We talk a lot in college football about rivalries. We talk about teams with bad blood. It’s part of the fabric of the sport.
That is not Michigan-Rutgers.
Yet, the Wolverines and Scarlet Knights, who play each other on Saturday in Piscataway (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2), find themselves in a unique spot. Michigan is good and Rutgers isn’t, and because Michigan spends a lot of time recruiting elite players from New Jersey, the new conference mates have managed to become embroiled in a petty feud, almost entirely on Rutgers' side.
(Before Harbaugh arrived, Rutgers was 1-0 all-time against Michigan, having beaten Brady Hoke. Michigan won last year.)
A brief history!
December: Rutgers hires Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash as head coach.
Rutgers hired Ash in December, grabbing the defensive coordinator who’d helped guide Michigan's actual rival to a title in the first College Football Playoff a year prior.
Ash was already known as a voracious recruiter, and Rutgers Twitter adopted the hashtag #FenceTheGarden – meaning Garden State recruits should stay home and play for the Scarlet Knights. It’s a pretty good line.
February and afterward: Michigan lands four of the top eight 2016 prospects in New Jersey, including No. 1 national player Rashan Gary. Rutgers gets one.
This, via 247Sports, is not a good look for the home-state program:
Four-star athlete Ahmir Mitchell was initially a Michigan signee, too, before leaving the program and joining Rutgers.
Saturday before the game:
"Poaching" is one angle. "Getting these kids the fuck out of New Jersey" is the other. pic.twitter.com/FpysL2l7km— Andy Reid (@misterAndyReid) October 8, 2016
May: Michigan accuses Rutgers of copying its recruiting graphics.
Via a Michigan recruiting assistant (you can be the judge):
Because of NCAA rules, Michigan had to cross out the player's name in the graphic on the right, but Rutgers does appear to have used this graphic. It's just not a big deal.
June: Jim Harbaugh gives the commencement address at a New Jersey high school that happens to have elite Michigan recruits.
There's no rule against it, so Harbaugh went and did it. This happened at Paramus Catholic, the school that produced No. 1 recruit Gary in 2016 and also has Michigan targets in next year's class.
June: Weirdo Rutgers fans in a secret club vandalize that high school’s football field.
There's some thing at Rutgers called the Order of Bulls Blood. It's probably as silly as it sounds, but some people purporting to be members of this group drew a bunch of weird stuff on Paramus Catholic's field. They also wrote this weird letter, which, well, I don't know.
June: Satellite camps become a Michigan-Rutgers proxy war.
You remember the Great Satellite Camp Debate of 2016, don't you? A lot happened (catch up here!), but the basics are that the NCAA banned off-campus recruiting camps, then allowed them again after weeks of furious backlash.
Harbaugh has been extraordinarily aggressive about using these camps as recruiting tools, as he tries to find far-away talent to play for him in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh made it his thing to pander to recruits by wearing the jerseys of local sports legends, which is fine.
He likes recruiting in New Jersey, so of course Harbaugh held a camp in Rutgers' backyard. Ash responded (?) by having his own camp a few miles away on the same day and bringing in Urban Meyer. Just look at the animosity!
On Saturday, Michigan will probably beat Rutgers by a lot of points.
Rutgers will keep not wanting Michigan to take good players from New Jersey, and maybe we'll get another exciting chance to go through this over the coming year.