Exactly seven years ago, Rich Rodriguez sifted through the aftermath of his inaugural season at West Virginia. Nobody knew what the future held. Rodriguez tried to explain that things would get better and there were things to be encouraged about going into his second year. Still, his 3-8 record would define him for nine, long months. He went to work on his first full recruiting class. These were the guys his coaching career would live or die with. The West Virginia football program had fallen on hard times so the Mountaineer-brand didn’t go as far with recruits. Nonetheless, he had faith in his system and knew the type of athletes that complemented it. After months on the road seeking out every lead, he signed the 37th recruiting class in the country. That number was inflated by a massive tow of 33 recruits. On a per recruit basis, the class falls to 65th. The next season, Rodriguez would go 9-4 orchestrating the greatest one-year turnaround in Big East history. Those recruits would go 47-16 with five bowl appearances and a victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Fast-forward seven years. Following his inaugural season at Michigan, Rodriguez is sifting through the aftermath. He has tried to explain to anyone who would listen that things will get better and that there are things he is encouraged about going into next year. Still, his 3-9 record will define him for the next nine months. He is busy working on his first full recruiting class. His coaching career will live or die with those players. Sound familiar?
There are two reasons why people have railed against Rodriguez: either they’re too ignorant to know what’s coming or they simply like to hit a man when he’s down. Neither is acceptable. The former is unfortunate but the latter is reprehensible. Critics love to ignore the facts and hope that nobody remembers their reckless stupidity. Most of the time, it works. However, this time, I am going to hold these people responsible. I want all of the Rich Rodriguez critics to go down in infamy because two years from now, they’re going to be penning essays on Michigan’s rise to dominance like it was their idea in the first place. The easiest job in the world is for a pasty, old sportswriter with questionable social skills to sit back under the protection of the internet and ridicule someone going through a situation that would be difficult for anyone to handle. The Gregg Easterbrooks of the world are documented morons. Unfortunately, though, their stupidity influences people who don’t know any better. Next year or the year after or whenever Rodriguez starts beating Sparty by 35 points, nobody is going to remember how idiotic Gregg Easterbrook was. Nobody is going to remember that Michael Rosenberg lacked the patience of a two-year old. Nobody is going to remember Gary Danielson saying that Rodriguez is doomed to fail because the spread is a thing of the past in the same year that two spread teams—and two of the greatest offenses in the history of college football—are playing in the National Championship Game. I’ll be there to remind everyone that these phonies were the first to pile on when a man was down. In the meantime, I’ll quickly recap why Michigan’s pending dominance should be obvious to everyone with even a sliver of competence.
Critics love to argue that Michigan’s success is no guarantee because, “Rodriguez is at Michigan now, not West Virginia.” Exactly. West Virginia isn’t anything like Michigan. West Virginia doesn’t have the history, tradition, or resources. Most importantly, it doesn’t have the recruiting prowess. Tell me how Rodriguez is going to screw this up…
He currently has the 7th rated recruiting class in the country. He has 13 four-star recruits committed and that number will likely rise by at least two. Five-star defensive tackle William Campbell is expected to end up blue. Some folks might remember that Rodriguez hauled in 17 four-star recruits last season on his way to a top-ten recruiting class. What you might not know is that one of the more talented players of that group was a two-star offensive tackle from Ohio (Patrick Omameh). Rodriguez knows what to look for. His recruiting style is one that takes unfinished products and turns them into packaged beasts. He takes big safeties and turns them into linebackers. He takes big linebackers and turns them into defensive ends. He seeks out athletic linemen who have room to grow. It’s not just the four-star recruits—and there are a lot of them— that you have to worry about. They all have the potential to excel in Rodriguez’s system. This style represents a stark change from the way Michigan used to recruit. Gone are the days of wondering where all the talent went. People will now wonder where all the talent came from. Michigan has a purpose on the recruiting trail and that purpose is to turn Michigan into a juggernaut. When the weatherman points to the radar and shows you that a hurricane is coming, you don’t tell him he’s wrong. This is no different.
It should scare the amygdala out of ‘M’ opponents that Rodriguez is going into Florida and taking some of its best players. If you don't know what I'm talking about, "Google" Ricardo Miller and Marvin Robinson. Michigan currently has commitments from six Florida players and that number figures to rise next year. If all goes well, this class will finish in the top five nationally. ‘M’ currently has commitments from 10 of the Rivals250. That number could go as high as 12. ‘M’ has commitments from players in ten different states. No place is off-limits. That means Michigan is drawing from a pool much larger than any of its rivals. If a top five class signs up for a 3-8 program, what kind of class might sign up for a 10-2 program? If you really don’t think that Michigan is about to lay the smackdown on the college football world, then you haven’t been paying attention. If you really think that Rodriguez isn’t going to have more success with the #7 recruiting class in the country than he did with the #37 class, then you might want to check your alcohol intake. It’s easy to avoid reality when you can just sit back and look the other way. That’s what many of ‘M’s critics are doing right now. The problem with that is that one day, you’re going to look like a fool. Here is more reality…
2009 Recruiting Class (so far)
Michigan currently has a commitment from Tate Forcier. He is a four-star recruit and the 6th rated dual-threat QB in the country. Pat White came to West Virginia as a three-star wide receiver. White ended up as one of the great dual-threat QBs in college football history. Anyone ready to bet against Forcier? Oh yeah, Michigan is already among the favorites for two four-star QBs for the 2010 class (Devin Gardner and Christian Green).
