A bad November in Ann Arbor got a lot worse earlier today. Da'Shawn Hand, one of the most sought after high school recruits in the country, chose to attend Alabama over the University of Michigan in a stunning setback for the Wolverines.
Hand, the 247 sports composite #4 player in the country, was long considered a heavy Michigan lean, if not a lock. His Alabama surprise has naturally lead to a ton of negative reactions on Michigan message boards everywhere, from shock, to disappointment, to anger. The most on point reaction was over at MGoBlog.com, where they summarized today with one of the best situational GIF's ever in the history of GIF's:
But...is it really THAT bad?
On the surface, yeah it seems that way. Three losses in four games, to include one to their second biggest rival followed by the ending of Brady Hoke's home unbeaten streak were brutal. The way they lost--unable to run the ball in a way that I have never seen Michigan manhandled on the line--was especially brutal, but still...Hoke can recruit, it'll be okay. Right?
As long as a guy can recruit, you can bring in talent. As long as you can bring in talent, you'll be fine. But now, with Hand going to 'Bama, one of Hoke's strongest traits is coming under assault, and it's unsettling if you're a Michigan fan.
After an 11-2 inaugural campaign in 2011 that saw Michigan finally beat OSU and go on to win the Sugar Bowl, they have steadily regressed. Last year, they dropped to 8-5, lost to OSU, and lost their bowl game. So far in 2013 they are 6-3 with two straight losses, they're a road underdog to a Northwestern team that's lost five straight, and they'll more than likely be underdogs for their two remaining games after that as well. 6-6 is a distinct possibility.
There's talent coming in, though, right? Well, yeah, but...since Brady Hoke came to Ann Arbor, the development of that talent hasn't been as good as it should. Derrick Green, one of the top RB's in the country for the class of 2013, has struggled and is averaging under three yards a carry. Hoke's recruiting strong suit, offensive linemen, has been particularly underwhelming to this point, and his offensive staff seems to be unwilling or unable to adjust to the personnel at hand.
When you look at the most recent results on the field and you combine that with a lack of development, could that be a factor in Hand's decision to spurn Michigan and head to Alabama?
Nope. He actually likes Alabama's academics better. No really, he said that.
OF COURSE IT COULD BE A FACTOR. In all seriousness, I don't mean to belittle Hand's decision making process at all. Picking where you will attend college is the biggest decision of his life up to this point, and academics does play a major role, and I wish him the absolute best of luck. I hope he blows it up in college, and one day gets drafted by the Vikings and has a Hall of Fame career.
But back to my original point--yeah, I really believe that this could be a problem that only gets worse for Michigan. What's that? You think because I'm an OSU partisan I'm just gloating, reveling in Michigan's misery and jumping to conclusions just because those conclusions do nothing but benefit OSU in the long run? Okay, fair point. I probably am. But let me ask you this:
If Michigan was 8-1 or 9-0, they'd be a top ten team, probably top five if they were undefeated. And if they were a top ten team, there would be no questions about player development and the ability of the coaching staff. Take those things away, and do you think Hand, who was a solid UM lean as little as a month ago, mind you...does he still commit to Alabama today?
I say no. And I think this might just be the beginning of some bigger problems for UM. Let's look just a bit over the horizon, and you can kind of see why there are reasons for concern. After this season, the two best offensive linemen on a pretty bad offensive line graduate. Three of their top offensive players, Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, and Fitzgerald Toussaint, graduate. Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges stubbornly insist that the offense isn't the problem, it's the players not being able to execute it. You can look at that in two ways. One way says they're being candid and brutally honest, the flip side of that is that they're throwing their players under the bus. Regardless of where you come down in that argument, it's the coaches job to either find what works, or coach the players to be able to find things that work.
the staff is doing neither. And with each passing week, they are allowing doubt to build about their competence and doubt to build about the ability of their team to compete for championships. And that leads to guys like Da'Shawn Hand to go to Alabama instead of Michigan. You'd be naive to think that won't become a factor on the recruiting trail, especially after the PR disaster of today.
If you're a Michigan fan, you can only hope it doesn't lead to other defections at this point.