Winter is coming and the Michigan Wolverines may be heating up on the recruiting trail just in time.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and company, left on the doorstep of College Football Playoff inclusion, are entering a stretch that seems likely to further bolster a title-contending roster for years to come. A regular season relatively devoid of recruiting fireworks in Ann Arbor has suddenly given way to potentially overwhelming success before Christmas.
Detroit defensive back Ambry Thomas committed to Michigan last week, while a Wednesday pledge from Connecticut receiver Tarik Black again enhanced the Wolverines' 2017 class. Both players are considered top-100 overall recruits in Scout.com rankings.
"I wanted to accept Coach Harbaugh's challenge," Thomas, who dominated this summer at The Opening as a two-way standout, told Steve Lorenz of the Detroit Free Press.
Harbaugh hasn't failed to make an impression on premier prospects since returning to his alma mater. The former star Wolverines quarterback capped off his first full cycle at Michigan last February with a top-10 class.
These latest additions place the program within realistic striking distance of a top-five talent haul this time around. Thomas and Black bumped Michigan to No. 6 overall in Scout.com class rankings, and their pledges may eventually be seen at appetizers for the main course when national signing day arrives on February 1.
The Wolverines are well-situated in the pursuit of three blue-chip prospects set to decide in the upcoming days. Detroit receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, New York offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson and Florida (via New Jersey) center Cesar Ruiz are prepared to announce collegiate intentions.
Like Black and Thomas, each are considered top-100 overall recruits. All three are viewed as top-10 players at their respective positions.
Michigan is the favorite to land this trio among recruiting experts who partake in 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections. The Wolverines are slam-dunk frontrunners for Ruiz (100 percent) and Peoples-Jones (97 percent), while the outlook for Wilson is a bit more modest but still quite commanding (74 percent).
According to 247Sports' class calculator, the addition of these three coveted athletes would vault the Wolverines to No. 4 in composite rankings, behind only Georgia, Alabama and archrival Ohio State.
Peoples-Jones is first on the docket, expected to announce in front a national television audience Thursday night. Arguably the most lauded Motor City playmaker in years, he secured 60 receptions for 1,064 yards and 17 touchdowns during a 2016 state title run at Cass Technical High School, per David Goricki of the Detroit News.
Wilson, scheduled for a Friday commitment, is an absolute behemoth bookend. Standing nearly 6'7" and weighing 350 pounds, he is also considering SEC suitors Alabama and Georgia.
Ruiz, an anchor up front for Sunshine State powerhouse IMG Academy during the past two seasons, reveals his choice Monday and has personal ties to a pair of 2016 Michigan signees. He suited up as an underclassman at Camden High School in New Jersey alongside Wolverines freshman Ron Johnson and Brad Hawkins, who is slated to arrive in Ann Arbor next year following a stop at Suffield Academy in Connecticut.
This flurry of activity may only signal the start of a furious final push toward signing day for Michigan. The collection of targeted top-tier recruits includes former Wolverines defensive tackle commit Aubrey Solomon (Georgia), linebackers Drew Singleton (New Jersey) and Jordan Anthony (Florida) and offensive tackle Chuck Filiaga (Texas).
The most alluring potential prize resides in Northern California, where No. 1 overall prospect Najee Harris continues to evaluate alternatives before enrolling early at Alabama next month. Committed to the Crimson Tide since his sophomore year, this 5-star running back traveled to Ann Arbor last weekend before the "dead period" set in to limit contact between him and college coaches.
Harris, who exceeded 2,000 rushing yards during each of the past three seasons, expressed admiration for Harbaugh prior to the official visit, describing him as "juiced" and "full of energy" during a discussion with B/R.
"He's a legend in my area in a way," Harris said. "What Harbaugh did—to go to the NFL and do that, then go to college at Michigan and do that again—that's one of the best coaches."
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Let's be honest—while academic endeavors and post-football career networking loom large in the minds of high school prospects assessing university options, many ultimately aim for NFL opportunities. Harbaugh, just four years removed from a Super Bowl appearance with the San Francisco 49ers, assembled a staff loaded with coaches who have connections to the league.
A comment made to B/R last December by 2016 U.S. Army All-American Player finalist Brandon Peters still resonates.
"You’re learning from the best with that entire staff. Why would you not want to play for Harbaugh?" Peters, now a freshman quarterback at Michigan, said.
Black echoed those sentiments upon his Wednesday announcement.
"He knows what an NFL guy looks like," he told Brian Dohn of Scout.com. "They know what to look for in that. I think they can prepare me the best for that."
No, Harbaugh hasn't yet accomplished all the goals laid out before him in Ann Arbor. A victory over Ohio State remains frustratingly elusive, and that's likely to stand in the way of a College Football Playoff berth until fortunes against the Buckeyes are reversed.
Still, we're talking about a team that finished below .500 three times between 2008 and 2014. To further hammer home this point, Michigan hadn't previously suffered a single losing season since 1967.
The Wolverines are 20-5 since Harbaugh returned to campus, and continued recruiting success only emboldens heightened expectations among Michigan's widespread fanbase.
Leading up to an Orange Bowl showdown with Florida State, expect the hype for 2017 and beyond to build as impending commitment announcements reshape how this roster is viewed long-term.
Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Quotes and observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Prospect ratings and information courtesy of Scout.
Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.