When Jim Harbaugh arrived at Michigan, fans on both sides of the rivalry envisioned a new Ten Year War between he and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
In Harbaugh’s second year, the two sides met in a huge showdown with a delightful mix of high stakes, controversy and a memorable finish — the perfect kind of game for one of the great rivalries in the sport. While neither team has won the division in the past two seasons, both finished the season in the top 10 and will likely begin 2017 there.
Both programs are also competing at the highest level on the recruiting trail. Though Harbaugh didn’t have much time to affect Michigan’s 2015 recruiting class, his first two full classes have been among the best the nation.
Meyer has turned Ohio State into a recruiting machine, one of a few teams that could stake the claim to being the second-best at it in the nation behind Alabama during the Crimson Tide’s incredible run of seven straight top-ranked classes.
Harbaugh had a senior-heavy roster in 2016, while Meyer has lost a ton of talent to the NFL in the past few seasons. Both coaches will rely on recent recruits in key spots in 2017.
Which coach is winning the recruiting battle? Let’s take a look at some of the numbers from the past two seasons when Harbaugh and Meyer were on equal footing, and then dive into the battle on a position-by-position basis.
Michigan: Brandon Peters (2016), Dylan McCaffrey (2017)
Ohio State: Dwayne Haskins (2016), Tate Martell (2017)
Peters was the No. 6 pro-style quarterback, according to the 247Sports composite, and Haskins was No. 7. Martell is a near 5-star prospect who won just about every national high school football award there is, while McCaffrey is from a famous football family.
Any of these four players could have gone to a different school and be a three-year starter. It’s possible that none of them throws a pass in 2017, with starters J.T. Barrett and Wilton Speight back and a more veteran backup option available (Joe Burrow and John O’Korn).
This is about as even as it can be, and could really develop in any number of directions. Ohio State has a commitment from 5-star prospect Emory Jones in the 2018 class, while Michigan is considered the leader for Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a 4-star dual-threat quarterback from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.
Yes, that is Martell’s alma mater. Thompson-Robinson played a little wide receiver and only threw 31 passes as Martell’s backup in 2016 but will take over next year.
Yes, a future Big Game involving two quarterbacks from the same high school would be tremendous.
EDGE: Ohio State, mostly because of Jones. Otherwise it’s a dead heat.
Michigan: Kareem Walker (2016), Chris Evans (2016), Kingston Davis (2016), O’Maury Samuels (2017), Kurt Taylor (2017)
Ohio State: Demario McCall (2016), Antonio Williams (2016), J.K. Dobbins (2017)
Evans is the only player in this group to contribute, and he flashed star potential at times in 2016. McCall and Dobbins were both top-50 players nationally, while Walker at No. 101 is Harbaugh’s highest-rated running back to this point.
Michigan tried to flip Najee Harris from Alabama, and that would have made Harbaugh a clear winner here, but it didn’t happen. Walker and McCall could both have big roles as redshirt freshmen in 2017.
EDGE: Ohio State
Michigan: Kekoa Crawford (2016), Eddie McDoom (2016), Nate Johnson (2016), Donovan Peoples-Jones (2017), Tarik Black (2017), Nico Collins (2017), Oliver Martin (2017), Brad Hawkins (2017)
Ohio State: Austin Mack (2016), Binjimen Victor (2016), Trevon Grimes (2017), Jalyn Harris (2017), Elijah Gardiner (2017)
There are at least nine receivers here that could be the No. 1 wideout in the class for about 90 percent of the country. Martin is the fourth highest-rated receiver for Michigan, and he would have been the top guy for Iowa or Michigan State.
Both teams need their young receivers to produce in 2017. This is one place where Michigan wins on both quantity and quality.
Michigan: Devin Asiasi (2016), Nick Eubanks (2016), Sean McKeon (2016)
Ohio State: Jake Hausmann (2016), Luke Farrell (2016), Kierre Hawkins (2016)
Asiasi reportedly is considering a transfer, which would be a big blow for Michigan. He, Tyrone Wheatley and Ian Bunting are next in line to replace Jake Butt.
Marcus Baugh returns for his senior season, so Ohio State’s young tight ends might need to wait another year before they can have a big impact. All three were 4-star recruits.
EDGE: Ohio State
Michigan: Ben Bredeson (2016), Michael Onwenu (2016), Stephen Spanellis (2016), Cesar Ruiz (2017), JaRaymond Hall (2017), Chuck Filiaga (2017), Andrew Steuber (2017), Joel Honigford (2017)
Ohio State: Michael Jordan (2016), Malcolm Pridgeon (2016), Tyler Gerard (2016), Gavin Cupp (2016), Jack Wohlabaugh (2016), Wyatt Davis (2017), Josh Myers (2017), Thayer Munford (2017)
There are 16 offensive linemen here, and 15 of them were ranked in the top 500 players in the nation in their class. Bredeson and Jordan were both starters as true freshmen. Ruiz and Davis or Myers could start in 2017.
