Michigan’s 2017 Recruiting Battles: Combating the Crimson Tide

Michigan and Alabama are not rivals. Not on the field, at least. They never have been and, likely, never will be. But when it comes to the recruiting trail, Jim Harbaugh has teepeed the firewood and doused it in kerosene with his approach to the attacking both the state of Alabama and Nick Saban’s top recruiting targets in the 2017 class. But will it pay off?

Though the two programs haven’t really won recruits over one another just yet, there are plenty of uncommitted top ranked prospects that both UM and Bama are fighting to land. That doesn’t even include two Crimson Tide recruits who the Wolverines are doing their best to flip.

Check out the biggest recruiting battles that will take place throughout the 2017 cycle between Michigan and Alabama:

WR Nico Collins

The top player in the state of Alabama is going to Alabama, right? Well, while some down south may think that’s a foregone conclusion, all signs point to the 6’5” receiver leaving the state and heading north, of all places, to Michigan.

Not only has Collins visited Ann Arbor twice in the past two months, he’s also named the Wolverines his outright leader on multiple occasions. That includes him telling reporters UM is out front while at The Opening, where he teamed up with a boat load of UM commits and targets on Team HyperCool. Rumor has it he may also make his way to the BBQ on August 6th. Could a decision come that soon? He’s expected to hold off on a decision until later on in the cycle but I wouldn’t rule completely rule something out. But either way, don’t expect Bama and Saban to stop recruiting him until NSD.

  • Crystal Ball: Michigan

C Cesar Ruiz

Ruiz is the top center prospect in the country and a wanted addition by several programs. But the two programs that have the best shot at receiving his LOI are Michigan and Alabama, and this one is going to be a dog fight until the end.

For the majority of the cycle, Michigan has been the known favorite. That was thanks to the staff’s pursuit of him, his relationships to both the staff and roster, and his numerous visits to campus. But even though he’s remained a priority recruit for UM, he told BamaOnline’s Hank South that Alabama was his leader at The Opening. Is that the truth? At the same event, just a day or two later, Ruiz cleared up that comment by telling TMI’s Sam Webb that it wasn’t true and that “Alabama and Michigan” were both his leaders ($).

So, who will it be? I do believe Alabama has the momentum at the moment but Michigan’s longtime recruitment, his ties to the program and the very real chance to play right away will help them land his commitment at the end of the day.

  • Crystal Ball: Michigan

OT Isaiah Wilson

Offensive line recruiting is extremely important to both Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban so going after one of the most physically impressive offensive tackles in the class was a given. But it was Harbaugh who had the upper hand early on with Wilson as he named Michigan his leader just a couple months ago.

That (public) lead has since faded and the Crimson Tide’s pursuit may be one of the biggest reasons why. They’ve made him a top target as well and have the recent history to back up and pitches they’re throwing his way. That’s why I believe this is a very tight race between the two, with Georgia running third.

Wilson’s Crystal Ball is still leaning towards Michigan but I’m not throwing mine out there just yet. I believe this could come down to who pushes for him the most throughout the cycle, as he’s expected to make his announcement at the Under Armour All-American Game, which could get interesting moving forward.

Bama already has the tackle with the highest ceiling in the class (IMO) committed as well as the top JUCO recruit/lineman committed to the class. That doesn’t include UA being the favorite/in great shape to add four other highly ranked tackles. They also happen to have unreal roster depth at the position.

UM already has 4 offensive lineman commits and several other still very high on the board but most of those names project to guard in college. Wilson looks to be the top tackle and lineman left on said board. So, he’ll remain a priority. The UM staff also has the chance to pitch him on immediate playing time as the tackle depth chart is bleak, to say the least.

It’s not known if Bama adding other tackles will steer Wilson away from Tuscaloosa. That’s why this one is too close to call. At this point, I’ll give Michigan a very slight edge thanks to their longtime pursuit and clearer path to playing time. But don’t think this one is a slam dunk.

  • Crystal Ball: None; I’ll give Michigan a 51% chance.

RB Najee Harris

The longtime Crimson Tide commit hasn’t exactly been 100% committed to Bama for quite sometime. He’s visited other schools, talks about his interest in those programs and has even worn other team’s apparel to summer camps. One of those camps he attended just happened to be the Michigan satellite camp at his high school back in June.

