once was. It was at one time a very solid class. Small, but full of solid recruits. All of that changed after Hoke was fired. The coaching change along with the month long wait on Harbaugh chased a lot of recruits to other universities. The class dwindled down to single digits but Harbaugh was able to secure a few of those previous recruits and flip a few others. In the end it isn’t a class that is going to open many eyes. According to Rivals, the class ranks #49 nationally and ranks #8 in the Big Ten. All along the class was expected to be small and it is with just 14 players. That’s still far better than what Harbaugh inherited when it was sitting at just eight. In the end it was an exciting day for the Wolverines mostly because they had no good idea what would come of this class until signing day. When Harbaugh took over it was late in the signing period which meant first of all locking down the current recruits, and secondly flipping some from other schools. He did as well as can be expected for a man in that situation.
Today became one of big gains and big losses for Michigan. They were able to turn five recruits today as RB Karan Higdon, ATH Keith Washington, DE Tyron Wheatley Jr., and DE Shelton Johnson all flipped over to the Maize and Blue. They also endured some big misses. One of the biggest losses was four star TE Chris Clark, one of the top TEs in the country. He was once a Michigan commit but decommitted after Hoke was fired. It came down to Michigan and UCLA but he decided to head to the west coast. Another big loss was one of the top in-state recruits who was also once committed to Michigan and that’s RB Mike Weber. He grew up a Michigan fan but, like Clark, he decommitted after Hoke was fired and committed to Ohio State. Michigan made a late play on him but he decided to stick with the Bucknuts.
In terms of the stars of this class it starts with instate recruit Brian Cole who is rated as their top recruit. He was regarded as the best athlete in the state and it’s currently up in the air what position he will play but it will likely be WR. Michigan has also brought in two QB’s that will lead to good competition, something that didn’t exactly happen under Hoke. Alex Malzone is a four star in-state recruit from Birmingham Brother Rice, while Zach Gentry is a four star recruit from New Mexico who was once committed to Texas. Their two other big time recruits are OL Grant Newsome and DB Tyree Kinnel.
The class is certainly lacking in the top quality recruits and there are a few more of those lower three star recruits. Again, that was fairly expected and Harbaugh and company probably did pretty close to as good as could be expected considering they were given just weeks to flip guys who had been committed to other coaches for a year. It’s certainly a class to build on, and the biggest work for Harbaugh and company will come next year when they have an entire year to talk to these recruits. His success this coming year was not going to be determined on how great this recruiting class was anyway. The last two years brought the Wolverines the #5 and #7 classes in the country. Next year will matter much more on what they can do with the crop of players already there.
Compared to Michigan it was a pretty ho hum day for the recruiting of Michigan State. That might sound like I’m saying something bad, but all that means was they were pretty much set going into today. They did get a few to flip over today as DE Mufi Hunt and LB Cassius Peat both decided to come to East Lansing. In the end MSU turned in their second straight top 25 class. While it’s not one of the most elite classes in the nation that doesn’t seem to matter all that much. What does matter is what happens in the fall and that’s when Dantonio turns this talent into something great. I have no doubt that Dantonio and his staff will take this class and create a team that competes for Big Ten Championships again.
In terms of the rankings MSU ranks #22 in the nation but is #3 in the Big Ten. Only Ohio State and Penn State are ranked above the Spartans in the Big Ten. It’s a class that doesn’t feature any top of the line national recruits but it has the look of a Dantonio class. That means it’s heavy with talent on two of the most important positions, defensive back and defensive line. In the defensive backfield the Spartans added four star recruits Josh Butler (Mesquite, TX) and David Dowell (Lakewood, OH). On the defensive line MSU brought in Raequan Williams (Chicago), also a four star recruit.
In terms of the offense this class may bring two of the future stars in the backfield for the Spartans. There’s a lot of hype surrounding RB commit Larry “LJ” Scott. He is a four star RB out of Hubbard, OH who was heavily recruited. That included getting big time attention from Ohio State until he made his final decision. He also held offers from Alabama and many other Big Ten schools. He is big (6’1”, 215) and fits the mold of your typical MSU running back. Along with Scott comes Brian Lewerke, a four star QB out of Phoenix who was wanted by the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee. There was no QB recruit in last year’s class so it’s safe to think MSU is expecting him to be the man in a few years. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get in on the QB battle following Connor Cook’s graduation after next season. And for some future protection for his QB, Dantonio was also able to pull four star OL Kyonta Stallworth out of Detroit Martin Luther King.