Davis is the only 5-star prospect, but Bredeson, Ruiz and Myers were all close. Michigan had the lowest-rated guy, but Ohio State signed a junior college guy (Pridgeon) who didn’t play at all in 2016 because of a knee injury. He could help next year though.
This is really close, and some of these guys are going to need multiple years before they get a chance to play.
Michigan: Ron Johnson (2016), Carlo Kemp (2016), Joshua Uche (2016), Luiji Vilain (2017), Donovan Jeter (2017), Corey Malone-Hatcher (2017), Deron Irving-Bey (2017), Kwity Paye (2017)
Ohio State: Nick Bosa (2016), Jonathan Cooper (2016), Chase Young (2017)
This is an interesting quantity vs. quality argument. Michigan signing eight defensive ends in two years is pretty crazy, though a couple of them will probably end up at other positions (Uche already is a linebacker).
Ohio State signed two top-10 players nationally (Bosa and Young) and Cooper was No. 32 in his class, which most years would make him a 5-star prospect as well. Bosa looked like a future star as a rotation player last year, while several of these Wolverines will likely see significant action in 2017.
EDGE: Ohio State
Michigan: Rashan Gary (2016), Michael Dwumfour (2016), Aubrey Solomon (2017), James Hudson (2017), Phillip Paea (2017)
Ohio State: Malik Barrow (2016), Haskell Garrett (2017), Jerron Cage (2017)
Ohio State just missed on Marvin Wilson, the No. 1 defensive tackle in the 2017 class. Michigan signed the No. 1 guy in 2016 (Gary) and No. 2 in 2017 (Solomon). Those two could anchor a championship-caliber defense in 2018 (before Gary likely leaves for the NFL).
The Buckeyes have three 4-star prospects in two years, including a top-100 player (Garrett), and yet there have been a couple of high-profile misses at the position as well. Such is life with the highest of expectations on the recruiting trail in the country outside of Tuscaloosa.
Michigan: Devin Bush (2016), Elysee Mbem-Bosse (2016), Drew Singleton (2017), Jordan Anthony (2017), Josh Ross (2017), Ben Mason (2017)
Ohio State: Keandre Jones (2016), Tuf Borland (2016), Malik Harrison (2016), Baron Browning (2017), Pete Werner (2017)
Browning is the No. 1 linebacker in the country, and Jones was a top-100 player. Anthony and Singleton are both top-10 outside linebackers, while Bush played a little as a true freshman and should start as a sophomore.
This is another position that is really close, but Browning is the best prospect and Jones might edge out Singleton as the second-best.
EDGE: Ohio State
Michigan: David Long (2016), Lavert Hill (2016), Ambry Thomas (2017), Benjamin St.-Juste (2017)
Ohio State: Wayne Davis (2016), Rodjay Burns (2016), Jeffrey Okudah (2017), Shaun Wade (2017), Marcus Williamson (2017), Kendall Sheffield (2017), Amir Riep (2017)
Hill played some as a true freshman and earned rave reviews from his teammates, a couple of whom will be playing in the NFL next season. Thomas and Long could join him, because the Wolverines will have an all-new secondary.
Ohio State’s 2017 secondary crop is just ridiculous. Okudah and Wade were the top two corners in the country. Sheffield was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school before leaving Alabama and going to a junior college. Williamson and Riep are both top-200 players nationally.
The Buckeyes are replacing three potential first-round picks in the defensive backfield, and a couple of these guys could be featured prominently.
EDGE: Ohio State
Michigan: Khaleke Hudson (2016), Josh Metellus (2016), Devin Gill (2016), Jaylen Kelly-Powell (2017), J’Marick Woods (2017)
Ohio State: Jordan Fuller (2016), Jahsen Wint (2016), Isaiah Pryor (2017), Brendon White (2017)
Hudson and Metellus played for the Wolverines, including a start for Metellus in place of an injured Jabrill Peppers in the Orange Bowl. Fuller had 11 tackles for the Buckeyes, and could compete with Pryor for the starting job opposite Damon Webb next year.
The Wolverines have an extra prospect, but the Buckeyes have three top-150 prospects. Pryor was a top-60 player in this class. None of the Michigan safeties were ranked inside the top 250.
EDGE: Ohio State
The final tally is seven positions for Ohio State, two for Michigan and one tie, but it’s a lot closer than that might indicate. There are two or three other positions that are basically even, with the Buckeyes holding just a slight edge.
Harbaugh and his staff have put together two great, deep classes. The next step will be adding more top-100 type talents in 2018, something Meyer and his crew are already doing.
Harbaugh has spent a lot of time trying to rebuild the Michigan brand after some less than flattering years with Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke in charge. Meyer had to do a little of that when came to Columbus, but not nearly as much and his program is far past those days.
Michigan has more quantity, but Ohio State has slightly more quality in some key areas. Both coaches have collected the type of talent that could be instrumental for a Big Ten and national championship roster in the coming seasons.