Back-to-Back

The Michigan Wolverines basketball team won their second consecutive Big Ten tournament. Their journey to this title was a little less dramatic and eventful than just a season ago (plane incident), but still just as sweet and satisfying for fans nonetheless.

They started off by playing Iowa on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. They defeated the Hawkeyes 77-71 in an ugly, overtime thriller. While U of M didn’t play the greatest in their opening game at MSG, their next three games showed what this team is capable when rolling on all cylinders.

Their next game took place on Friday against Nebraska, and the Wolverines routed the Cornhuskers 77-58. This match-up allowed the Maize and Blue to exact some revenge after their 72-52 loss back in mid-January.

The Wolverines then entered the semifinals with a much-anticipated rematch against Michigan State. Michigan had beaten the Spartans 82-72 earlier this season, ultimately came out victorious yet again with a 75-64 score on Saturday. A 2-0 record against your in-state rival is always nice and had to be extra sweet because people strongly believe that this is one of, if not the most, talented teams Tom Izzo has had in East Lansing.

John Beilein’s squad advanced to the finals to battle with the Purdue Boilermakers. The Wolverines played tough against them both times this season but came up empty-handed with an 0-2 record against Matt Painter’s crew. The result was not similar Sunday night when U of M controlled much of the game and came away winners of the game and the Big Ten tournament as well.

This year’s Big Ten Tournament run proved this team can potentially be very dangerous in the NCAA tournament. They saw good games from their stars and upperclassmen like Moe Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. But they also saw solid production from lesser used players and unsung heroes like sophomore Jon Teske.

These red-hot Wolverines also proved they can overcome bad games or foul trouble from their star player, Wagner, who fouled out against Iowa and shot 4-14 (0-7 in the first half) against MSU.

This team moved up to no. 7 in the latest AP and Coaches Poll after their four tournament wins. I believe this proves that their ceiling could be a possible no. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, given that everything goes right and some of the big dogs go down early in their respective conference tournaments. Realistically, I think this team ends up being a three-seed come Selection Sunday.

Whatever seeding they receive, they’re primed to be a tough out against whoever they play and will be a dark horse Final Four candidate in my mind. John Beilein is an underrated, amazing coach, and leading this team to back-to-back Big Ten Tournament titles proves just that. After all, Drake said it best when he sang “Back to Back.”…

 

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Grading Michigan’s Roster Halfway Through Conference Play

Michigan has played nine Big Ten games so far and have nine more to go. Their record in these nine conference contests is 6-3, which is currently good for fourth in the Big Ten behind Ohio State (9-0), Purdue (8-0), and Michigan State (6-2). The Wolverines have also played 22 games overall and sit at 17-5.

I would like to go through U of M’s roster and grade each player so far based on their expectations heading into the season and their performance so far now that conference play if halfway over. While the roster is composed of 17 players, I am only going to grade players who have played in at least half of the teams games so far (my apologies to C.J. Baird, Austin Davis, Brent Hibbitts, Naji Ozeir, Rico Ozuna-Harrison, and Luke Wilson).

I am going to list the remaining players alphabetically and talk about how each player has performed so far and what they can improve on moving forward. I will then give each player a grade.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman– The senior is currently third on the team in both points per game (10.5) and rebounds per game (4.0). He also is one of the best in the nation with a 5.82 assist-to-turnover ratio. The one improvement I was hoping to see from MAAR this year was in his scoring. He has improved on his 9.1 PPG from last year but his shooting percentages overall and from beyond the three-point line have dropped. He needs to attack the basket more and get to the free throw line more often as he is shooting a crisp 87% from the charity stripe. Abdur-Rahkman needs to show a little more senior leadership as this season moves forward as well.

Mid-Season Grade: B-

Eli Brooks– The freshman point guard has been a solid option off the bench for coach John Beilein. He provides a spark in his limited action and has held his own while giving starter Zavier Simpson a breather. His biggest knock so far on the season has got to be his shooting. He is shooting an abysmal 29% from the field and an even worse 25% from 3. Brooks needs to improve on his shooting if he wants to be a consistent contributor to the team.

