Ann Arbor -- For hungry fans, this is college football's version of the NFL draft. Except the talent dispersal isn't equal, the delusions are greater and many of the players haven't gone to the prom yet.
But for every wisecrack about recruiting rankings, there's a reason this matters. Stockpiling talent matters. Having a stable coaching staff to develop players matters. And here's what really matters: A program knowing what it's doing, where it's going and how it plans to get there.
Michigan and Ohio State look like they know what they're doing right now, which doesn't guarantee they'll get somewhere. But the old Big Ten powers are marking their territory again, determined to tilt the odds back in their favor.
This isn't where it ends, on national signing day. Coaches and fans at Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern point out they've managed to compete nicely in the Big Ten without winning recruiting titles. But to compete regularly on the national stage against those nasty behemoths from the Southeastern Conference, this is where it starts.
Ohio State could claim it's already back, after Urban Meyer went 12-0 in his first season and just landed what could be the No. 1 class in the country, in the mix with Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, LSU and Mississippi (?!). Michigan continues to gain steadily, and its sixth-ranked class is another sign.
It's only a sign, but for Brady Hoke, it's a big one, especially when attached to the top-rated running back in the country, 220-pound bruiser Derrick Green from Virginia. Hoke also had a top-10 class last year, which means he's restoring another fabled Michigan tradition — raising expectations in the dark of winter.
"These are the kinds of classes we want to have on a year-to-year basis," Hoke said Wednesday. "It was very important to establish guys who can play at the line of scrimmage, the way we want to play Michigan football."
Quality, not quantity
If Michigan's rebound is to continue, recruiting is paramount. That often draws muffled scoffing in East Lansing, where Mark Dantonio has done quite well with classes ranked fourth to sixth in the Big Ten. This year's group is 39th in the country, according to Rivals.com. Michigan had more holes to plug with its 27-member class, while Michigan State's stability produced a modest 17-member group, led by touted dual-threat quarterback Damion Terry.
"I think it's a talented class top to bottom," Dantonio said. "I don't get too concerned about the size of the class as much as the quality of the class."
Wisconsin and Michigan State have proven adept recently at battling for Big Ten titles without the recruiting buzz. The Spartans aren't going away, despite their 7-6 record last season. I don't think the Badgers are going away either, despite losing their coach, Bret Bielema, to Arkansas of the SEC.
I do think the Buckeyes and Wolverines are on another collision course, and while they certainly haven't earned Big Two status again, that's the national narrative these days. The only other Big Ten program to crack the top 30 of most recruiting rankings was Nebraska (17th).
Meyer keeps pushing, landing prizes across the country, as well as 10 players from Ohio. Hoke and his staff pushed back, with nine players from Ohio and eight from Michigan. The Wolverines also beat out SEC programs for Green and Maryland defensive tackle Henry Poggi, although they didn't land anyone from speed-rich Florida, Texas or California.
Time to 'get going'
If rivals push rivals, then there's a lot of shoving going on — Spartans pushing Wolverines pushing Buckeyes pushing everyone. Meyer stirs it up as well as anyone, and now is lobbying for more showcase night games.
"We want more energy in the stadium because you're competing with (other conferences)," Meyer said on his radio show Wednesday. "Some people say, that's not the way we've done it. That's fine. Maybe we should consider that because we have to have better recruiting classes in this conference and get going."
That is kind of the way it works. Glance at the top recruiting classes any given year and then at the final polls, and you'll likely see a lot of the same names (usually with Alabama at the top). It's not exact, but it's a decent indicator of future performance.
Hoke was on Lloyd Carr's staff when Michigan won the national title in 1997, so when asked if a Midwest-heavy roster could compete with SEC powers, he didn't hesitate.
"I remember being on teams here that could compete with anybody, so I don't know why you couldn't," Hoke said. "We're always going to nationally recruit, because we're a national brand."
It's all about knowing who you are. Meyer knows the talent he needs for his spread offense and has the cachet to go get it. Dantonio knows his program's strengths, especially on defense, and keeps adding to it. Hoke recognized what Michigan lacked and loaded up on big-time offensive linemen and bigger running backs.
Technically, nobody won anything Wednesday. But if a program wants to contend consistently, this usually is the way and the day to start.