The Biggest “What If” Recruits and Players from Michigan’s Past

One of the best things about all sports is the uncertainty of the outcome. It’s what keeps our fingernails short and our butts on the edge of our seats. That uncertainty is what makes it so great and so horrible. And even though it’s not a sport, college football recruiting is full of uncertainty and “what ifs”, especially for Michigan fans.

The Wolverines have been one of the top 5 recruiting programs in the nation since the start of the internet recruiting sites. Since 2002, the four different coaching staffs have landed at least one five star recruit in every class besides 4 of them (two of them were Rich Rod’s) to go along with tons of four star targets. But with the good comes the bad.

The elite decommitment. The top talent that didn’t develop. The NFL draft pick that left too early. The injured.

It’s all apart of the game and Michigan fans are all too familiar, especially lately (the 2015 decommitment list would have finished 43rd, just five spots back of the classes actual spot (38th) in 247Sports’ final class rankings). Sickening, right?

Well to bring up some more bad memories, here are some of the biggest “what if” Michigan recruits and former players that still have fans shaking their heads:


  • WR George Campbell
  • QB Damien Harris
  • TE Chris Clark 

The 3 five star recruits were some of Hoke’s biggest gets in his recruiting career but thanks to a horrible season all three decommitted and went elsewhere. It’s unknown if any of these players will pan out in college but imagining how the new staff could develop them has to get you to think:

“What if Harbaugh had this much talent in his first class?”


  • DT Ondre Pipkins 

The former five star talent is now known for what how he painted Harbaugh and the new coaching staff during his transfer. But he was one of the top recruits in the entire 2012 class and ended up playing early for Michigan. However, he never reached that five star status thanks to multiple knee and head injuries. Which has the fan base thinking:

“What if Pipkins stayed healthy throughout his career?” 


  • OT Jake Fisher 

Fisher was one of the top in-state and Midwest prospects that decommitted from Michigan and ended up pledging to Oregon not too long after. During his career, he ended up playing from day one of his true freshmen year and starting for three years for the high powered Ducks offense. And with all of the offensive line issues that Hoke had over his time, this has to make you think:

“What if Fisher stayed in-state and signed with Michigan?


  • DB DeMar Dorsey 

Just about everyone remembers DeMar “No Fly Zone” Dorsey. He was a five star defensive back that shocked the recruiting world and committed to Rich Rod and Michigan late in the game but was unable to meet the academic requirements to enroll. He went on to play community college ball and ended up in the AFL. With that much talent, every fan has to think:

“What if Dorsey had the grades to enroll at Michigan?” 


  • DB Justin Turner 

Turner was one of the top gets for Rich Rod in 2009 as he was a five star talent via Scout and was thought to be the next great Wolverines’ cornerback (even wore #2). However, he ended up leaving the program after just one year and though he never developed into the player I thought he could be elsewhere, I believe most will still think:

“What if Turner stayed at Michigan throughout his career?” 


  • CB Boubacar Cissoko 
  • RB Sam McGuffie 

In Rich Rod’s first year, he brought in the top player in Michigan, Cissoko, and the classes top highlight tape star, McGuffie, and it had the fan base doing flips (McGuffie pun intended). However, neither finished their careers at Michigan as McGuffie transferred to Rice while Cissoko went from being the next big thing for Michigan’s secondary to being kicked off the team for off the field issues. With both players leaving the program, it has the fan base thinking:

“What if McGuffie was used properly in Rich Rod’s offense?” 


“What if Cissoko kept his head on straight?” 


  • QB Ryan Mallett 

Mallett is well known by all football fans now as the starting quarterback of the Houston Texans. Most also remember him as the five star, top five recruit that signed and played as a true freshmen at Michigan. While having ups and downs, he ended up transferring to Arkansas when Rich Rod brought in his spread offense. Along with the head coaching hire, all Michigan fans still think:

“What if Mallett stayed and played at Michigan?” 


  • WR Adrian Arrington 

Arrington was one of the future star Michigan receivers in the making but decided to leave for the NFL draft after a great Capital One bowl his junior year and the arrival of Rich Rod. With his true talent starting to really shine through at the end of his 3rd season, it’s hard not to think:

“What if Arrington stayed for his senior season?” 


  • RB Kevin Grady
  • WR Mario Manningham 
  • WR Antonio Bass

Another class that had multiple players that leave the fan bases still thinking “what if?”. To start with the most questioned recruit, former five star in-state standout Kevin Grady. The East Grand Rapids star has one of the best running back highlight tapes I have ever seen and every expected him to be an All-American in the Maize and Blue. However, while showing signs of stardom, he never truly developed playing behind Mike Hart and ended up finishing his career at fullback, which still has fans thinking to this day:

“What if Grady turned out the be the five star tailback everyone thought?” 

As for Manningham and Bass, the two talented receivers had much different paths. Manningham was a star for the Wolverines but ended up leaving for the NFL Draft after his junior season along with Arrington with the arrival of Rich Rod. It was a great move for him looking at his NFL career but it still has fans thinking:

“What if Manningham stayed for Rich Rod’s first season?” 

Bass was one of the top recruits in the class and ended up showing flashes of that talent in the Maize and Blue. However, he ended up blowing out his knee in a spring practice in 2006 and was never able to play again. It was one of the worst injuries in recent memory and has every fan thinking:

“What if Antonio Bass never hurt his knee?” 


  • QB Matt Gutierrez 

In the first year of the internet recruiting sites, Gutierrez was one of the most prized quarterback recruits in the country and of Michigan’s class. However, when he was expected to take over the starting spot for John Navarre in 2004, Lloyd Carr decided to go with true freshmen Chad Henne instead. While Henne led Michigan to great things, I have always wondered:

“What if Matt Gutierrez was named starting quarterback in 2004?” 


Garrett Fishaw