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Posted on Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Michigan football team to ink a top class, but don't put too much stock in the rankings

By Kyle Meinke


Five-star recruits will get the most attention today when college football programs accept official letters of intent. But sometimes, it's players such as Holland West Ottawa High School's Desmond Morgan, above, who turn out best. Morgan went from the 52nd-best player in the state to starting at linebacker as a freshman at Michigan.

Grand Rapids Press

The Michigan football team is expected to sign one of the nation's top recruiting classes today.

There are two Rivals five-star prospects in the class, the first time that's happened since 2007. Three commits rank in the top 100 for the first time since 2008. Eleven of them -- or almost half the 24-member class -- are rated at least a four star.

Together, they comprise a class that ranks No. 4 according to Rivals and No. 5 according to Scout.

Strong stuff.

But what does it mean?

As coaches laud their newest additions today, it's important to remember that, most of the time, analysts are right. But they also miss on guys. Every year.

In fact, Michigan's sixth-ranked scoring defense last season -- which carried the team to an 11-2 record -- featured four starters who either were ranked in the bottom quarter of their recruiting class, or not at all.


A look at the stars given to Michigan players who started at least four games last season (Rivals/Scout):

WR: Roy Roundtree (4/3)
WR: Junior Hemingway (3/4)
RB: Fitz Toussaint (4/3)
QB: Denard Robinson (4/4, not at QB)
OL: Taylor Lewan (4/4)
OL: Ricky Barnum (4/4)
OL: Michael Schofield (4/4)
OL: David Molk (4/3)
OL: Patrick Omameh (2/3)
OL: Mark Huyge (2/3)
TE: Kevin Koger (4/4)
TE: Steve Watson (3/4)

DL: Craig Roh (4/4)
DL: Mike Martin (4/4)
DL: Will Heininger (NR)
DL: Ryan Van Bergen (4/4)
LB: Jake Ryan (3/3)
LB: Kenny Demens (4/3)
LB: Brandin Hawthorne (3/3)
LB: Desmond Morgan (3/3)
CB: Blake Countess (4/4)
CB: J.T. Floyd (3/3)
S: Jordan Kovacs (NR)
S: Thomas Gordon (2/2)
S: Troy Woolfolk (3/3)

Michigan’s 5-star recruits since 2007:

2011: None
2010: Devin Gardner (now backup QB)
2009: Will Campbell (now backup DT), Justin Turner (transferred to Scottsdale Community College)
2008: Boubacar Cissoko (kicked off team, in jail)
2007: Ryan Mallett (transferred to Arkansas), Donavan Warren (star corner, left after junior season)

Note: Michigan has two five-star recruits in its 2012 class, OL Kyle Kalis and DT Ondre Pipkins.

Consider the case of linebacker Desmond Morgan.

Michigan's recruiting class this year is so powerful because of the work done before the start of the season. At that time the previous year, though, Morgan was ranked 52nd.

Not nationally. Not at his position. The Holland native was 52nd in the state of Michigan.

A year later, he was starting at linebacker for a top-10 defense.

Scout Midwest recruiting expert Allen Trieu, who compiles the website's state ranking, said Morgan was undervalued early because he played fullback as a junior, which masked his athleticism.

As a senior, he played quarterback and ran the option, which showcased his athleticism.

"I still remember the first I went to see him," Trieu said. "I had an eye infection, so my girlfriend had to drive me there, and she stayed for the game. He scored three touchdowns and absolutely blasted a kid on defense on the first play.

"She leans over and was like, “'Uh, I think he’s pretty good.'"

Trieu gave Morgan a three-star ranking, and the linebacker finished 43rd at his position according to Scout.

Rivals didn't rank him at all at linebacker and gave him the worst non-kicker rating in Michigan's 2011 class. Oops.

And, it's not as though he were a raw prospect. He started seven times at weak-side linebacker as a true freshman, and coaches say he would have started more if it weren't for a leg injury in fall camp.

The "experts" simply missed on him. But he isn't the only one.

