Inside the Fish Bowl is Reheating the BBQ

Though we’ve recapped the BBQ at the Big House already, more and more information continues to come out about the top players that were in attendance, as well as a couple recruits who were unable to make it. That includes several prospects that Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban will fight each other for up until National Signing Day, one in particular that happens to be the #1 overall player in the class

Flippopotamus 

In his short time in Ann Arbor, Jim Harbaugh has made flipping recruits commonplace. But he’s yet to flip a player of Antioch (CA) RB Najee Harris‘ level.

The #1 overall player in the class made his way to Ann Arbor alongside his mother for the BBQ last weekend. Early returns were as positive as you’d expect. As for the latest, Michigan’s chances look to be anywhere from realistic to unlikely, depending on who you ask.

So, who do you believe? That’s up to you. Harris still looks to be 100% committed to Alabama but Michigan definitely made an impact and will be a threat until he signs that LOI. But it’s still only one visit and there’s a ways to go for UM to try and flip him.

With Harris being a priority now more than ever before, look for Michigan to do everything they can to get him on campus again for an official visit while also taking full advantage of in-home visits later in the process.

At this point, I still believe he ends up choosing the Crimson Tide but I don’t feel even half as confident in that statement as I did prior to the visit.

Dreams Becoming Reality  

I know I sound like a broken record but the offensive line is the priority in 2017 for the Michigan football staff. And like I’m sure most parents have said, “if you put in the work, good things will happen”. Well, the UM staff put in the work and, whataya know, good things are happening.

Michigan already has four lineman committed to a class that’s expected to finish with 6 (maybe 7) lineman. So, 3 spots max left. Not bad except when you look at who’s left on the board. UM has a very good chance at 5 of their top 6 targets on their board, all of whom are top 200 players and “dream” editions for the staff.

Here’s a list of the top targets in order of who I believe Michigan has the best shot at moving forward:

The big man from Seattle is a player I put in a Crystal Ball to Michigan for as soon as his visit for the BBQ was confirmed. And he just may make me look like a genius here.

Current commit OT Andrew Stueber mentioned Bainivalu as a player he believes Michigan is in good shape with after the BBQ. But he’s not the only commit feeling good about UM’s chances here. According to Wolverine247’s Steve Lorenz, DT Phillip Paea is also feeling good about UM’s shot with Bainivalu as he’s trying to build a “Poly pipeline” ($).

Lorenz has consistently mentioned that Bainivalu is a sure-fire take for Michigan ($), if he wants in. And that could come sooner rather than later.

The Wolverine’s Brandon Brown heard that the big man was “considering a commitment” during the BBQ ($). He’ll be back on campus for an official visit this fall, his 3rd trip to Michigan. I wouldn’t be shocked in the least bit to see that visit happen earlier in the season and Bainivalu possibly decide to wrap things up during/soon after that trip.

For over a year, I’ve had Ruiz on my BGRC. It looked like a lock for the majority of the time but, for the last couple months, questions started to arise. Alabama went from an afterthought to the favorite during The Opening. It had several Michigan fans and analysts starting to double guess whether or not the top center in the class would end up in Ann Arbor, like expected.

Though the offensive line was a priority, there wasn’t a single position more important to lock down in 2017 for Michigan than than center position. With Mason Cole possibly off the NFL after 2016 and Patrick Kugler gone after 2017 at the latest, the staff has pushed for Ruiz unlike any other center I can remember in recent memory. That’s why it was such a shock to most to see Alabama be named his favorite alongside Michigan just over a month ago. However, as quickly as the Crimson Tide looked to jump out front, they may be fading off.

According to Wolverine247’s Steve Lorenz via 247Sports’ Hank South, Ruiz is not a “take” for Alabama at this point and won’t be unless big changes take place ($).

Alabama already has four offensive lineman committed and if OT Jedrick Wills drops in the next couple days/weeks, like expected, they’ll already be over the expected allotment for this class. And with the addition of C Creed Humrphrey to Oklahoma’s class (the other favorite for Ruiz), it looks like Michigan may be the only reasonable landing spot for the nation’s top center.

Barring anything crazy, Michigan is the out right favorite for Ruiz at this point. It looks like it would take a huge mistake on Michigan’s part or an amazing recruitment on another program’s part to stop that from happening. But it doesn’t look like UM is going to make that mistake:

Ruiz looks to now be a player that could drop at any moment. Though I expect him to take his official visits before making a decision.