Next season, Michigan will have Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, and Michael Shaw at running back making the incoming freshmen moot for the foreseeable future. However, it will be difficult to keep the burners in this class off the field. Vincent Smith and Teric Jones are in the Noel Devine-mold. They are the 33rd and 34th rated running backs in the country. Fitzgerald Toussaint destroyed the Ohio football landscape with 2,243 yards and 24 touchdowns. He is a four-star recruit and the #9 all-purpose back in the country.
Michigan has commitments from two four-star wide receivers. Jeremy Gallon is likely to end up at the slot position. He was one of the most electrifying players in the state of Florida. By most accounts, he’ll be a better version of Montavious Odoms. Cameron Gordon is the other four-star receiver. Gordon will likely end up at linebacker were his potential is much greater. Michigan also has a commitment from a three-star receiver from Texas. Dewayne Peace will start at WR but could see a position-switch to defensive back. By the way, ‘M’ already has commitments from two of the top receivers in the country for 2010.
‘M’ just picked up a commitment from Taylor Lewan who is one of the more talented linemen in the country. He is already drawing comparisons to Jake Long in terms of build and athletic ability. Since Michigan redshirted six freshmen from last year’s class, Lewan will more than likely redshirt as well. The other commitment is Michael Schofield who is another four-star recruit. Lewan and Schofield are currently the 17th and 19th rated tackles in the country. ‘M’ is still in on a number of linemen including Quinton Washington, Chris Freeman, and Travis Bond.
If ‘M’ gets a commitment from Will Campbell, then it will boast the most impressive defensive line class in the country. Campbell is a five-star defensive tackle who is rated as the 25th best player at any position in the country. DeQuinta Jones is a four-star tackle out of Louisiana and Pearlie Graves is a four-star tackle out of Oklahoma. They are the #5, 27, and 36 tackles in the ’09 class.
Not to be outdone are the ends. Michigan has commitments from two of the top defensive end prospects in the country. Anthony LaLota is the #6 strongside defensive end and Craig Roh is the #8 weakside defensive end.
Rodriguez clearly has an affinity for aggressive and fast linebackers. Isaiah Bell and Mike Jones are defensive back recruits who are expected to end up at LB. Both are three-star recruits as DBs but could have greater potential as backers. Brandin Hawthorne is a three-star project that could possibly grow into the defensive end position at some point. He is a play-maker at 185. Two years from now and a little time with Mike Barwis, he could be a big-time pass-rusher. The days of Michigan’s linebackers laboring all over the field are over. Rodriguez is loading up the roster with speed and the difference will be noticeable when these guys hit the field.
The best player in Michigan’s class thus far is Justin Turner. He is the #3 player out of Ohio. He may end up at safety but considering he is the only CB in the class, it would not surprise me to see him stick. Michigan is in on a number of CB targets as it closes in on a full class.
It’s not a given that both Jones and Bell will end up at linebacker. One could stick. A player who will most assuredly stick is Vladimir Emilien. He comes ready-made. Ohio St. tried to steal him away but he chose to be blue. Thomas Gordon is Michigan’s fourth safety commitment. Gordon played QB in high school but is expected to make the transition to safety.
Rodriguez’s West Virginia teams were very good at special teams. The return game was good and the kicking was solid as well. That was not on display in 2008 for Michigan. If there has been a worse special teams unit, I have not seen it. Fortunately, ‘M’ has a commitment from one of the top ten kickers in the country. Gallon, Jones, and Smith will also immediately improve the return game.
There are only two things that matter in college football: recruiting and coaching. They are equally important. You can build a decent program with either. Pittsburgh wins primarily with recruiting success. Texas Tech wins primarily with coaching success. Florida, Oklahoma, and USC own college football by excelling in both. Rich Rodriguez is universally considered one of the best coaches in college football. That would seem to satisfy the coaching portion of the equation. Michigan is killing it in recruiting. That would seem to satisfy the recruiting portion of the equation. How some people don’t arrive to “superior recruiting + superior coaching= superiority” is a mystery. The writing is on the wall. It would take a massive level of stupidity to miss all of the clues. My message cannot be clearer. Michigan is about to devastate the college football landscape. Critics can choose to have their head in the sand but when the day of reckoning comes, don’t say I didn’t warn you because I’ll remind you that I did.