Dantonio just keeps clicking along and the success on the field certainly is having an effect on the recruits that want to come to MSU. They are pulling in kids from across the nation now and they are pulling in bigger recruits from what they used to. Take a look at where these guys came from; CA, FL, AZ, TX, UT, VA and KY. That’s a sign that the Spartans message is reaching national levels. This is their second straight top 25 class which is a big step up from just three years ago when the Spartans were ranking in the 40s. The thing that any smart person will look at is what Dantonio did when he didn’t have great talent. What could be possible now that he is getting bigger talent? The obvious direction you need to look to is beyond Big Ten Championships. That’s the next goal for this program. They want to be a program that is competing for championships and vying for the playoff on a yearly basis and if they keep bringing in big time classes there’s no reason they can’t be. They clearly have the coaching and the development staff to coach up these guys. Now that they are getting better talent the sky is the limit for this program.
Western Michigan completed another great signing day as they bring in their second straight class which is ranked #1 in the MAC. I’ve said it before and if there’s one thing we know about PJ Fleck it’s that the man can recruit. Back to back great classes for WMU should mean big future success. It was a pretty quiet day for the Broncos in terms of waiting on recruits. They didn’t have any day of surprises. In fact their whole class had their letters of intent in before noon. Part of that is because they have guys that are all from the Midwest and can send in their letters earlier in the day. The other part is because they did their due diligence to lock down this class a long time ago and solidified their recruits to make sure there were no surprises.
Fleck said he thinks it is a better class than last years. Next year’s team will be younger but more talented and deeper. The rankings stats don’t say this class is better, but it certainly is another very good class. Last year they ranked #59 nationally and this year they are #77. I think last year’s class had a bigger upshot for top talent. They had 14 three star athletes last year compared to six this year. Six is in no way bad. That’s still tops in the MAC and it’s another great class of talent to add to what they already have.
In terms of the talent in this class it is heavy on the defensive side, primarily in the defensive backfield and defensive end spots. They are bringing in five defensive backs this year which includes safety Justin Tranquill who is listed as the highest recruit ever to go to a MAC school. I don’t think it would be any surprise to see him playing big minutes in the defensive backfield next season. Also on the defensive side WMU brought in Alex Grace who finished as the runner up to Alex Malzone (Michigan QB) for the top player in Michigan last year. He put up huge numbers as a RB at Saginaw Swan Valley, but will be shifted over to LB next year and may compete for playing time next year. Meanwhile they also got a nice pick-up with three star DE Eric Assoua out of Washington DC.
On the offensive side of the ball it starts on the offensive line. John Keenoy is an OL out of East Kentwood who was the top rated center in the state of Michigan. He will likely have a chance to compete for a spot on the line next season. He is also joined by another three star recruit in Wesley French (St. Joseph, MI) who was coveted by just about every school in the MAC and a few Big Ten schools. In terms of future playmakers, WMU might have a scary duo out of the backfield next year with the addition of Devon Tucker (Somerdale, NJ) and LeVante Bellamy (Indianapolis). While neither is likely to unseat Jarvion Franklin as the starter, Franklin can look forward to getting some rest from time to time with better depth behind him. The final key recruit is QB Jon Wassink out of Grand Rapids South Christian. He is listed as a two star recruit but could likely have a big time future at WMU and could be set up to compete for the QB job in two years.
This is a great upshot for the WMU program. There’s all around good talent in this class and the good also lies in the fact that a lot of these guys won’t be pressed into playing time right away like a lot of them were last year. I do wonder how the depth will affect future recruiting for Fleck who can’t exactly offer immediate playing time to all of them anymore. Back to back big time classes to go along with last year’s success means WMU is set up to be good for quite a while here. Yes there’s still a question about how long Fleck will stay at WMU but even if he leaves the Broncos are set up to succeed no matter when he could look to jump.
On Tap for Tonight:
WMU vs. Kent State. 7:00
Pistons @ Indiana. 7:00