As for another player I’m feeling better and better for, Slaton is a recruit Michigan’s made a priority for months now. He not only is the teammate of current 2017 commit OL Kai-Leon Herbert, but he also happens to be one of the top ranked lineman in the entire class.

At 6’5” 340lbs, Slaton is a versatile lineman that could play guard or tackle but also has dreams of playing college basketball, given the right situation. It’s one of the biggest hangups in his recruitment as he’s made it clear that basketball is something he wants to at least look into at the college level. However, at the end of the day, it looks like football will be the choice. And Michigan is in fantastic shape.

According to Slaton’s coach through 247Sports’ Ryan Bartow, Michigan still leads for the Sunshine State big man ($). Add in Slaton telling Rivals’ Rob Cassidy that he’s “looking for a college that’s like home” ($) and all signs point to Michigan. On multiple occasions, Slaton has said Michigan “feels like home” ($) before and after Herbert committed to UM.

At this point, I’m extremely close to putting in my Crystal Ball for Slaton to Michigan. The only thing slowing me down is the basketball aspect. Just waiting to see how serious that is before locking down my prediction.

Wilson is the player that both the Michigan staff and fans want more than anyone other lineman in this class. That is mainly because of his lofty rankings, elite level size and his longtime love of the Maize and Blue. And for the majority of the recruiting cycle, he was a pretty safe bet to end up in the class. However, like with most top ranked recruits, things changed.

Michigan was the long favorite but it was Alabama that became the outright favorites after two visits between April and July. Rightfully so, it’s easy to see why a top ranked offensive lineman would fall for the Tide. Saban has pumped out OLine draft picks like no other in the last 5 years. But will he be able to fit Wilson into his class?

Multiple analysts are reporting how Cesar Ruiz is no longer a take for the Crimson Tide staff and one of them, Scout’s John Garcia Jr., doesn’t know if Bama would have room for Wilson if Jedrick Wills joins the class ($).

Here’s the thing, does Michigan really want to win out in the end because of the numbers game? Though I don’t think they’re arguing against it, Jim Harbaugh and his staff want to win every recruitment fair and square. And there’s still a good chance they do that with both Ruiz and Wilson.

247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong was hearing that Michigan jumped Alabama as Wilson’s leader during his trip to the BBQ ($) but that’s not all. TMI’s Sam Webb spoke with Wilson about his trip to Ann Arbor and where Michigan now stands on his list. That included a question about whether UM was his leader once again and Wilson replying with “Go Blue!” ($).

Though things look to be leaning back towards the Wolverines here, BamaOnLine’s Hank South is still feeling Bama for the Brooklyn big man ($). That’s all in while Wolverine247’s Steve Lorenz is reporting the Michigan staff is feeling “really good” about their chances with Wilson ($).

Wilson tweeted out his plans for his official visits, which include trips to Ann Arbor and Tuscaloosa in back to back weeks:

So, where will Wilson land? At this point, I’m very close to putting in my Crystal Ball for Wilson to Michigan. Though Alabama is still a very real threat, I believe the comfortability in Ann Arbor and the better chance to play early will win out in the end.

Every recruiting class has highly ranked player(s) that goes from seeming unattainable one minute to ending up a part of the class the next. 2015 had Zach Gentry play that role. 2016 had Devin Asiasi star in that role. And in 2017, it very well may be Aaron Banks.

The 6’6” 310lb offensive tackle out of El Cerrito, California is a four star tackle that’s been high on Michigan and vice versa since the offer went out back in January. That early love was a big reason why things went as well as possible on his first visit to Ann Arbor for the BBQ.

Going into the trip with Michigan among the top teams on his list, he was a player to watch. And the UM staff clearly didn’t disappoint.

Wolverine247’s Steve Lorenz has heard very good things so far on the Banks-Michigan front which has him bullish about the Wolverines’ chances. He mentioned that not only is Banks a definite “take” for the staff but UM made such a major move for the big man that he’s close to putting in his Crystal Ball prediction ($).

Add in TMI’s Sam Webb hearing about the trip going so well that the Banks family went on a shopping spree at The MDen before leaving Ann Arbor ($) and it’s hard not to think Michigan is right at the top of the list for the west coast talent.

