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May 31, 2013

The Week That Was: Peppers commits, Michigan ranked

The week started off with a bang for the Maize and Blue after one of the nation's top recruits, cornerback Jabrill Peppers, announced he would attend Michigan. A pair of publications also made headlines this week with their preseason prognostications.

Jabrill Peppers commits to Michigan

Ranked the No. 2 player in the country and the No. 1 cornerback, the 6-1, 210-pounder chose the Wolverines over Stanford and Penn State. Peppers became the fourth five-star to pledge to the Maize and Blue during Brady Hoke's tenure, joining Kyle Kalis and Ondre Pipkins (2012 class) and Derrick Green (2013). He is also Michigan's first five-star defensive back since Donovan Warren (2007).

What They're Saying

The Detroit Free Press Mark Snyder caught up with our own Rivals.com recruiting expert Mike Farrell to get his reaction on Peppers' commitment and noted that the New Jersey native could open up a pipeline to the talent-rich area: "Coming from New Jersey, an area where Michigan hasn't drawn too many recent prospects, could expand the recruiting map. U-M has signed only five New Jersey players in the past decade and only one of them, linebacker J.B. Fitzgerald, made an impact.

"Now there are Peppers and his Paramus teammate, offensive lineman Juwann Bushell-Beatty, in the 2014 class. The prospect of playing at least twice in New Jersey at Rutgers is appealing in the new Big Ten East division.

"'This will help,' Farrell said. 'There's a lot of talent in New Jersey and it's an area that some other schools they recruit against have gone in and had success (Ohio State, Notre Dame). It's certainly helpful to get a once-in-a-decade type of talent in that state. The national perception-wise, it makes every kid say, 'What's Brady Hoke got going on?''"

Over at ESPN.com, a trio of writers tackled the question: What does Peppers' commitment to Michigan mean for the program? with national recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree opining: "I think this is about as significant of a commitment as you can get. First thing, you getting an impact player -- one of the best in the country, period -- that should be able to bolster depth at a number of different positions.

"Secondly, his commitment sends a message to other high-profile recruits that Michigan is a destination for elite players. Recruits pay attention to things like this. Everybody in the nation knows about Peppers, so when they see him going to Michigan, it kind of turns on that light bulb that, 'Hey, it's cool to go there.' It might not be the final reason why a kid picks Michigan in the end, but it certainly could spark something that helps a blue-chip recruit end up in Ann Arbor. Face it: Great players want to play with other great players."

Both Tim Sullivan from TheWolverine.com and Maize and Brew give you the rundown on everything you need to know about Peppers.

My Take: It's too early to say what type of impact Peppers will have on this year's recruiting classes and future classes. Cornerbacks are not like quarterbacks that attract top receivers, running backs, tight ends and offensive linemen to come play with them, or at least haven't had that same effect in the past. However, if U-M lands five-star Da'Shawn Hand and other great defenders, and they cite Peppers, he could prove to be the type of magnet rarely seen on the recruiting trail.

As for on the field, many have asked whether Peppers will step in and start from Day One. He shouldn't because Michigan, in 2014, will likely be returning senior starters in Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, and have depth in Jourdan Lewis, Ross Douglas and others. Where Peppers could play immediately is at the slot/nickel position occupied by Courtney Avery in 2011-12 and likely by Dymonte Thomas in 2013.

Michigan is looking for a physical, elite athlete to mine that post, capable of matching up with a third wide receiver, a tight end, and a tailback, while at the same time play the run and come off the edge on a blitz.

With his size, speed and temperament, Peppers could be hellish to deal with there, contributing sacks, tackles for loss and interceptions. He could be a difference-maker, and then move out to a starting cornerback role in 2015.

Michigan ranked No. 14 in 2013 preseason

The national magazines have yet to hit the bookshelves, but both Phil Steele and Athlon Sports posted much of their content online this week, with Steele ranking Michigan No. 24 for next season and Athlon deeming the Wolverines a much more favorable No. 14.

What They're Saying

Athlon placed the Maize and Blue second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State, and says with a few breaks, the Wolverines could earn a trip to Pasadena:

"Michigan hasn't won a Big Ten title in eight seasons, its longest drought since 1951-63. A forgiving schedule should make the task more manageable this year, with all but two (Michigan State and Northwestern) of its toughest games slated for Michigan Stadium, where U-M is 14-0 under Brady Hoke. The emergence of Gardner should help stabilize the offense, and there are playmakers on defense. If the offensive line can find its way with three new starters, and a reliable tailback emerges, the Wolverines could make it back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2006."

Steele's publication relies on a lot more statistical analysis of the Maize and Blue, and while it ranks U-M No. 24, Michigan could play for the Big Ten title: "Their road schedule is considerably softer with no preseason Top 10 teams. U-M is a legitimate contender to get to the Big 10 Title game and this would be the only year they could play Ohio St in B2B weeks if they get there."

Meanwhile, Brady Hook took to the airwaves Thursday and The Detroit News has the recap, including the promising news that Hoke now fully expects Jake Ryan to be back by October: "'We believe he will be, sometime in October,' Hoke said, reiterating what he said after the spring game in mid-April. 'We've got two byes on the front end of the schedule (Sept. 28 and Oct. 26) -- that will give him a little bit more (time to recover).'"

My Take: The Legends Division is by no means a gimme. Nebraska, Michigan State and Northwestern should all challenge the Wolverines for supremacy, but the more people we talk to with inside knowledge of the Maize and Blue, the more excitement seems to be emanating from Schembechler Hall. One source noted that this team has a "2006 feel to it" when Michigan, coming off a 7-5 campaign, opened the year 11-0 before losing to No. 1 Ohio State and Southern Cal.

This defense could be as talented as that defense if a few veterans rise to the occasion, like junior end Frank Clark, junior cornerback Blake Countess and sophomore safety Jarrod Wilson, while the offense will be better than most forecast if the interior line comes together like the U-M coaches expect it to.

I continue to say that 10 wins is not only possible, but the floor for this team. A Big Ten title will be the only measure of success for the Wolverines. Anything less will be unacceptable for Hoke, his staff and his team.


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