The general consensus Thursday morning was that Da’Shawn Hand, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, would play his college ball at Michigan. Brady Hoke’s staff was expected to land the nation’s two top recruits, with Hand joining No. 2 overall prospect Jabril Peppers, a defensive back from New Jersey.
But, like everything in college football the last three years, it all came back to Alabama.
“It was hard, but I think I made the right decision,” Hand said. “Roll Tide.”
Hand would’ve been a game-changing recruit for a program like Michigan. Adding him and Peppers to the mix in 2014 could’ve been a boon for Michigan’s BCS hopes, even with both players seeing their first collegiate snaps.
For Alabama, he adds to the ever-growing talent pool in Tuscaloosa.
“I know when I go in, I’m not going to No. 1 on the depth chart, and I know I gotta do a lot of hard work,” Hand said. “But they have the most freshmen playing this year, so anything’s possible.”
No doubt this one stings for Brady Hoke and his coaching staff. At 6-3 and with games at Northwestern and Iowa preceding a season-ending home game vs. Ohio State, Michigan isn’t in great shape. After beating Notre Dame in Week 2, it was hard to imagine this team sputtering to what could be a 7-5 finish. A year ago, Michigan went 8-5.
Hoke isn’t, and shouldn’t be, on the hot seat in Ann Arbor just yet. But landing Hand and Peppers in the same class could’ve positioned Michigan extremely well in a weak conference dominated by their rival to the south.
South Carolina hadn’t won 10 games since 1984 before Jadeveon Clowney — 2011’s No. 1 recruit — came to Columbia. In Clowney’s first two seasons on campus, South Carolina went 11-2; the Gamecocks are 7-2 and likely will make it three consecutive 10-win seasons with a victory over Clemson or in their bowl game.
Of course, there are plenty of other factors that’ve gone into that success beyond just Clowney — the emergence of Marcus Lattimore, for example.
But these No. 1 recruits are game-changers, especially for programs spinning their wheels a bit (side note: Michigan made the 2012 Sugar Bowl less on merit and more on fanbase; eligible teams in Boise State, Kansas State and Baylor all ranked ahead of Michigan in the final regular season BCS standings).
Perhaps Peppers can turn Michigan around on his own. But that’s not an easy task for any single player, let alone a defensive back.
Instead, the game-changing Hand goes to a program not in need of a game-changer. He’ll likely help widen the gap between Alabama and everyone else. Specifically looking at Hand’s choices, he’ll also help widen the gulf between the SEC and Big Ten.
While Hand talked up Alabama’s academics — he’ll major in civil engineering — Michigan brought excellent academics to the table. The difference-maker, then, become this: Two straight national championships, three in four years and a possible three-peat clinched in January.
It’s tough for any program to compete with that.
“Why not go where it’s a great possibility that you can win a national championship,” Hand said. “I’m just excited. Roll Tide.”