Mid-Season Grade: B-

Isaiah Livers– The freshman from Kalamazoo has had a great season so far. He is averaging 4.6 PPG while shooting a fantastic 52% from the field and 41% from downtown. He has also taken his new starting role in stride. He came in for the struggling senior Duncan Robinson and has held his own against other teams starters. The one knock I have for Livers is his rebounding. He is 6’7″ but is only averaging 2.6 RPG. I think this can, and will, improve as he learns how to play with the big boys.

Mid-Season Grade: A-

Charles Matthews– The transfer from Kentucky is having a fine season so far, leading the Wolverines with 14.6 PPG and is second on the squad with 5.2 RPG. He is fearless when attacking the rim and is shooting over 52% from the field. His one weakness is shooting from beyond the arc. His 33% from 3-point range needs to improve as the season progresses and if this team wants to be successful come postseason play.

Mid-Season Grade: B

Jordan Poole– The freshman from Milwaukee has been a revelation off the bench for Coach Beilein so far. He is fifth on the team with 6.3 PPG in only ten minutes per contest. He is shooting over 41% from deep and 49% from the field overall. The biggest struggle for Poole so far has been his court vision. His assist-to-turnover ratio is an awful 1:2 as he has only seven assists on the season to 14 turnovers. That needs to improve if this young buck wants to see more minutes off the bench.

Mid-Season Grade: A-

Duncan Robinson– Even though Robinson, a fifth year player, was demoted from the starting lineup and replaced by a freshman, he is still contributing nicely. He is fourth on the team in PPG (9.0) and has the best free-throw percentage (minimum 10 attempts) with a sparkling 92%. His area of weakness is on the defensive end and is usually a lot slower or undersized compared to many of the players he is defending.

Mid-Season Grade: B

Jaaron Simmons– The graduate transfer from Ohio has provided this team with some solid play in a backup point guard role with a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But I was expecting more from the 2017 first-team All-MAC selection, especially on the offensive end. He averaged 15.9 PPG last year while shooting 43% from the field, 34% from beyond the arc and 72% from the FT line. I know his role has diminished since his days as a Bobcat and the Mid-American Conference is a far cry from the Big Ten, but his dip in shooting percentages is alarming. This year he is shooting 26% overall, 20% from 3-point range and 62% from the charity stripe. Maybe I was just expecting a little too much.

Mid-Season Grade: C

Zavier Simpson– The sophomore, who dropped the “X” from his name and took on a “Z”, has played outstanding so far this season. He is leading the Wolverines with 3.5 assists per game and 1.2 steals per game. Simpson has taken on the role of starting point guard for this team and has led them admirably after learning under the U of M great Derrick Walton, Jr. last year. His biggest area of improvement has got to be at the free-throw line. He is only shooting 51% from the line and some teams have gone with the “Hack-A-Shaq” approach with him late in games.

Mid-Season Grade: A-

Jon Teske– The sophomore has played pretty well when he has had to fill in for Moe Wagner, whether it be for injury or foul trouble, this season. He is fourth on team with 3.6 RPG, which is nice, but I also think this is the area where Teske can improve. He is 7’1″ and is usually one of the biggest guys on the court. He needs to use that big body of his to accrue even more rebounds in his time on the court.

Mid-Season Grade: B

Moritz Wagner– The big man from Germany has had an excellent junior campaign so far. He is second on the team in scoring with 14.3 PPG and is first with 7.1 RPG. He has also produced four double-doubles. Wagner’s biggest area of improvement though has got to do with his consistency. He’s had some monster games (21 points, 10 rebounds against UC Riverside, 27 and 4 against Michigan State, 18 and 11 vs. Maryland) but he has also produced some duds (4 points and 6 boards at Iowa and 2 points with 7 rebounds at Nebraska). Wagner is a tremendous talent and just needs to play like he is every game.

Mid-Season Grade: B+

Ibi Watson– The sophomore has provided a nice option off the bench for the Maize and Blue. He is only averaging 2.8 PPG, albeit in only 6 minutes per game, and is shooting a nice 37.5% from downtown. Watson’s biggest knock is his size (6’5″ but only 200 pounds) and is generally undersized when Beilein uses him in small forward role. But he is still young and will continue to grow and get stronger as the year moves on.