Over on the strong-side, linebacker Jake Ryan has done more than anyone else so far from the 2010 class, but was only a three-star recruit. He was Scout's 21st-best player in the class, and was tied for 16th according to Rivals.

Rivals' best prospect in that class, cornerback Cullen Christian, played only one season before transferring to Pitt after the firing of Rich Rodriguez. He recorded six tackles as a Wolverine.

In the 2009 class, Thomas Gordon was the second-worst prospect according to Rivals and Scout. He started at free safety as a sophomore last season and led the Big Ten in fumble recoveries.

In 2008, offensive lineman Patrick Omameh was Michigan's worst-ranked recruit according to Rivals. He has started 29 consecutive games at guard heading into his senior season, the second-longest streak on the team.

The best player in that class, Boubocar Cissoko, played only one full season before being kicked off the team. He's sitting in a jail cell right now on assault and robbery convictions.

In 2007, offensive lineman Mark Huyge was a two-star according to Scout, and the second-worst player in the class. The Wyoming, Mich., native recently finished his Michigan career by making 29 consecutive starts and is training for the NFL Draft.

All told, only seven of the 25 players who started at least four games last season were consensus four-stars or better. That does not include Denard Robinson, who was a four-star, but not as a quarterback.


Jordan Kovacs, center, has started 33 games at Michigan after being widely ignored in recruiting rankings.

Melanie Maxwell |

Two full-time starters -- defensive lineman Will Heininger and safety Jordan Kovacs -- weren't given stars at all. Kovacs has since become one of the Big Ten's best safeties.

"I could spend the rest of my life looking at these kids and still not get it right," Trieu said. "It’s just that much of an inexact science."

Trieu said the biggest reason players such as these are not ranked higher is because, almost across the board, they were late bloomers stuck behind other players at football powerhouses (three-star Frank Clark was an example last year at Cleveland Glenville High) or they play positions that do not showcase their skills (Morgan).

But there is one interesting list Trieu compiles that does account for players such as these, even if they are left behind in the rankings. He does a "Big Ten sleeper list" every year for those who come on late.

It appears to be far more accurate than the star rankings.

The past three years' sleepers named by Trieu: Gordon in 2009, Ryan in 2010 and Morgan (as well as budding tailback Thomas Rawls) last year. That's dead-on.

(This year's Michigan sleeper, for what it's worth? Offensive tackle Ben Braden, a three-star from Rockford, Mich.)

But it's not just lowly ranked guys who surprise at the next level. It's the blue-chippers, too, but for all the wrong reasons.

Michigan had 22 players in the 2008-10 classes who were consensus four-star recruits. Nine of them -- 40.1 percent -- either transferred or were kicked off the team.

Rivals' top-ranked players in that stretch? Christian (transferred to Pitt) and Devin Gardner (backup quarterback) in 2010; Will Campbell (backup defensive lineman) and Justin Turner (transferred to Scottsdale Community College) in 2009; and Cissoko (in jail) and Dann O'Neill (transferred to Western Michigan) in 2008.

Campbell, Turner, Gardner and Cissoko earned at least one fifth-star. None has yet developed into an elite player, although the jury's still out on Gardner.

The last five-star recruit to develop into a steady starter for Michigan? Cornerback Donovan Warren in 2007.

That makes the Wolverines 1-for-6 on five-star recruits since 2007 (Ryan Mallett also was in that class; he transferred to Arkansas).


That should serve as a cautionary tale as Michigan's recruits are extolled today by coaches, media, recruiting analysts and fans.

The Wolverines' class is filled with accomplished high school players, and the staff deserves to be commended for grabbing players whom they think fit their system. But, just who it is that pans out, and who transfers before playing a single down, remains an uncertainty.

And that's about all that is certain at this point.

Related content: Meet the 2012 class | All recruiting stories

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.

Real talent does matter, but coaching up players can make a HUGE difference too. In order to compete with the LSU's and the Alabama's of the world, you need a certain amount of talent. But, you don't need 4 and 5 star players at every position. Desmond Morgan is a great example of a highly underrated player who has the potential to be an All Big Ten player. And it shows how coaches need to focus first on their own backyards. Locally, they can spend more time to watch and evaluate players. I'm no talent expert, but you could watch video's of Morgan in high school and see the talent. Add that to his intelligence, and you have an excellent LB prospect. Good article!

