Part 2 of a multi-part series: Part 1: The Numbers.
First, a preface: Brian, in mentioning Part 1 of this series last week, seemed to imply that the very act of debating this is in essence conceding the debate itself, and that MSU's recruiting is the same mediocre product it's always been and Michigan fans shouldn't waste time analyzing it. I agree in part (and that's actually part of what I'm planning on discussing as this series thingie moves forward), but I also disagree at the same time. Michigan fans can bemoan the fact that we've fallen to the level where we're worried about State all they want; that doesn't change the reality that it's something that has gone from a blip on the radar to a tangible threat that cannot be ignored.
My opinion, anyway.
So. In Part 1, I did my best to put aside any editorializing and bias, simply relying on hard numbers and facts. Part 3 will be the part where I veer into the territory of complete opinion (MSU fans will want to skip that one). This part will probably fall somewhere in the middle - there will be numerous facts, but I will also be injecting a pro-Michigan viewpoint, so be forewarned if you're not of the Maize and Blue persuasion.
Anyway, as the title says, there is a war of perception going on within our state's borders. It's been going on for over two years now, and frankly, Michigan's losing. To some people, it's an irrelevant battle for some very particular reasons. For others, it's something that they believe has changed and must be corrected.
The perception is, simply put, that Michigan, and specifically Rich Rodriguez, disrespects high school coaches and players in the state of Michigan by pursuing similar (or in their minds, inferior) prospects in other states. These feelings are amplified by the presence of Rodriguez, a complete outsider from the hills of West Virginia, in contrast to the past 40 years of Bo-Mo-Lloyd. Never mind that Lloyd was from the hills of Tennessee himself. But that's another argument for another day.
I have a feeling that certain people would've tried to kick start this line of thought even if Lloyd Carr had stayed as UM head coach or if Les Miles had been hired or something, because its roots reside in East Lansing and the arrival of one Mark Dantonio. I mentioned this in passing in Part 1, but one of the cornerstones of Dantonio's tenure in East Lansing is the re-dedication to bringing in the in-state kids, in making Michigan State THE university of Michigan.
A quick glance at recruiting, and you see man-beasts like William Gholston and Lawrence Thomas going to Michigan State, the historically inferior program in the state, and it's easy to assume that MSU has successfully shifted the balance of power in the mitten.
However, when the argument comes up that Rodriguez is neglecting/disrespecting/ignoring/whatever in-state kids, consider these numbers:
2002: Michigan 11, MSU 7
2003: Michigan 6, MSU 4
2004: Michigan 5, MSU 8
2005: Michigan 6, MSU 6
2006: Michigan 4, MSU 7
2007: Michigan 5, MSU 8
2008: Michigan 5, MSU 13
2009: Michigan 4, MSU 12
2010: Michigan 4, MSU 10
2011 (to date): Michigan 4, MSU 3
In case it isn't obvious, these are the numbers of in-state recruits each program has taken in the Rivals era.
Outside of the one outlying year (2002), Rich Rodriguez's recruiting in the state of Michigan is almost identical to Lloyd Carr's final years. The "change" is the aforementioned in-state blitz by Dantonio, which has somehow been spun into a negative UM light at the same time. A pretty impressive spin, I must admit.
As for Gholston and Thomas, the in-state supers who would generally be thought of as players well above Michigan State's payrate and would either go to Michigan or go out of state:
Consensus prep All-American . . . named Parade Magazine and Rivalnet National Player of the Year . . . selected Defensive Player of the Year by PrepStar, SuperPrep and Rivalnet . . . ranked among the nation's top five players by nearly every recruiting publication, including No. 1 by Rivalnet, No. 2 by The National Recruiting Advisor, No. 2 by Tom Lemming's Prep Football Report and No. 5 by SuperPrep . . . rated the state's top prospect by the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News and Lansing State Journal . . . the Midwest's top-ranked player recorded 102 tackles (63 solos, 39 assists), including nine sacks, and forced four fumbles in 1998 . . .
Consensus prep All-American . . . rated the nation�s No. 1 prospect by ESPN.com recruiting analyst Tom Lemming . . . also ranked among the country�s top players by SuperPrep (No. 8) . . . listed among the nation�s top receivers by Lemming (No. 1), PrepStar (No. 2) and SuperPrep (No. 3) . . . labeled the No. 1 player in the Midwest by PrepStar, SuperPrep and the Detroit Free Press . . . named Midwest Region Offensive MVP by PrepStar . . . rated the state�s top player by the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News and Lansing State Journal . . . three-time all-state selection . . .
SuperPrep, PrepStar and Max Emfinger All-American . . . rated among the nation's top 20 quarterbacks by SuperPrep (No. 15), Student Sports Magazine (No. 15), TheInsiders.com (No. 17) and ESPN.com's Tom Lemming (No. 18) . . . also ranked among the country's top passing QBs (No. 7) by USA Today's Max Emfinger . . . listed among the Midwest's top prospects by the Detroit Free Press (No. 15) and SuperPrep (No. 17) . . . ranked among the state's top seniors by The Detroit News (No. 3), Lansing State Journal (No. 3) and Detroit Free Press (No. 6) . . . named to The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press Dream Teams . . .
