To have sustained success in college football, you’ve got to recruit like a champion. Whether you’ve got a nationally-ranked class or you’re pulling up the rear in your own conference, every class has hits and misses that ultimately define it.
Who have been the biggest surprises – good and bad – in your favorite school’s recent classes?
We continue our recruiting series with Michigan, and we’ll keep looking at one a team a day. (Wednesday is Wisconsin.)
Brady Hoke, despite mediocre on-the-field results as the head coach at Michigan, had the Wolverines performing like a well-oiled machine in living rooms all around the country.
A 5-0 start to the 2013 season had momentum in Michigan’s favor as the 2014 class entered the stretch-run, but a late-season collapse cast large shadows over Hoke’s future and the 2014 class fizzled late as a result. Still, Hoke and the Wolverines finished with the Big Ten’s second-best class and a Top 20 finish nationally according to 247Sports.com.
Michigan’s class was small compared to some of their recent groups – only 16 signees – and they signed only three of Michigan’s Top 10 players that year. Since they’ve arrived on campus, the 2014 recruiting class has helped lead the Maize and Blue to a 15-10 record and a Top 15 finish in last year’s AP poll, finishing up the season with a dominating 41-7 win over Florida in January’s Citrus Bowl.
Which players have met or exceeded expectations and who has fallen short of their lofty ranking?
Who has stood out
You can’t look at the Wolverines 2014 class without starting at the top.
If it’s possible to list one player as a “boom” and an early “bust,” it may be Jabrill Peppers.
There was so much attention and hype given to the 6-foot, 205-pound athlete that anything short of a college Hall of Fame career may be viewed by some as a disappointment. The Paramus (N.J.) Catholic star was the country’s third-ranked prospect in the 2014 class and a lightning rod early on for the Wolverines class and those high expectations have not slowed down, even after an injury-shortened freshman year in 2014.
Now a junior lining up at linebacker for Michigan, the Peppers hype has not slowed down and he’s managed to stay ahead of it in most cases. He’s Athlon Sports’ unanimous choice to win this year’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year although, like he did in 2015, he’ll see the field at multiple positions to take advantage of his ridiculous athleticism. Last season, Peppers lined up at tailback, quarterback in “Wildcat” situations, wide receiver, defensive back, linebacker and he also returned kicks and punts for Michigan and remains one of college football’s “it” players. Expect big things from Peppers this fall.
It’s not often that a player goes from starting on his high school team to starting at Michigan without skipping a beat, but that’s what Mason Cole did and he’s not showing any signs of tiring. The Tarpon Springs (Fla.) product was named a 247Sports.com freshman All-American after the 2014 season and has started all 25 games in his Michigan career. A 4-star prospect when he signed with the Wolverines, Cole has more than lived up to his Top 100 billing.
Expect this year to be a season of transition for the talented 6-foot-5, 292-pound Cole as he makes the move from tackle – where he’s played the last two years – to center. That position switch hasn’t slowed down the national respect he’s getting though: Cole was put on the Rimington Award watch list, given annually to the country’s top center.
Though he’s not yet been named the starter for Michigan’s 2016 season – and may not be as a handful of players vie for the chance – but Wilton Speight has done a pretty good job when called upon in Ann Arbor. As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Speight played in seven games for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines, and while his numbers don’t bear it out, he was capable backing up NFL draft pick Jake Rudock and provided some needed stability as Shane Morris dealt with injury issues and inconsistent play.
Speight participated in the Manning Passing Academy last week in Louisiana as he looks to find some consistency in his game and works to hold off John O’Korn, Morris, Alex Malzone and 2016 signee Brandon Peters and become the man for Michigan this fall.
Who hasn’t lived up to the hype
In a small recruiting class the “misses” are amplified and the Wolverines have their fair share of players who have not yet made a name for themselves in Ann Arbor from the 2014 class.
Sometimes a player just doesn’t “fit” when they think they were going to fit. Ferns, a 4-star prospect at linebacker from St. Clairsville (Ohio.) was a huge win for Brady Hoke and the Wolverines when he picked Michigan over Penn State and Ohio State, but he never seemed to find his bearings in Ann Arbor. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Ferns was Ohio’s sixth-ranked player in 2014 and was a vocal leader in bringing in the rest of his recruiting class.
When Brady Hoke was relieved of his employment with the university, Ferns became a man on the outside looking in with the new administration and ended up transferring closer to home – he’s eligible to play this fall at West Virginia – and changed his position to tight end, where he’ll play in Morgantown. A new start may be just what he needs to be the player that Michigan’s old coaching staff thought he could be.
As the second-ranked player in Michigan’s class and the third-ranked player in Michigan, the commitment of Drake Harris was a big win for Hoke and the Wolverines. To this point though, the 6-foot-4, 180 pound wide receiver has not developed into the deep threat that the Maize and Blue hoped he would. After redshirting in 2014, Harris picked up only six receptions for 39 yards in 2015.
This fall is a big one for Harris, who has received some positive reviews from the Michigan coaching staff this spring. If he’s not able to establish himself as a go-to player this year for the Wolverines, he may find himself out running out of opportunities.
Former Ohio State commitment and Southfield (Mich.) native Lawrence Marshall makes the list of players who came into Ann Arbor with a lot of buzz but to this point has fizzled a bit. A 4-star prospect, Marshall committed to Michigan just three months after his short-lived, three-day commitment to their nemesis 160 miles south and was a major win for the Wolverines over not just the Buckeyes, but also in-state rival Michigan State. A Top 200 player nationally, Marshall was the country’s ninth-ranked defensive end coming out of high school but has not yet made any impact with Michigan. In 2015, he recorded just one tackle while playing in four games for the Maize and Blue.
Marshall will get a shot to make an impact this fall under new defensive coordinator Don Brown, and it’s one that he’s certainly looking forward to. This will be the third defensive coordinator in Marshall’s three years as a Wolverine, so the hope has to be that some consistency with his coaching staff can provide him a chance to emerge as a star.