As high school football players prepared to make the biggest decision of their young lives thus far on Wednesday, February 1st, college football programs await those players’ talent and anticipate them changing their program. Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines feel they hit the jackpot, adding 30 total players, two five star prospects, and holding the #4 overall recruiting class. Headlining that class is 5-star wide receiver and Detroit Cass Tech product Donovan Peoples-Jones and on National Signing Day added a commitment from 5-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon.
Down the road in East Lansing, Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans’ top recruit is four star offensive guard Kevin Jarvis who is only ranked #224 nationally, and one early enrollee is wide receiver Hunter Rison, son of former Spartan legend Andre Rison, and Hunter is only ranked #316 nationally. In more recent years, Michigan State has been the better football program, winning 11 games in four of the last six seasons, winning a Rose Bowl in 2014 and a Cotton Bowl in 2015, and making a College Football Playoff appearance in 2015.
So why doesn’t Michigan State get the same type of recruiting classes that Michigan does? Michigan State’s top recruit in the last ten years was defensive tackle Malik McDowell, who was a 5-star in 2014. Other than that, Mark Dantonio has had to build in-house with the lower rated recruits he does get. However, with Jim Harbaugh now stealing all the talent from across the country, not having top-heavy talent might hurt the Spartans, and the 2016 season showed flashes of what could be for the next few years, winning only 3 games and having to empty out the bench for the latter half of the season playing all the freshmen and sophomores.
It may be because Jim Harbaugh is a celebrity in the world of college football. Harbaugh was a quarterback at Michigan in the 80s, then went on to coach in the NFL, taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013. Since coming to Michigan in 2015, he’s 20-6 in two seasons, but what really entices the recruits to play in Ann Arbor is Harbaugh’s ability to make them feel like they belong with the program. He may have some odd tactics of recruiting, but there’s no doubt they work. Harbaugh has been known to climb trees, sleep over at recruits’ houses, jump into pools fully clothed, and do whatever crazy things he needs to do to ensure he gets the player to commit to the Wolverines.
So, as Michigan State continues to miss out on top players and Michigan takes them all away and Mark Dantonio will have to work with what he’s given, it may not go so well for Spartan fans, so they might just have to continue to focus on hoops, since Michigan State is more of a basketball school anyways.