Matt Patercsak

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

and then there's schools like Alabama, where 5 star recruits play like 5 star recruits. So what's the real issue? the ranking system? or the coaching? for me its schematic. a 5 star scat back will not do well in a power offense (ie Dee Hart). But an oversized 6'4 linebacker can play the sam in a 3-4 perfectly. look at all the former 5 stars on Alabama's roster, for the most part they are either starting at crucial roles, or on their way to the NFL within a year. its all about expectation. if you want to be solid, then you weed out little gems like desmond morgan, or jordan kovacs, or whoever. but if you want to win championships, you recruit studs for schemes that fit their needs. 1)kalis 2)pipkins 3)bolden 4)wilson 5)darboh if we had one of the best offensive lines in the country (biggest and baddest) you bet that 5 star running backs like brionte dunn would come and succeed. its all about matching talent to schematic needs. in our case, we're loading up on beef, and defense. which is what we need, and what our identity is all about. I wouldnt be surprised if the 5 stars in this class, kalis and pipkins, change this mantra of illusion involved with ranking. there are always sleepers, and in my opinion michigan has a few, like Jehu Chesson and Drake Johnson. and even Willie Henry. But if you put legitimate 5 stars where they belong, rarely are you disappointed. evidence? much of the SEC.

Blu n Tpa

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 4:12 p.m.

My bad. Read it on another site. Didn't follow up. It's Miami not Michigan. This is why I hate NSD. To much sizzle and not enough steak.


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 3:47 p.m.

Blu - you got me all fired up. I think Scout reported that T Howard is going to UM (University of Miami); not our beloved Wolverines.

Dumpsterfire Jones

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 3:35 p.m.

Fans/fanatics always complain about rankings. I look at it this way, if the Coaches want the kid, he must be good enough to compete at Michigan. I don't think any coach has had to take a kid at gunpoint or ransom.

Blu n Tpa

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

This just in from Scout Tracey Howard, 5 star CB from Miramar HS shuns UF and FSU to sign with Michigan. Go Blue!

mark h

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 4:20 p.m.

Yah, I think you got the wrong "UofM"... he signed with Miami.

Blu n Tpa

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

I win the "dum as " award for this post. This is the problem of having faster fingers than brain sometimes. Should have checked it out. Really dumb.

Blu n Tpa

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

It's Tracy Howard


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 3:07 p.m.

Michigan is #3 in the country according to Scout - rightfully surpassing THE!!! Ohio bleh... just shut up.


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

Why are we always ranking these young kids with stars.....let's rank the COACHES!!! Brady Hoke- 5 stars Greg Mattison- 5 stars COACH Carr- 4 1/2 stars coach Rodriguez- -5 stars COACH Big AL- 5 BIG stars MEEEEEEEEEEANchigan COACHES are the leaders and best. As the buckeye nation is scorned by the vest!


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 4:39 p.m.

RR is a negative 5 stars, if you look closely!! Perfect scores Mean-one!! Especially the BIG 5 for BIG AL. The MEAN-one strikes again!!!


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 4:32 p.m.

I love this comment... except the 5 stars for RR thing. Was that written in jest?


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

Wha? 5 stars for Rich Rod? No, dude.

Blu n Tpa

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

As of 8:30am EST Michigan had the #3 class, one spot ahead of ohio, on the Scout website ranking. Go Blue!


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 12:02 p.m.

Very interesting article. One of the best ive read as far as recruiting goes. I completely agree, and your numbers show that the stars players earn from recruiting services only mean so much. Obviously teams that are hanging around the top in recruit rankings every year are usually pretty good, but there is always exceptions. I think with the staff UM has in place now the talent they recruit will be coached and mentored well and UM will see its recruiting efforts rewarded. Another thing to note is that Hoke is going after players he believes will fit his systems. I cant wait to see how it shapes up over the years, because seeing what he could do with players recruited by RR was impressive. Go blue