Michigan has managed to assemble one of the most impressive 2014 recruiting classes in the country. Brady Hoke and his staff have assembled a group littered with elite players on both sides of the ball, but the Wolverines' recruiting momentum could fade if the team fails to recapture its winning ways on the field.
Hoke's squad compiled a 19-7 record during his first two seasons as head coach in Ann Arbor. Michigan entered the 2013 campaign viewed as a program on the rise, ranked No. 17 in the preseason AP Poll.
Long before the regular season began, the Wolverines shined on the recruiting trail.
5-star prospect Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J.) committed to Michigan in May. 4-star standouts Bryan Mone (Salt Lake City, Utah), Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and Mason Cole (Tarpon Springs) were also among 11 players who committed to the Wolverines before the end of their junior years.
Michigan pieced together an outstanding class by the time the team kicked off its season on Aug. 31 against Central Michigan. The Wolverines overwhelmed opponents en route to a 5-0 record.
Issues have emerged in the past month, as the squad has struggled against conference opponents.
Michigan suffered its first loss in heartbreaking fashion, dropping a four-overtime thriller at Penn State. The Wolverines rebounded to beat Indiana but have proceeded to lose two consecutive contests.
The team managed just 19 total points in losses to Big Ten rivals Michigan State and Nebraska.
Despite a tumble from national rankings, Michigan has kept its recruiting class intact. The 16-player group currently ranks 10th in the country, according to 247Sports.
Still, the Wolverines are nearly three months away from national signing day, and, if you hadn't noticed, the modern recruiting spectrum is extremely fluid.
The term "commitment" doesn't appear to carry the same weight as it once did, and non-binding verbal pacts allow players to come and go as they please. Commits from programs across the county will spend official visit weekends on rival campuses in the coming weeks.
Opposing sales pitches become more poignant if a coach can point to offensive struggles or conference woes.
The task at hand for Hoke, aside from winning games, is to convince Michigan's current commits that Ann Arbor remains an ideal destination. All 16 Wolverine recruits committed prior to September, and teenagers tend to get antsy.
It's challenging to carry your early pledges to the finish line, especially when you're not winning. Michigan offers an outstanding education and top-tier facilities, but unfortunately, those kind of factors are occasionally lost in the shuffle during overwhelming nationwide recruitments.
We're entering a prime period of the year for decommits. Guys read about uncommitted recruits who are busy traveling the country for lavish official visits and develop a mindset that they may be missing out on all the fun.
Columbus one weekend, Tallahassee the next, then it's off to Los Angeles, and so on.
Michigan isn't in grave danger of watching its recruiting class get ripped apart. Hoke has built a strong foundation with this group, and trust shouldn't be an issue, but the losses might be.
Image is an important part of any recruiting process, and the Wolverines' image has waned in recent weeks. Aside from picking up a phone to reassure recruits the program remains on a positive path, the most important thing Michigan coaches can do to aid recruiting efforts is to start adding to the win column.
Remember, Michigan isn't just trying to keep its current commits. The goal is stockpile more talent, which is why the Wolverines are in pursuit of top prospects like Da'Shawn Hand, Malik McDowell and John Smith.
An offer of early playing time is always key when recruiting premier players. Hoke can certainly use that card if he chooses in the case of Hand and McDowell, who each warrant consideration as All-American defensive ends.
Matchups at Northwestern and Iowa precede a pivotal regular-season finale against unbeaten Ohio State. How Michigan handles itself in these three matchups may make the difference between building a good recruiting class and a great one.
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