Michigan's exposing loss to Ohio State put recruiting gap on display
So where does Michigan go now?
That’s a twofold question, as in how does Michigan bridge the gap with Ohio State and, more tangibly, where will the Wolverines play in a bowl?
It looks like the Wolverines — who are coming off a blistering 56-27 loss to Ohio State on Saturday, their eighth straight loss in the rivalry and 15th of the last 16 meetings — will wind up in either the Holiday Bowl or Gator Bowl. But more on that later.
The more pressing matter, ultimately, is the first question. The big question. Perhaps the biggest.
Ohio State is undefeated and the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings in large part because of their talent, which is a product of one thing — recruiting, the lifeblood of any program. So top recruits need top coaching, but the beginning stage of building greatness is bringing in what most consider to be among the best high school players in the country.
There are lots of reasons Michigan lost to Ohio State this weekend and 62-39 a year ago. But the bottom line is — and this isn’t groundbreaking news — the Buckeyes are stacked with talent.
“They were exposed to how far talent-wise they’re behind Ohio State,” Chris Spielman, Fox NFL analyst and former Ohio State and Lions linebacker, said of Michigan on the "Spielman & Hooley" podcast on Sunday.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked after the game if there’s a talent gap, preparation gap, or a coaching gap between Michigan and Ohio State.
“I’ll answer your questions, not your insults,” said Harbaugh, who is 0-5 against Ohio State since taking over at Michigan.
He was told it wasn’t an insult and that Ohio State had scored 118 points in the last two games against Michigan.
“They played really good,” Harbaugh said of the Buckeyes.
Harbaugh said the Wolverines (9-3, 6-3 Big Ten) will continue to work before their bowl game, while Ohio State (12-0, 9-0) will move on to play in the conference championship game next weekend.
“We’ll regroup and come back and play our next game,” he said. “Regroup and retool. Get our guys back and prepare for our next ball game.”
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson said the Wolverines match up with Ohio State talent-wise.
“Yeah, I believe so,” Patterson said. “Just in the second half we let the game get away from us. We’ve just got to play the same way for four quarters, not two or three.”
That’s true, of course, but Ohio State has widened the recruiting gap with Michigan and that shows on the field. In this 2020 class that's currently being recruited, the Buckeyes have two five-star commits and 13 four-star recruits. They also have eight players rated ahead of Michigan’s top player in the class: four-star receiver A.J. Henning. Ohio State’s class is rated No. 4 in the nation right now and Michigan’s No. 13 by the 247Sports Composite rankings.
In 2019, the 247Sports Composite had Michigan ranked No. 8 nationally and Ohio State No. 14 — Michigan had two five-star recruits and 14 four stars and Ohio State had three five stars and nine four stars — but that’s the only time since Harbaugh has been head coach. Michigan was ranked No. 22 in 2018, No. 5 in 2017, No. 8 in 2016 and No. 37 in 2015, while Ohio State was No. 2, No. 2, No. 4 and No. 7 over that same span.
There are plenty of things at work for a team to be successful, namely coaching and development of players and their skills. Unheralded players have become great players, and some of the highly rated recruits have been busts, that’s also true. The point is, it isn’t just about landing every five-star player imaginable, but that’s a good place to start.
The early signing period is Dec. 18, before Michigan plays in a bowl game, so how the Wolverines perform won’t play a role. They have, however, lost their last three bowl games.
Where they’ll be heading won’t be made official until next Sunday, but it looks like Michigan and Iowa, both with 9-3 records, are locked into similar circumstances. If one goes to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, the other will go to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
Iowa played in the Gator in 2015 and Penn State the next year. The fact Michigan hasn’t played in the Gator since the new deal with the Big Ten suggests the Wolverines could be the right fit. Then again, neither has played in the Holiday since the 1990s — Iowa played in 1991 and Michigan in 1994.
While they share the same overall record, Michigan did beat Iowa this season. But the Hawkeyes are coming off a win over Nebraska, while Michigan has the less appealing loss to Ohio State.