Mid-Season Grade: B-

 

 

 

Jim Harbaugh: From God to National Punching Bag

The 2017-18 season was nothing short of a nightmare scenario for the Michigan Football program. In Jim Harbaugh’s third season with the program, the Wolverines went an unexpected 8-5 after a preseason top ten ranking, losing to both rivals. Michigan’s best win of the season was a 28-10 win against a 7-win Purdue team. Three different starting quarterbacks for Michigan strung together just 9 passing touchdowns on the season for an offense that struggled all season long.

Sitting at a 28-11 overall record, 1-5 in rivalry games, and 1-2 in bowl games, is Jim Harbaugh’s tenure going how anyone expected it to? Under Harbaugh, Michigan has finished 3rd, 3rd, and 4th in the Big Ten East Division. Looking at a big picture, the first three seasons of the Harbaugh era have been a disappointment.

When Jim Harbaugh arrived to Ann Arbor, one could compare it to the welcoming of the messiah. The Michigan fan base was kissing the ground that the former 49ers head coach had walked on, expectation for success was affirmative. This was considerably the home-run hire of the off-season in all of sports. It was a very popular opinion that Michigan would be back in the conversation for the playoffs very shortly because of Jim Harbaugh’s reputation to turnaround programs quickly much like he did at Stanford and in San Francisco.

Year One:

2015 came along, the first season under the “prodigal son” of Michigan Football, Jim Harbaugh’s, leadership. Expectations were high, but somewhat realistic in knowing that this was previously a 5-win ball club just a season prior.

The season started off with a disappointing Thursday night prime-time loss to Utah on the road. The tides took a turn several weeks later once Utah started emerging into a national contender, and it just so happened that Michigan was playing their best brand of football with three straight shutouts against BYU, Maryland, and Northwestern. To this day, that was arguably the best three-week stretch Harbaugh has had at Michigan.

After the trifecta of shutouts, Mark Dantonio and the Spartans come to the Big House on a two-game win streak over their in-state rival. Most of you know where this is going; Blake O’Neil happened, he fumbled the snap and yes the ball was free. Jalen Watts-Jackson was in the right place, at the right time for an MSU fluke, heart-breaker win in Ann Arbor.

Michigan still sat comfortably in the top 25 following the loss with a lot of hope for the remainder of the season going into the bye week. The Wolverines went on a four-game win streak and felt pretty good about their chances going into the rivalry matchup in Ann Arbor against the Buckeyes, who were coming off a loss to MSU. Let’s go ahead and say that the first meeting between Harbaugh and Urban Meyer was a lopsided one, OSU wins 42-13.

The Citrus Bowl had a different tale of the tape for Michigan, going up against Jim McElwain’s Florida Gators in a favorable matchup with a banged up Florida offense. Jake Rudock made his case for NFL teams on why he should be drafted; 20 for 31, 64.5 completion percentage, 278 yards, and 3 touchdowns against a top SEC secondary. Michigan won 41-7, finished 10-3 for the 2015-16 season.

Harbaugh’s first season was good not great, didn’t win the big games, the majority being content given it was his first season with the program. A lot returning talent coming back in 2016, Michigan was the favorite to win the Big Ten title, primed for a playoff run with the only question mark being the quarterback position. Another off-season of hype at the midst no doubt. The fan-base still praising Jim Harbaugh as if he were divine.

Year Two:

Through the first nine games, just two road games, Michigan looked like the playoff contender that the hype insisted on them being. At this point, Jim Harbaugh was being looked at like a Nick Saban, or an Urban Meyer. The resume was a pretty one, three wins over what were top ten teams, sitting at no. 2 in the nation.

November 12th featured a prime-time game against a non-ranked, below average Iowa Hawkeyes team in Iowa City at Kinnick Stadium, which in my opinion is one of the most underrated environments in college football. The 9-0 Michigan Wolverines were having the worst night of the season, nothing was going right for them offensively. In the final seconds, a late field-goal stunned Michigan and shattered perfection, 9-1.

The upset in Iowa City was a reality check for Michigan, but didn’t change the playoff picture much as Harbaugh still controlled his team’s own destiny by winning out. Two teams in front of them for the program’s first berth to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game for what would’ve been a rematch against Wisconsin, whom they bested at home 14-7 earlier in the season.

