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The Buckeye barrier: Despite success, a final hurdle for Michigan

RELATED: Big Ten recruiting snapshot for 2018

Michigan had more players taken in the NFL Draft than any other program, and now the Wolverines can use that fact on the recruiting trail.

It could pay off huge for coach Jim Harbaugh, who had 11 former players selected in the draft. Couple that with his NFL coaching background, and the Wolverines have a lot of ammunition to use when going after elite prospects.

“Those weren’t his kids, but he developed them, so it’s going to help recruiting,” Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell said. “Every kid wants to go to the NFL. Seeing all those guys get drafted, especially two first-rounders, that’s going to get the attention of a lot of people.

“He’s been known as a developer of talent and that’s only going to enhance his reputation, plus he’s coached at the NFL level, so he knows what it takes to get there. He has a lot to sell after the draft.”

What matters now is whether top recruits are buying.

The early returns are just that – early. Michigan has the No. 16 class in the 2018 team recruiting rankings, but with only eight commitments (including four four-stars) it’s premature to peg this class as a success or failure.

The Wolverines have done an excellent job in the months post-Signing Day, dipping into the Southeast to land four-star quarterback Joe Milton and four-star defensive back Myles Sims, among others. They've also reached into Texas for some three-star talent.

Michigan recently landed a commitment from four-star QB Joe Milton
Michigan recently landed a commitment from four-star QB Joe Milton

Michigan has more players committed from the state of Georgia than coach Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bullodgs. Landing those important recruits from the Southeast could go a long way in competing for Big Ten, and national, titles.

That success in recruiting coupled with attracting elite players because of Michigan’s successful NFL Draft output – including Jabrill Peppers and Taco Charlton in the first round – are important steps in rebuilding a program.

“Getting to the NFL is every recruit’s dream,” said Brandon Brown of TheWolverine.com. “Schools like Alabama and Ohio State have been sending players to the league at an unprecedented rate and that is a huge reason why they’ve been able to recruit like they have been in recent years.

“Michigan can now throw its name in that mix after sending more players to the pros than both the Tide and the Buckeyes and everyone else in the 2017 Draft. Jim Harbaugh, along with virtually his entire staff, have extensive NFL backgrounds and now they can add the recent draft success to their resumes.”

Selling the NFL Draft success for Michigan could be huge. Finally beating Ohio State could be even bigger.

The Buckeyes have been a thorn in Michigan’s side every which way. Michigan had 11 draft picks this year? Well, Ohio State had 12 in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Harbaugh is the new big cheese in college football? Urban Meyer has beaten him twice in a row, including a 42-13 whipping in year one. To be fair, Michigan took the Buckeyes to double overtime last season before losing, 30-27.

The Wolverines had a top-four recruiting class in 2017? Ohio State finished second with six five-star signees.

Michigan had two first-round draft picks in Peppers and Charlton? The Buckeyes had three first-round selections, and all taken before a Michigan player came off the board.

“Harbaugh’s biggest problem is Urban Meyer,” Farrell said

Michigan got close but ultimately fell 30-27 to Ohio State in overtime in 2016
Michigan got close but ultimately fell 30-27 to Ohio State in overtime in 2016 (AP Images)

And that’s why this season, after the ball has started rolling again in Ann Arbor, after Harbaugh has seemingly turned that massive ship around, after the Wolverines' draft success, is so important.

That’s why Nov. 25, when Ohio State comes to the Big House, could be another crucial step in bringing the Wolverines back to national relevance..

It’s year three for Harbaugh. Sleepovers, satellite camps in exotic locations and putting double-digit players in the NFL are nice, but Michigan has beaten Ohio State only once since 2003.

Once.

Taking down the Buckeyes is the next big step for recruiting dominance.

“Michigan absolutely has to beat Ohio State this year,” Brown said.

“It’s important for so many reasons, recruiting included. It’s the image of the program, the chance to play for conference titles and potentially, to get into the College Football Playoff. Michigan is probably never going to go into Ohio and pluck blue-chip talent that Ohio State wants, but nationally, in the Northeast and in California, Texas, Florida and Georgia, Michigan and Harbaugh need to best Meyer before losing to them becomes a trend again like before Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor. That means on the field and on the trail.”

The time is now. And recruits are paying attention.