One Of Michigan's Biggest Issues Predates The Harbaugh Era

Michigan football is simply not in a good spot right now.
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Year after year, the Michigan Football program signs one of the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten Conference. Year after year, those top recruiting classes routinely fail to reach their full potential on the football field - particularly when compared to Michigan’s in-state rival in East Lansing.

Over the last two decades, Michigan has signed the No. 1 recruiting class within the conference six times, the No. 2 class 11 times, and has never had a recruiting class ranked outside of the top five. Michigan State, on the other hand, has had a completely different experience on the recruiting trail over the last 20 years. The Spartans have had recruiting classes finish outside of the top five 11 different times, including five classes that have finished ranked 10th or worse. The Spartans have also never had a class ranked higher than No. 3 during that same 20 year span.

While Michigan has clearly dominated the Spartans on the recruiting trail over the last two decades, that recruiting advantage hasn’t had much of an impact on the football field between these two rival programs. Since 2001, Michigan is just 10-10 against the Spartans and has captured only two Big Ten titles (2003, 2004). Not to be outdone, Michigan State has captured three Big Ten titles during that same timeframe - along with two trips to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game and one appearance in the College Football Playoff.

The 2020 season provided Michigan with the opportunity to pounce on a Michigan State program that was knee-deep in a rebuild mode with a first-year coach who was fresh off of a home loss to Rutgers. Michigan failed. Instead, it was the heavy underdog Spartans who marched into Ann Arbor and handed Michigan its first loss of the season - sending a clear message that they have no intention of playing the role of “little brother” anytime soon.

The bottom line is that Michigan doesn’t have a problem with recruiting enough talent to compete for titles. Instead, Michigan appears to have a problem with developing and knowing what to do with all of that talent once it gets to Ann Arbor. Based on the numbers provided above, that’s an issue that dates back long before Jim Harbaugh made the decision to come back home.

Of all the glaring failures Michigan has experienced over the last two decades, the record against Ohio State is perhaps most noticeable given the history - and hatred - that exists between the two programs. However, before Michigan can even hope of knocking Ohio State off its perch as the Big Ten bully, the Wolverines will first need to take care of the bully in their own backyard. That begins with player development. The Spartans have proven time and time again that a recruiting deficit means very little when your players are both hungry and coachable.

It might be time for Michigan to swallow it’s pride and take some notes.