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Michigan's signing day might not have same shock factor as a year ago

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan is less than a week away from its second “Signing of the Stars” show under head coach Jim Harbaugh. This year’s national signing day event is expected to host a bigger crowd for a higher-ranked group of new Wolverines, but it likely won’t boast the same kind of shock factor and drama as the 2016 version.

A year ago, Michigan spent the final week of January unveiling, piece by piece, the list of famous alumni and other celebrity figures who would be in Ann Arbor for a first-of-its-kind production. The program’s freshman class was introduced in aggrandizing fashion in front of more than 3,000 fans at the university’s Hill Auditorium and thousands more who were watching on a live stream provided by The Players’ Tribune.

"We wanted to do something different,” Harbaugh said. “We wanted to do something awesome. I think today did that. It was awesome with a capital A.”

The final punctuation point of the day came shortly after the show wrapped up when Rashan Gary, the nation’s top-ranked recruit, picked Michigan and faxed in his letter of intent. Gary’s decision gave the Wolverines the No. 6 recruiting class in the country, according to ESPN’s rankings.

Between Gary’s commitment and the attention-grabbing show in Ann Arbor, Michigan created more of a buzz than any program in the country on the first Wednesday of February last year. It would be hard to reproduce, and Michigan seems content with not trying to outdo itself in that regard this time around.

As of Thursday morning, no special guests have been announced for next Wednesday's event, although some notable attendees are expected to take part in the two-hour show that will have a similar format to last year’s, though the venue has shifted to Crisler Center, the university's basketball arena. The same production company that coordinated the 2016 show will be involved again, but the group’s executive producer declined earlier this week to talk about its involvement or any new wrinkles that might be coming.

Raising the ante of headline-grabbing celebrity guests would prove difficult a year after Derek Jeter and Tom Brady shared a couch on stage. Jeter’s Players’ Tribune company will stream the event again this year, but Brady will be caught up with a different football engagement next week as his New England Patriots prepare for Super Bowl LI. That could provide Michigan with an opportunity to focus its spotlight more on the incoming players than the other names that overshadowed them in coverage of last year’s signing day.

The 2017 signing class, which includes 11 freshmen already enrolled and on campus and at least 14 more slated to join them this summer, is expected to garner an even higher ranking than last year. The group currently sits at No. 4 in ESPN’s class rankings with a couple of potential additions still to come. Like the show, though, there aren’t expected to be as many dramatic decisions or big splashes made on signing day for a class in which Michigan has already reeled in most of the big fish it was after.

Harbaugh and his Wolverines will no doubt find some way to create a stir next Wednesday, but don’t expect anything too outlandish in the process. While the crowd is growing larger -- Michigan says the nearly 6,000 tickets allotted for the event (no charge, though donations to the school’s children’s hospital will be taken) have all been claimed -- the day itself isn’t going to provide the same type of culture shock as a year ago.