Michigan, like just about everyone else, has had Harris atop their wish list for quite sometime as he’s easily one of the best running back prospects in the last 10 years. That pursuit by UM (Tyrone Wheatley especially) looks to have kept the door cracked open for the Wolverines and Harris. And the chance to work together at the camp helped even more.

At this point, I don’t see Harris flipping to Michigan. If he does flip at all, it may be to his in-state USC Trojans. But an official visit to Ann Arbor this fall mixed with a successful season on the field should keep UM in it until he officially signs his LOI.

  • Crystal Ball: None; I believe he sticks with Alabama

OT Alex Leatherwood

Leatherwood is the offensive tackle I believe has the highest ceiling of any tackle in the 2017 class (as I mentioned above). He has that elite size, athleticism and tenacity that every coach wants out of their left tackle and the looks of a future #1 overall pick. But could that be coming out of Alabama?

He’s been committed to the Crimson Tide since June of 2015 but looks to be fading from that commitment a bit. On top of admitting that he could definitely flip, Michigan is a school he’s continued to talk about. He’s expected to officially visit this fall, which would obviously be huge for UM’s chances here.

At this point, it’s way too early to predict a flip to the Wolverines with a visit not yet taking place. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely off the table. I still think he signs with Alabama but UM, as well as LSU, Miami and FSU, won’t let him go that easily.

  • Crystal Ball: None; I believe he sticks with Alabama

TE Major Tennison

Tennison had been committed to Texas for a long time before just recently decommitting (like expected) from the Longhorns. That just so happened to come right before his visit to Tuscaloosa this week. Add that into him already showing plenty of love to the Crimson Tide and you can see why myself and every other analyst has put in a Crystal Ball to UA.

As for Michigan, they’ve been recruiting Tennison for awhile and look to be running 2nd in his recruitment right now. He’s definitely near the top of the staff’s recruiting board but it doesn’t look like he’ll make the move to the staff’s commitment list, unless something changes in the next couple days/weeks.

  • Crystal Ball: Alabama

CB Shaun Wade

Wade is another flip candidate on this list though he’s not committed to either Michigan or Alabama. The talented corner has been committed to Ohio State for, what seems like, the entire recruiting cycle. But he’s a guy that looks to be a top candidate to flip his commitment prior to NSD. And the two programs that could have the best chance at him are Michigan and Alabama.

Several reports and interviews have shown that his mother is a huge Crimson Tide fan which has most, including myself, believe they are the most likely flip candidate. However, the Wolverines have momentum here and are expecting him to be on campus for the BBQ on August 6th. According to Wolverine247’s Steve Lorenz, Wade’s family is liking Michigan which has given UM a realistic shot for the OSU commit ($).

The BBQ is obviously huge for Michigan here. If they can pitch Wade on possible early playing time and following in Kareem Walker’s footsteps, they’ll fight with both the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide for his LOI.

  • Crystal Ball: None; I believe Alabama has the best chance to flip him.

TE Josh Falo

Michigan and Alabama are fighting over this highly ranked tight end as well. And both are pretty much jumping in just as of late for Falo, who I believe may be the best tight end in the class when things are said and done.

Michigan turned their attention to him after seeing him in person at their Sacramento satellite camp in June while Alabama just offered him this week. Most of the time, jumping in late hurts team’s chances but I believe these two programs, along with Oregon, may be the top three candidates.

Oregon has the nearby visitation advantage but already have two tight ends committed and have hardly use the position in their offense. Alabama features a tight end heavy offense but looks very likely to add Tennison to their class in the near future. And then there’s Michigan. The most tight end heavy offense in the country and a program pushing to add more Poly players.

Falo is expected to visit Ann Arbor for the BBQ on August 6th and I fully believe Michigan will put themselves in great shape after the trip.

  • Crystal Ball: None; A great BBQ visit could bring a CB for Michigan.

Battling with Alabama is always tough. Both programs are fighting over the top talent in the class with both looking likely to land their fair share. You see who I think has the upper hand in these battles at this point but who do you think lands the likes of Nico Collins, Cesar Ruiz and Josh Falo? Let us know in the comment section below! 

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