Chris Clark, TE, Avon (Conn.) Old Farms
Before Chris Clark officially visited Michigan a few weeks ago there was STRONG scuttlebutt that he was locked up for UCLA, but his time in Ann Arbor seemed to soften that stance a bit. “I liked them a lot, especially coach Jay Harbaugh, the new tight ends coach,” Clark said. “He was cool. They said they wanted to give the ball to the tight end a lot. They showed me a lot of tape, so it wasn’t just them saying it. There was proof. It was cool. The visit definitely helped them and made me feel better about the situation there. The coaching staff is a great staff, an all-star staff.” But a subsequent visit to Westwood seemed reiterated the considerable bond he had already forged with the Bruin staff. That reportedly gave UCLA the edge again according to at least one prospect also present during the trip. That brings us to this week, where pro-UCLA scuttlebutt remains strong. However as the time for him to sign gets near there appears to be some of uncertainty creeping in again according to one source close to the situation. Strong relationships versus an established track record for incorporating and developing tight ends. I think he will go the route of the strongest relationships, which means this still this looks good for the Bruins.
Strength: 60% UCLA, 40% Michigan
Announcement Date: National Signing Day, ESPN, 8:30 a.m. EST
Final Pick: UCLA
Karan Higdon, RB, Sarasota (Fla.) Riverview
If there is a better example of a whirlwind recruitment than this, I'll have to see it to believe it. The Sunshine State committed to Iowa in October and hadn't thought twice about his Hawkeye future until last Friday when Michigan extended him a scholarship offer. By Saturday afternoon he was on a plane headed to Ann Arbor. Blizzard conditions didn't hamper his favorable impression of the Maize & Blue. Word has it that he was particluarly impressed with his would-be position coach, Tyrone Wheatley. Iowa had an undeniable advantage in the relationship category, but it appears the fast rapport Higdon built with coaches in Ann Arbor bridged that gap more than many (or maybe eve he) expected. Absent a significant lead in that department, the magnitude of Michigan's program, the buzz created by Harbaugh, and Wheatley's success as a player and coach in college and the pros will be too for the Hawkeyes to overcome.
Strength: 75% Michigan, 25% Iowa
Announcement Date: National Signing Day, 8:00 a.m.
Final Pick: Michigan
Van Jefferson, WR, Brentwood (Tenn.) Ravenwood
Jefferson's recruitment has certainly had its share of twists and turns. Back in August he singled Georgia out as his future home. His verbal pledge to the Bulldogs lasted until mid-January when official visits to Oklahoma and Ole Miss prompted his decommitment. Then on January 25th his recruitment seemingly came to a conclusion once again when he verbally committed to the Rebels, but little did he know that there was to be one more twist in his process. Last Wednesday he received an offer from the University of Michigan, and that may have been the one he was waiting for all along. The All-American wideout spent nine years of his life in Michigan while his dad worked as an assistant for the Detroit Lions organization. On multiple occasions after his visit he described Michigan as "home." That explains his disappointment over the previous Michigan regime’s decision not to recruit him. It also explains his abrupt decision to take the trip to Ann Arbor just days after verbally committing to Ole Miss. After the visit he went from being firmly committed to Rebels to saying he would consult his family early this week and go where “God leads me” on signing day. Twitter sleuths noticed him changing the background in his twitter profile to the Detroit skyline. Other recruits shared with us their knowledge him saying he would choose Michigan. Of course none of that means he will actually do so, but it all of that together leads us to believe he is leaning that way.
Strength: 60% Michigan, 40% Ole Miss
Announcement Date: National Signing Day, 11:00 a.m. EST
Final Pick: Ole Miss
Iman Marshall, DB, Long Beach (Calif.) Poly
Based on the criteria laid out by this talented youngster's father, it’s easy to start believing that programs not named USC really DO have a chance here. “Of course any time you have a relationship with (a school), that helps things,” Mr. Marshall said. “But again, I think people are putting too much emphasis on distance. For our choice that is very, very low on the totem. First and foremost if he left and went to the NFL, what happens if he gets drafted in Green Bay or Buffalo? You can’t control where you play your ball at, so that shouldn’t be an overriding factor. We’re not going to let distance stop us and experiencing a great opportunity. We’re not going to overlook a great opportunity because we’re afraid to cut the ties. We’re not going to do that. If Coach Harbaugh and his staff are the best ones to prepare my son for manhood and for the next level on and off the field, academically, as well as a football player, then that is where he’ll be.” Word has it that the program with the best chance of unseating the heavily-favored Trojans is Michigan due in large part to the wealth of NFL experience on staff. But if USC doesn’t win this race it will rank as the biggest upset of the recruiting season. There are simply too many advantages for other programs to overcome (relationships, proximity, and lifelong affinity). Those factors may be overblown, but that doesn't mean they aren't fairly significant.
