ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan slid four spots Wednesday to finish with the No. 21 recruiting class in the country. The Class of 2018 didn’t pan out the way fans had hoped on National Signing Day when Nicholas Petit-Frere signed with Ohio State and Otis Reese signed with Georgia.
It was not a good look.
The perception is that it’s not good enough for Jim Harbaugh or the program. The class didn’t measure up the recruiting hauls of 2016 and 2017, when Michigan landed the country’s No. 5 and No. 8 classes, respectively, and 5-star recruits Rashan Gary and Donovan Peoples-Jones.
But perception is not reality. Harbaugh hasn’t lost his luster as a recruiter. Losing a pair of high-profile prospects on Signing Day was simply a bad bounce. This year’s class is still among the top 25 and its long-term development is vital for the Wolverines.
For context, let’s look at Michigan’s three lowest-ranked classes. The Class of 2000 ranked No. 27, the Class of 2011 ranked No. 30, and the Class of 2014 ranked No. 20. The 2015 recruiting class — one that Harbaugh inherited immediately after he was hired — was No. 37. The general rule of thumb is not to evaluate a class for three or four years. We’re not there yet.
The 2000 recruiting class helped Michigan win the Big Ten title in 2003, and to a 9-3 record and a share of the Big Ten title in 2004. The 2011 class helped Michigan go 10-3 in 2015. The 2014 class included top-ranked recruit Jabrill Peppers and helped Michigan to a 10-3 record and a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl in the 2016 season. That class also had a hand in Michigan’s 8-5 mark this past season.
“As always with recruiting, the true measure comes three or four years down the line,” 247Sports Midwest recruiting analyst Allen Trieu told Land of 10. “If other players in this class can step forward — and I think it’s a good class — then maybe those losses won’t seem as significant down the road.”
Had Michigan landed Petit-Frere and Emil Ekiyor, it could have solidified the future of its offensive line. But the loss of Ekiyor, a 4-star guard who de-committed from Michigan last fall and signed with Alabama in December, didn’t have the same impact as the miss on Petit-Frere. A commitment from Petit-Frere, a 5-star tackle, would have addressed an area of immediate need for Michigan.
“[Michigan] did not have the type of close that they expected, but I don’t know if the reality matches that yet,” Trieu said.
“I’d say it’s much too early to say he’s had trouble getting recruits. With this early signing period, if you wait on some top national guys like Petit-Frere, sometimes you’ll lose out in the end. I don’t think that means Harbaugh can’t recruit.”
Michigan still has a chance to get graduate-transfer guard Calvin Anderson from Rice. Anderson is expected to make his decision in March.
Some may measure this class by its misses. The better measure will be the development of its players.
“[Harbaugh’s] perception is still very good,” CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming told Land of 10. “The players really enjoyed talking to him. [Michigan] just ran into a little bad luck this year, finishing second on a good number of the premium players.”
Here are four top recruits who considered Michigan but signed with other programs.
Nicholas Petit-Frere, T, Ohio State
Petit-Frere became Michigan’s biggest loss in this recruiting cycle when he signed with Ohio State. He is one of the rare freshman tackles who has the ability to contribute immediately. The Wolverines offensive line is a question mark heading into the 2018 season. Petit-Frere could have filled the hole vacated by graduating senior Mason Cole, or he could have prepared for the position as the heir apparent to Grant Newsome, who is expected to return this season.
Emil Ekiyor, OL, Alabama
Nearly a year after committing to Michigan in October 2016, Ekiyor flipped to Alabama and joined the nation’s No. 7 class. Ekiyor’s versatility would have been a plus for Michigan, as he can play center or guard. Had he remained committed to Michigan, Ekiyor likely would have redshirted, but could have put himself in position to start at either spot in a couple years. The Indianapolis Cathedral product also could have helped Michigan’s long-term line depth.
Tyler Friday, DT, Ohio State
Michigan’s offensive line wasn’t the only position group to take a hit this recruiting cycle. Friday committed in January to Ohio State. If he had chosen Michigan, Friday would have joined a defensive line that’s established itself as one of the most consistent and talented in college football. With Greg Mattison’s philosophy of getting players immediate reps to build depth and experience, Friday could have played as a freshman, the same way freshmen Aubrey Solomon and Kwity Paye did in 2017.
Otis Reese, OLB, Georgia
Getting Reese, the No. 5 outside linebacker in the country according to 247Sports, would have been a huge splash for the Wolverines. Instead, he flipped to Georgia on Wednesday — 20 months after he committed to Michigan. The fact that Reese didn’t sign with the Wolverines in December was a strong indication that he wasn’t necessarily ready to spend the next four years with the Wolverines. However, he would have joined a deep, experienced group of linebackers that includes Butkus Award finalist Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson, who thrived at the viper position in 2017.