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Tuesday, March 11, 2008


It's probably too early to have much of a take on 2009 recruiting at this point but MSU's two recent RB "commitments" got me to thinking... For as long as I can recall, UM has dominated in-state recruiting. In the past it hadn't been that big a deal because the state would produce about one bigtime recruit each year and maybe a couple other decent ones if we were lucky. Here's how I remember it off the top of my head (UM commits in bold, others in red):

98 Drew Henson
99 TJ Duckett
00 Charles Rogers
01 Ernest Shazor; other notable - Kelly Baraka
02 Gabe Watson; other notable - Drew Stanton (was he in this class?)
03 LaMarr Woodley; other notables - Doug Van Dyke (Purdue), Jake Long, Jim Presley
04 Will Johnson; other (sort of) notables - Morgan Trent, Roger Allison, Alex Mitchell [correction, Mitchell was the top prospect in the state. Allison was like 8 or 9. -ed]
05 Kevin Grady; other notables - Terrance Taylor, Antonio Bass
06 Brandon Graham
07 Ronald Johnson (USC); other notables - Dionte Allen (FSU), Joseph Barksdale (LSU)
08 Nick Perry (USC); other notables - Boubacar Cissoko, Dann O'Neill
09 William Campbell...

Basically, that's major pwnage from 98 until 06 (Duckett was an MSU legacy and Rogers was from Saginaw, and a shady prima donna). But in more recent years, as the State of Michigan has been producing more topflight talent, UM's grip on in-state recruiting has loosened. Normally this would only be mildly bothersome and written off as aberrational (such were my thoughts in 07 and w/re: Perry this year).

But with the coaching/offensive philosophy change, I wonder what's going to happen as we move forward. Simply put, certain offensive players won't want to go to UM anymore -- e.g. dropback passers, certain WRs, and bigger RBs like Edwin Baker and Larry Caper in the 09 class. Maybe that's not such a big deal. A quick look back shows that the only guys UM would have missed out on over the last decade or so are Henson, Duckett, Grady, and Johnson, two of whom they lost anyway. And indeed, the biggest fish of 09 has already committed to UM (though he's a defensive player). But here's what I worry about:

UM used to offer every in-state player who was any good, regardless of position. With the spread, however, more thought is put into personnel that "fits" the offense. That's fine, but it's my belief that such emphasis on fit will eventually hurt UM's place in the in-state recruiting. Obviously, MSU will never surpass UM in the long run but now there is much more opportunity for them to gain momentum in any one year.

Look at this year -- they already have commitments from two of the (arguably) best players in the state. It doesn't matter that UM didn't really want those guys because it sets up the illusion that "something special" is happening at MSU. Such an attitude is completely unfounded but could spread to other recruits. Then, all of a sudden, guys who should be UM locks might [stupidly] start looking at MSU as a viable option. And if MSU is able to get something going, then what stops other (read: better) schools from getting in there too. Just look at what USC has done the last few years. Frankly, I am uncomfortable with other programs thinking they can come in and try to get recruits that in the past would have been Blue all the way. I prefer the old design, where MSU knew its place and was content with nothing better than UM's scraps; and where other schools knew not to bother because all of the bluechippers were pegged for UM.

Anyway, that's a super long email. I'm actually not too panicked about any of this because it's probably not a huge deal. But I just wanted to see if someone else had an opinion on these concerns. What do you think?

Mark Bilski
UM '01
Mark points out one of the hidden costs of moving to the spread offense: a partial withdrawal of the boot Michigan placed firmly upon State's neck after the Charles Rogers class. The instate dynamic now returns to something like the days when John L Smith was running his crazy, sometimes crazily effective, spread offense and Michigan was running the pro-style attack it adopted in the late 80s. Certain players who were Not A Fit for Michigan but pretty good prospects in their own right found an attractive instate option under the mad hatter. Similarly, State now has free reign to nail down Michigan's new Not A Fit prospects -- quarterbacks with a tendency to chew their cud, Caulcrick/Hunt style mashers, and uninterestingly slow tight ends -- without interference from big brother. Call this the "Better Fit Effect."

How big of an effect is it? Eh... the results of Michigan State's better-fit haul under JLS: QB Keith Nichol, a top 100 QB who liked the idea of being the next Stanton and committed to MSU his junior year. (JLS would be fired before Nichol signed his LOI; he decommitted and went to Oklahoma.) That's, like, a guy in four years. Off the top of my head I can't think of a single other player State picked up because of the divide in offensive philosophy. Heck, Antonio Bass was a top 50 recruit who wanted to play quarterback and he still chose Michigan.

Michigan State's already got at least one guy from the BFE this year: the instate QB named Maxwell, a true water buffalo sort. If Carr and Co. were still around Maxwell might be holding out for a camp offer or something; with Rodriguez he knows the chances of picking up an offer are none and none. Depending on what you believe about Larry Caper and Michigan's Jonas-Gray-like interest in him, he might be a second.

So at most it appears to be a couple kids here and there. Defenders and offensive linemen won't care. Fast little bastard wide receivers and dual-threat QBs will pick Michigan if Michigan is interested. Traditional wide receivers will probably be unaffected. Running backs will split based on perceived fit and opportunity. Michigan's ceded the lumbering sorts that make a power running game go. Okay.

The instate recruiting swing because of a better offense never materialized under JLS despite the same split between offensive philosophies, and it won't happen under Dantonio -- or if it does, it won't be because of the spread and shred.