Michigan will be a part of his upcoming top 10 list that’s expected to come out soon but there, like with most top 10 lists at this point in the cycle, there’s probably only 3-5 teams that have a real shot. Michigan, USC, Notre Dame and Oregon (?) look to be the main options, though I believe this may be more of a two team race between the Wolverines and Trojans in the end. I think UM has the upper hand right now.

Out of the “dream” offensive line additions for the staff, Leatherwood is the biggest reach. However, he’s still on the board even though, from all reports, he looks likely to stick with his Alabama commitment throughout. But that isn’t scaring away the Michigan staff.

Leatherwood has consistently mentioned Michigan when talking about other programs over the last couple months, especially when talking about official visit plans. Or when talking about jerseys:

Now, those exact official visit dates have yet to be set but it’s known that he’ll be in Ann Arbor this fall, which could be huge as UM is already a team to watch ($), according to Scout’s John Garcia Jr.

So, is Michigan a real threat to flip the Crimson Tide commit? I’m not holding my breath here but you just can’t rule out Jim Harbaugh and his staff for a recruit once they get them on campus.

Dodging Disrespekt 

There’s not hiding from the fact that Michigan State has been the best CFB team in the state of Michigan over the last couple seasons. Stats and wins don’t lie. That’s a main reason why previous recruiting battles between MSU and Michigan have gone from (for the most part) heavily favoring UM to now being a very real battles between the in-state programs.

In the 2017 class, both teams have beat each other for some top names, including James Hudson to Michigan and Matt Dotson for Michigan State. But there’s plenty of top targets left on both boards that just so happened to be at the BBQ last weekend.

Thomas is the highest rated player that Michigan and MSU are battling it out for though the momentum has shifted dramatically in this battle. The Spartans looked to be the favorite here for the majority of his recruitment but there aren’t any recruiting analysts who believe that’s the case anymore outside of East Lansing.

Michigan has made a huge move for Thomas since the spring and are the overwhelming favorites on 247Sports’ Crystal Ball predictions. And they may have increased their (rumored) lead even more thanks to his mom’s first trip to UM for the BBQ.

TMI’s Sam Webb spoke with Mrs. Thomas after her visit and one thing was clear, the M-PACT program was a huge takeaway for her ($). Adding that in with other news and info to come of the BBQ and I continue to feel as confident as ever in my Crystal Ball prediction for Thomas to Michigan.

Though it’s not on the same level of confidence as Thomas, I’m still feeling pretty good about my Crystal Ball prediction for Martin to end up choosing Michigan over Michigan State. That’s especially true after his first trip to Ann Arbor.

The Opening standout visited Michigan with his father and was able to spend plenty of time with both the staff and his fellow recruits. He spoke with TMI’s Sam Webb about how much he liked the visit, including his time with Jim Harbaugh and Jedd Fisch, as well as what his eventual decision will come down to ($). Some of those factors included his connections with the players and coaches as well as the offense and facilities.

247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong was able to talk with Martin’s father about his visits to both UM and MSU, which he mentioned liking both for different reasons ($). Though he has a longer relationship with the MSU coaching staff, Martin’s father told Wiltfong that he “loved” the UM coaches and Oliver was comfortable with both staffs.

Martin looks to be a player that will extend his recruitment a little while longer as he’s yet to see all of his top schools just yet. Oregon is the dark horse team to watch right now as he’s slated to officially visit Eugene this fall. The Ducks, Spartans and Wolverines will likely be the final three for him. I’m sticking with Michigan for Martin here though MSU is going to make this difficult for the UM staff.

There aren’t many examples of four star in-state recruits not making their first recruiting visit to Michigan until the August before NSD. But that’s exactly what happened with Irving-Bey. And though it was only his first trip and MSU looks to be the heavy favorite, Michigan left a lasting impression.

DIB spoke with TMI’s Sam Webb about his trip and gave a glowing review of his first visit saying that everything, including the coaches, players, facilities and Jordan gear “blew (him) away” ($). He was another visitor who made the trip with his mom, an avid Michigan fan.

At this point, I think Irving-Bey has gone from a sure-fire MSU get to it being a 50/50 shot between the Spartans and Wolverines. The addition of James Hudson to the UM class and staff pushing for Jay Tufele does bring up questions on the numbers game. However, with the need for strong side defensive ends in this class, if DIB wants in, I can’t see Michigan turning him down. That’s still a big “IF” as my Crystal Ball remains on Michigan State.

Quick Hitters

Photo Credit: Melanie Maxwell | The Ann Arbor News

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