Why does 13-0 Michigan’s 2023 recruiting class rank so low?

ANN ARBOR – By the time Michigan’s 13-0 football team takes the field against TCU on Dec. 31 in the Fiesta Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal, most of the Wolverines’ 2023 recruits will have already inked their national letters of intent during the early signing period (Dec. 21-Dec. 23).

But where Michigan’s class will sit in the national rankings by then remains to be seen.

Despite Jim Harbaugh’s team winning back-to-back Big Ten titles and clinching another spot in the CFP, the Wolverines’ 2023 recruiting class hasn’t attracted much national attention.

For a program that has finished with a top-15 class in six of Harbaugh’s seven full recruiting cycles at Michigan, it almost seems inconceivable that its 2023 class, with 18 commitments, currently ranks No. 20 in the country, per the 247Sports Composite system.

Only six are rated as four-star prospects, and none reside in the top-100.

“I don’t really have a great answer, other than, I think sometimes when you aim high and you aim for the top of the board, those guys are getting recruited by schools from basically every school,” 247Sports recruiting analyst Allen Trieu told MLive. “You’re recruiting against every school in the country when you go after a Dante Moore (five-star quarterback) or a Kadyn Proctor (five-star offensive tackle), or some of the other guys that Michigan’s been up against.

“I don’t think that there’s any major reason on Michigan’s end. It’s not like they haven’t done their part or they haven’t put the effort in. I just think that when you get into some of these national recruiting battles, they’re not always going to go your way.”

With the recruiting contact period beginning Dec. 2, Harbaugh and his staff are spending most of their time this week away from Schembechler Hall and venturing across the country to meet with prospects. The goal is to end this cycle with a late surge, similar to last year when three of the program’s five highest-ranked recruits committed on early signing day.

Even after Michigan’s 2-4 season in 2020, it finished with the 13th-ranked class, headlined by five-star quarterback JJ McCarthy, four-star running back Donovan Edwards and four-star linebacker Junior Colson – all top-100 prospects.

But this is a new age of recruiting, with Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) taking center stage. Every recruitment is different, but the days of relationships, on-field success and first-rate facilities carrying the most weight in the decision-making process appear to be waning. Now, where players can become the most profitable through NIL is entering the equation.

“I think (NIL) is much more in the picture,” Trieu said. “I do think that a lot of those top kids are factoring that into their decisions. They’re having those deals with schools, and it’s definitely mattering in the recruiting process. I think that’s something that Michigan is going to have to figure out what their process is as well.”

Michigan’s law prohibits schools from entering into pay-for-play agreements with prospective student-athletes, an enticement reportedly happening at other schools across the country.

Among the programs with a top-10 recruiting class this cycle, five finished with at least four losses this season, including Miami and Oklahoma, which each finished at or below .500.

On Dec. 30, Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic four-star edge Collins Acheampong, Michigan’s second-highest ranked commit, flipped his verbal pledge to Miami, which is coming off a 5-7 campaign under first-year coach Mario Cristobal.

“That has to have been a big factor,” Trieu said of NIL. “The hard thing is that, especially for us, you’re not always going to come across that information. Kids aren’t going to tell you like, ‘Hey, I flipped because this school is doing this and that. But it is pretty easy to kind of read between the lines right?”

Harbaugh’s dalliance with the NFL last winter also was rumored to have an impact on this year’s recruiting class, although Trieu doesn’t believe it played as much of a factor as others might think.

“It hasn’t come up a ton so far,” Trieu said. “It didn’t really come up at all. I think it could have some effect, but I also think that the staff has done such a good job recruiting, and a lot of the relationships sit there. So as long as those (assistant) coaches remain on the staff, they’re going to be OK.

“But now it seems like every job that opens up, you hear about (co-offensive coordinator) Sherrone Moore’s name mentioned, you hear (defensive coordinator) Jesse Minter’s name mentioned, you hear (running backs coach) Mike Hart’s name mentioned. If some of them start to pick up as far as other job openings, I think that would have maybe a greater effect.”

Harbaugh interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings last winter before returning to Michigan with a new contract that came with a hefty raise. After signing his new agreement, the 58-year-old, whose .695 winning percentage in the NFL is still among the best of all time, said he told athletic director Warde Manuel his explorations into NFL opportunities would not be a recurring theme every year.

But after Michigan’s first undefeated regular season since 1997, Harbaugh getting linked to the NFL has returned. NFL Network reported Sunday morning that multiple franchises have begun background work on Harbaugh as a potential candidate.

Harbaugh addressed the rumors Sunday night on a Fiesta Bowl teleconference.

“That’s a lot of ‘that time of the year’ type of speculation,” Harbaugh said. “No one knows the future, but I think that people think we have done a good job and are pleased with the job that we have done here at Michigan. They are going to be very happy to learn that I will be back enthusiastically coaching the Wolverines in 2023. And for those people that don’t approve of the job we have done or would rather see somebody else coaching here, I think they will be most likely disappointed to learn that I will be back coaching the Wolverines in 2023.”

Harbaugh and his staff have some work to do if it is going to finish with another top-15 class, but Trieu said it is possible if Michigan closes with its top remaining targets, which include Kankakee (Ill.) four-star cornerback Jyaire Hill , Sharpsburg (Georgia) Trinity Christian School four-star defensive back Aaron Gates, Chicago Marist three-star defensive lineman Jamel Howard, Oak Lawn (Illi.) Brother Rice three-star defensive lineman Roderick Pierce, Youngstown (Ohio) Chaney three-star safety DJ Waller and Lincoln (Nebraska) East top-100 athlete Malachi Coleman, who is expected to make his decision during the traditional signing period in February.

“They’ve got some really good targets on the board still in positions of need,” Trieu said. “I think if you land those kids, all of a sudden you’re looking at this class being boosted quite a bit.”

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