There's another salutary factor here: the past three years have provided an unheard of bumper crop of recruits. Michigan has the two top-rated backs in-state (for the moment, at least) and Michigan doesn't even have to leave the State to find the guy who turned in the fastest 40 time at the Army All-American combine. That would be Will Campbell's Cass Tech teammate Teric Jones.

This is the third year in a row that Michigan will be pursuing a half-dozen plan A recruits within state borders. That's a remarkable turnaround from the 2006 class when Michigan had little interest in anyone other than Brandon Graham until they turned up a few prospects at summer camp, or the 2005 class when Michigan swept the three top-100 guys and then grabbed Chris McLaurin and Carson Butler as late sleeper sorts, or 2004, when Michigan again swept the top three and then got picky because future immortals Carl Grimes, Dwayne Holmes, and Justin Hoskins were the next three kids in the rankings. In the past it was extremely important for Michigan to lock down the two or three real in-state blue chips; now they can miss a few and still find the 6 or so kids instate they usually do.

That's the long way of saying I'm not particularly concerned. State's exploited a one-time window provided by the staff switchover to good effect; now that a young, energetic, and exciting Michigan staff is building relationships in the state things should return to normal.
Hi Brian,

I know I wrote to you about our gymnastics team once before. At the risk of being terribly annoying, I have to try just one more time because I think this is worth mentioning. Our gymnasts continue on undefeated, even after facing the #1 team in the country last Saturday.

"The University of Georgia women's gymnastics team came into Michigan's Crisler Arena on Friday night as the three-time defending NCAA champion and the No. 1-ranked team in the GymInfo national poll. The Bulldogs went home with a 197.6-196.95 loss to the No. 4 Wolverines."

I am a recent alumnus of the University of Michigan. I was raised in the Wolverine tradition of academic and athletic excellence. I have extreme pride in not only our football program, but in all Michigan sports. This gymnastics team is no exception. They are OUTSTANDING this season and have been outstanding for as long as I can remember. Since I am also a Pats fan, I'm a little wary of planning a parade while my team is 15-0, but isn't that an amazing accomplishment? I can only hope the best is yet to come at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. Let's give these fine young ladies the recognition they deserve.

Go Blue,

Jessi Ferri
Indeed, it is. I linked the gymnastic team's accomplishments in the sidebar but they deserve a broader hearing. Heck, their fans are getting harassed for being too rowdy when they go on the road (for a given definition of "rowdy"); non-student basketball fans could learn a thing or two from them.

Their next home meet is at 6:00 next weekend, the 22nd. This is an unfortunate overlap with what will hopefully be the hockey team's shot at the CCHA playoff crown, but the Big Ten championships are the next weekend at 2. Bound to be less depressing than the basketball team.

This next one is a reference to the home video footage of the 1959 OSU game posted in this space a couple weeks ago. I wondered what the students were assembling with their placards; I got a pretty cool reminiscence of Michigan football of old:
The “Polarbear” 1959 Michigan-Ohio State footage brought back some pleasant memories. That game was during my junior year. I was in the student section on November 21st, 1959, hoping for but not really expecting a Michigan win. In those years Michigan had sunk to a second-tier B10 program. In the late 50s and early 60s, Wisconsin (B10 Champion in ’59), Iowa (B10 co-Champion 1960), and Minnesota (NC 1960) were among the first-tier teams. In 1959 M finished 4-5, but the Buckeyes did even worse, at 3-5-1.

Anyway, a couple things still stand out about that game, which the Wolverines won 23-14. First, the limited substitution rule was in effect, which meant that many of the team members were two-way players. Michigan QB Stan Noskin played safety when M went on defense. During that ’59 game Stan intercepted a pass in the end zone that was otherwise a sure Buckeye TD. It was a game-changing play: maybe not quite up to Charles Woodson standards, but it went a long way toward preserving the Michigan victory.

Second, before each game the stadium staff would set up wooden folding chairs along both sidelines. I don’t remember who was supposed to sit in them, but there they were, neatly lined up on either side of the player’s benches. At one point during that ’59 game Woody, clad as always in his white short-sleeved shirt and his blue cap, became so frustrated with what was occurring on the field that he picked up one of those folding chairs and flung it about 15 yards down the eastern sideline, toward the north end zone. Fortunately no one was injured.

As far as what the card section was supposed to display in that film, I can’t help much. I recall that the efforts to organize and to implement the card section were at best only partially successful. Few students were really interested in holding up cards during the game when they could be drinking and socializing. In 1959 the rules regarding what liquid refreshment one could bring into the stadium were lax to nonexistent. Beer-filled coolers were not uncommon; some students would even bring gin and vermouth into the stadium and enjoy a martini or two during the game. It was a different time.
There's also this:
The placards were done by the students in the Card Section. Ran from about the 20-30 yard line. If you were a Freshman ( as I was that year), it got you seats on the 20 as opposed to behind the goal post. You flashed cards during half time. I do not remember when they stopped but I was in it for 3 years. As I recall, we won that game in Bump Elliott's first year. It went down hill for the team after that until the 1964 team that went to the Rose Bowl and if not for a 1 point loss to Purdue ( Bob Griese), we would have won the National Championship.

Ron Grabois
The general conclusion is "who knows what's on the damn flashcards? Let's have a martini." Word.