Strength: 75% USC, 15% Michigan, 10% UCLA
Announcement Date: Signing Day, ESPN 4:00 p.m. EST
Final Pick: USC
Roquan Smith, LB, Montezuma (Ga.) Macon County
This is Georgia kid that Georgia want, and they aren't don't have to fend off other southern schools to keep him. The stiffest competition is coming from out-of-region schools. Michigan earned a puncher's chance in this race based on the hire of new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. His presence was enough to convince Smith to come up on an official. "It was a great experience,” said Smith. “It was great to see what is out there other than what I have seen in the south. I enjoyed the visit and it was more than just about football up there. The education there is second to none and the environment is great. The alumni is all over too and I like that. Michigan is a place I could grow up as a man and as a player on the field. I enjoyed the entire visit." But at the end of the day he is more familiar with the other schools in what Scout.com's South Regional Manager Chad Simmons believes to be Smith’s top three. UCLA was the first school to offer him and he had an official visit that was described to our sister site BruinReportOnline as being "overwhelming. And Georgia is the longtime favorite. It says a lot that Michigan is even in this race, but they probably don't have enough to win it.
Strength: 60% Georgia, 30% UCLA, 10% Michigan
Announcement Date: Signing Day, ESPN, 11:00 a.m. EST
Final Pick: Still unknown.
Keith Washington, CB/ATH, Prattville (Ala.) Cass Tech
This former Duke commitment just committed to California January 25th, but he was just offered by Michigan last week. Despite the Wolverines’ recent entry we continue to hear they have a real shot here. And that's despite him never setting foot in Ann Arbor. For his part Washington acknowledged being excited by the development, but maintained his allegiance to the Bears. “I hadn't really looked at them at all,” Washington said last week. “Now that Harbaugh is there they are showing me some attention. They called me up and said hey we want to offer you. I'm still on Cal on right now, but Michigan kind of jumped in the mix. But as of right now I'm still strong on Cal. But that's a big time offer. I know it's a big time program. Michigan is a powerhouse program, but as of right now I'm still on Cal... committed to Cal. That's where I'm going to remain.” Those words didn’t stop Harbaugh from dropping by Washington’s school late last week, nor did it stop Tyrone Wheatley’s persistent courtship. Again Washington took notice, but publicly reiterated his allegiance to the Bears. “Coach Harbaugh came by and said some great things, but right now I'm still committed to Cal,” he said. But are the operative words, “right now?” Based on what I've been hearing I think they are. If Michigan receives a surprise on signing day, it'll be this kid. I'd be more gung ho about this if he had visited, but because he didn't I'm giving Michigan the slight edge... which is still going out on a limb.
Strength: 51% Michigan, 49% Cal
Announcement Date: National Signing Day, 8:30 a.m. EST
Final Pick: Michigan
Mike Weber, RB, Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech
Ohio State is rolling on the field and off. A national championship, the top team in the country next year, and another top flight recruiting this year is surely enough to lock this one up, right? Well it hasn't been so far. A not so clandestine face-to-face meeting with Harbaugh sandwiched by their consistent communication with one-another, and Weber's own public acknowledgement that he still had things to think about before signing day are proof positive that one the Midwest's top prospects is anything but settled. We've been clear from the start about our strong belief that once Harbaugh was hired, face-to-face interactions would take place. Now in the aftermath of said contact it is my belief that Michigan will come out on top. It's the proverbial “heart” pick. Michigan is the school he grew up loving and his would-be position extended him his first college offer. And then there’s the Harbaugh factor. To be clear Weber definitely could choose to stay with Ohio State. This has been high stress situation because of all of the aforementioned positives on both sides, and because Urban Meyer has a well-earned reputation for being one of the toughest coaches in America to say no to. But again, we're going with the heart pick here. Some of the making the call for the Buckeyes are doing so based on incomplete and in some cases totally false information, but that doesn't mean they won’t be wind up the right answer. Weber to the Buckeyes remains a distinct possibility. I just don’t think it's the most likely one. And after he sends his LOI in to one of these two schools, I'll lay out the basis for my opinion.
Strength: 65% Michigan, 35% Ohio State
Announcement Date: National Signing Day, 10:00 a.m. EST
Final Pick: OSU
Tyrone Wheatley, DL, Buffalo (New York) Canisius
UCLA had been the program surging the most in the race heading into this week. So much so that the Bruins have been sewn up as Wheatley's West Coast option if he chooses to go that route. Connection with the recruits and bonds with the coaches are both significant factors. At the same time his father's hire at Michigan put his childhood favorite back on his radar. That prompted an impromptu official visit immediately after his trip to Westwood. Cancellation of his Oregon visit last weekend left him with extra time to deliberate. Alabama will never be a program to scoff at in any race, but this seems to be a UCLA / Michigan battle. UCLA is the established program in this duel... both on the field and in the relationship department (not including his dad of course). Michigan, meanwhile, may be full of promise under Harbaugh's leadership, but he doesn't know the coaches (other than dad), the recruiting class isn't as heralded, and dad casts an enormous shadow as one of the greatest players to ever don the winged helmet. That sounds like advantage UCLA, but with dad back home in Buffalo to help celebrate junior's birthday, a healthy reminder of the strong familial bonds has been served. Will the chance to play on a team for which his dad coaches and while remaining close to the rest of his family be too much to pass up? I think it will be.
Strength: 65% Michigan, 35% UCLA
Announcement Date: National Signing Day, 3:15 p.m. EST
Final Pick: Michigan