Mustapha Muhammad/Twitter
Tight end Mustapha Muhammad, seated between Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and assistant coach Greg Frey, is a 4-star prospect who has signed to be a part of the Wolverines' 2018 recruiting class.

Michigan recruiting mailbag: Wolverines push for third consecutive top-10 class; NCAA rule holds up signing

Kevin Goheen

Have Michigan football recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Michigan recruiting mailbag to discuss Wolverines recruiting. This week, should Michigan be pulling in a top-10 recruiting class every year, and a NCAA rule puts one signing on hold.

Q: Are we finally at the point as a program, that if we are not on the top ten every year, it wasn’t a good year? Or do you think Harbaugh needs another year? — Steven Francisco Callejas via Facebook

A: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Perception is reality. Pick a cliché, any cliché. The fact is, Michigan has done a good recruiting job over the years.

No one is ever going to be completely happy with the recruiting year unless that someone is named Alabama. Your question made me curious, so I went back and researched the past seven years (2011-17) of the 247Sports composite national recruiting rankings. Alabama and Ohio State are the only programs to be in the top 10 all seven years, with Alabama earning the top spot each year. Georgia, Florida State, Southern Cal, Auburn and LSU each showed up six times. Michigan and Texas are next with four top-10 rankings. The three years in which Michigan wasn’t in the top 10, it was No. 20 in 2014, and then suffered the recruiting consequences of coaching changes in 2011 (30) and 2015 (37).

Jim Harbaugh’s last two recruiting classes were ranked No. 8 in 2016 and No. 5 in 2017. The 2018 class is ranked No. 14, a ranking that includes the 16 players signed during the early period last week and three other players committed to the Wolverines. They are still pursuing several players ranked in the top 100 in the country, including 5-star offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere of Tampa, Fla., that could push them into the top 10 should they land two or three.

The trick is turning those highly regarded recruiting classes into teams that contend for the Big Ten title and College Football Playoff on an annual basis.

Q: I heard Ronnie Bell signed a letter for basketball and that was the NCAA issue. He can only sign one letter per year? Will he be fine to sign in February? ― Charles Mulholland via Facebook

A: That is exactly the rule. Bell, a wide receiver from Kansas City, Mo., was set to sign his national letter of intent on Dec. 20 but because he had signed a similar letter with Missouri State in November to play basketball, he must wait until the calendar changes to 2018 to sign another one.

Bell took part in a signing ceremony at Park Hill High School with two teammates, but that’s all it was for him: a ceremony. He is expected to sign the real deal on Feb. 7. Michigan is excited about him, too, so much so that Harbaugh accidentally spoke about him last week during a press conference. Harbaugh had been asked about some less-heralded players in the class, specifically Hassan Haskins, Julius Welschof and Luke Schoonmaker. At the end of his answer, he decided to throw Bell’s name into that ring. Only problem is that since Bell hasn’t signed his letter, Harbaugh isn’t allowed to speak about him.

While Harbaugh didn’t go into any detail, the fact that he brought Bell’s name up in the conversation tells you how much Michigan likes the 6-foot-1, 170-pound prospect. He caught 89 passes for 1,605 yards and 21 of the 25 touchdowns he scored while leading Park Hill to the Class 6 state semifinals last season.

Q: I believe OL has been and will continue to be a major issue for Michigan. Are they putting a focus on targeting more OL prospects particularly OT? ― Mike Londeau via Facebook

A: Your belief is consistent with most recruiting analysts and the Michigan staff. The offensive line has to be better for the Wolverines to achieve the goals of being Big Ten champions and competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff. They have signed nine offensive linemen in the previous two classes, including starters Ben Bredeson, Michael Onwenu and Cesar Ruiz. Chuck Filiaga of the 2017 class was a U.S. Army All-American last January who has sat this season as a redshirt, while 2016 class member Stephen Spanellis started seeing playing time in the second half of the season.

There are two linemen signed to the 2018 class: tackles and Michigan natives Jalen Mayfield of Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Ryan Hayes of Traverse City West. The Wolverines also are recruiting Petit-Frere and as well as tackles Jarrett Patterson of Mission Viejo, Calif., and Jalen Goss of Valdosta, Ga. Patterson is deciding between Michigan and UCLA, while analysts view Goss as leaning toward Auburn.

Q: Are there any other recruits Michigan is in on for the February signing date? ― Ken Ross via Facebook

A: The four top names for fans to pay attention to are: Petit-Frere, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase of Metairie, La., defensive lineman Tyler Friday of Ramsey, N.J., and linebacker/safety Otis Reese of Leesburg, Ga. Reese committed to Michigan in June 2016 but he hasn’t been to Ann Arbor since last April for the spring game. He has been to Georgia several times, however, and reportedly is weighing both schools.

Reese has been quiet in the media about his recruitment. Michigan has had a strong relationship with him throughout the recruiting process. Defensive coordinator Don Brown and assistant coach Chris Partridge have been to Leesburg for visits on multiple occasions since Michigan’s regular season ended, but the Wolverines need to get Reese to campus for an official visit next month after the dead period ends. Coaches and officials cannot have contact with recruits through Jan. 11.

Q: What about junior college transfers? Do we have any coming in? — William Potts via Facebook

A: Don’t expect any JUCO transfers. That’s never been Michigan’s style, although there have been a couple of them. The recent examples of Deontay Anderson and Van Jefferson of Ole Miss not having their transcripts accepted by Michigan shows that it’s not easy to transfer into the university, even from a four-year school.

Have a question about Michigan recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10MICH or follow on the Land of 10/Michigan Facebook page and ask us there. We’ll try to answer in a future mailbag. Check to see if your issue already was addressed by reading previous Michigan recruiting mailbags here.