You look at those profiles, those accolades...they sound like players who would snub their noses at State and take their skills to Michigan, don't they?
Player A is TJ Duckett. Player B is Charles Rogers. Player C is Drew Stanton.
All Mark Dantonio has done is restore what John L. Smith destroyed. MSU has always fared better in-state, and they have always landed their fair share of in-state stars who were always more enamored with MSU than UM. The only historical difference right now is Michigan being in the tank at 8-16 and being run by a perceived outsider who has rubbed a few people the wrong way.
2009 recruit Reid Fragel in 2008:
"To me, being a prospect from Michigan, it sort of feels like Michigan is being disrespectful toward the recruits in this state by going outside the state," Reid Fragel, a senior tight end from Grosse Pointe South High School who's committed to Ohio State, told The Columbus Dispatch. "I've heard some things saying they might be looking to the South more, while Michigan State is looking in-state. I think that's really benefiting (the Spartans), with their recruiting class this year especially."
So...why is Reid Fragel entering his second year with Ohio State and not Michigan State? If respect is such a big thing to him, why did he commit to an out-of-state program (OSU) over the in-state one that offered him a scholarship (MSU)? He "heard some things" about Michigan looking to the South? What things? From who?
MSU running back Edwin Baker, in the same Daily article:
"Michigan is not looking in-state," said Baker, rivals.com's No. 2 in-state prospect. "They want to go down South and get away from (Michigan), and that's going to pull all the talent toward Michigan State's way."
I'll discuss what exactly is "pulling" all the talent Michigan State's way in Part 3, but Baker's claim is just as false now as it was when he made it two years ago. Particuarly weird coming from him, since he was the one Rich Rodriguez wanted (not Larry Caper). Fragel's bitterness was at least partially understandable, as he wanted to play tight end in college (like he is with OSU), but Michigan liked him more as an offensive tackle.
Even Rodriguez antagonist Dave Birkett (inadvertently?) took a swing at the perception that Rodriguez doesn't care about recruiting in Michigan:
In three years under Rodriguez, Michigan has signed players from 14 different states. Typically, the Wolverines do most of their recruiting in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but they also have a successful Florida pipeline and have secured commitments from non-traditional states like Arizona, Louisiana and Massachusetts.
This is what Rodriguez has said all along ever since he arrived. If somebody can find a link with a direct quote from RR himself, thanks, but I have heard him say numerous times he wants UM's recruiting base to be MI-OH-PA, and then going down to Florida and branching out nationally from there. He has never - not once - said anything disparaging about the talent in this state in comparison to others.
And it would be easy to. Do you think it's a coincidence that MSU's always cleaned up in the state and has historically been a second tier program? The two are linked. You can make a chicken and the egg argument, but the end result is the same. MSU relies on in-state talent because they are historically mediocre and can't recruit nationally, and they are historically mediocre because their recruiting classes are full of state of Michigan kids who simply aren't as good as kids in other states. The state of Michigan isn't even on the radar for top states in terms of high school talent. After the big three (Florida, Texas, California), people rattle off states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia. Michigan never comes up, because there is never enough depth in state to support a high level program on its own merits, let alone two.
So, you ask why Michigan doesn't offer and take a dozen in-state prospects every year? Simply put: It's because they don't strive to be Michigan State. Mark Dantonio doesn't have some bleeding heart sentimentality to the poor inner city Detroit kids who are dying for a way out. He's taking what he can get. If MSU had the clout and the ability to go into Virginia and snag a Curtis Grant (5-star linebacker this year), does anyone really believe he'd turn him away in favor of Detroit Southeastern linebacker Ed Davis, who, while a fine player in his own right, doesn't measure up to Grant? Good coaches want the best players, period. And contrary to the partisan lines that have been drawn, I do believe both Rodriguez and Dantonio are good coaches. They're very different in their methods and beliefs, but they're both good coaches and both have the ability to identify talent.
But the fact remains, even now, Michigan's national footprint is much larger than Michigan State's. Don't believe me? Do you think Michigan State has the ability to go into South Carolina and take a star lineman away from the in-state Gamecocks? Can MSU go into Arizona and grab a pair of 4-star level prospects with numerous Pac-10 offers? Can they grab a Florida kid with offers from Florida, Ohio State, USC and Georgia? If and when Michigan State reaches this level, a lot of people are going to be in for a surprise when it comes to who gets offered, where they're from, etc.
I give the Spartans credit. They've absolutely jumped on the opportunity that's been served up to them on a platter. First time in a generation that UM is down, and they're exploiting it to the fullest with the most fundamental of tactics - targeting the hearts and minds of the masses. The two sides have very, very different views of reality, but sometimes it's the perception that matters the most, and there's little doubt that MSU is winning the war of perception. Doesn't matter what the truth is, it's the fundamental definition of the Big Lie: no matter how outlandish and how false something is, if you repeat it enough and never deviate from your message, eventually people will believe it.
Like I mentioned at the onset of this one, Part 3 will be even more opinionated than this one. MSU folks will want to skip it. A large portion of it will actually be a rehash of a few sensitive issues I've talked about here before, but sometimes things have to be repeated just so the message gets across.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Part 2 of a multi-part series: Part 1: The Numbers.