After handling Indiana at home, Michigan would move on to the big one in Columbus. This game lived up the its hype, and went down to two overtimes. 4th & 1 in 2 OT, Michigan up 27-24 after kicking a field goal, Ohio State will go for it.

J.T. got the first down, at least that’s what the call on the field was initially and even after further reviewing the spot, the Buckeyes converted. It was a close call, some are calling it a controversial one to this day. A play later, Curtis Samuel took it 15 yards to the house six, Ohio State wins it at home 30-27. Jim Harbaugh was fined about his rant regarding incompetent officiating following the overtime loss.

Finishing the regular season inside the top ten with a 10-2 record earned Michigan and Harbaugh a major bowl game bid in the Orange Bowl to take on Florida State. What was almost a comeback classic, ended up being a disappointment of a finish for Michigan. 33-32 Florida State win.

The biggest end of the season letdown for Michigan since 2006, from 9-0 just to finish the season 1-3. This team was talented, and experienced, had 11 players selected in the NFL draft. What did they have to show for the talent? Zero wins against the Buckeyes, zero divisional nor conference titles, this is an absolutely frustrating dose of reality if you’re a Michigan fan.

How do the fans feel about Harbaugh at this point? Some were calling for his head, but he still has the majority on his side insisting that we need to give him time. There were critics who said he was overrated and overpaid, people were really divided on their stance of the former Michigan quarterback.

Year Three:

A lot of fans, critics, and outside observers seemed to agree on that this was going to be a transitional season for Michigan. The program lost over 40 seniors to graduation, not to mention 11 drafted to the NFL. The Wolverines returned enough starters on offense and defense combined to count on just two hands, barely. There were people who expected a similar coaching job to what Urban Meyer did in 2016 after losing a similar amount of talent and taking his team to the playoffs.

The offense never established an identity in 2017 and struggled to score in the red-zone. Wilton Speight and John O’Korn were both put ahead of redshirt freshman Brandon Peters on the depth chart, and people questioned it from day one.

Michigan ended the regular season with an 8-4 record. Play-calling was a big criticism, and incompetent quarterback play seemed to be a trend despite Jim Harbaugh supposedly being a “quarterback guru”.

In Jim Harbaugh’s offense, quarterbacks aren’t asked to win games on their own, but in this team’s case, the quarterback play was so bad that it lost three out of the four regular season games. Youthful, inexperienced receivers struggled to create any separation and emerge into reliable targets. The tight ends were rarely utilized in the pass game. There was an evident switch-up in the passing game’s scheme when Jedd Fisch left Harbaugh’s staff and then added Pep Hamilton to the staff.

The run-game was inconsistent and didn’t have any noticeable presence against quality opponents, but Karan Higdon had a solid season for Michigan falling just short of a thousand yard season (164 attempts, 994 yards, 6.1 YPC, and 11 TDs).

Prior to the Outback Bowl, I was one of the people who thought that the missing piece for Michigan was simply a quarterback, considering that three out of the four regular season losses could have potentially been avoided with better quarterback play. I even thought Brandon Peters was about to make his case for the starting job in 2018.

People expected a similar result to the 2015-16 beat down over Florida in what felt like an easy match-up against a weak South Carolina team, Michigan was more than a touchdown favorite on New Year’s Day. This was arguably the worst performance for a Jim Harbaugh team at Michigan. Blowing a third quarter 19-3 lead, just to fall apart and lose 26-19 says it all. Three turnovers (two INTs, one fumble) from Brandon Peters on what was the furthest thing from an audition for the starting job for next season and another two fumbles from Karan Higdon and Donovan Peoples-Jones.

In what was supposed to be a statement bowl game, turned out to be an embarrassment game that has made Michigan a national joke with a perceived overrated head coach. I wouldn’t say Jim Harbaugh is on the hot seat just yet, but it’s definitely getting warm at the very least.

How do the fans feel about Jim Harbaugh now? They now, hopefully, realize that he’s human and has a lot to prove regarding if he’s anything special like people say he is. There’s no excuse for how the program was showcased in 2017-18. In year three, how do you not have one quarterback ready to perform? There was absolutely no reason for why a redshirt freshman like Brandon Peters wasn’t better prepared and ready to start in week one. There needs to be an immediate change in the coaching staff, both Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton’s jobs should not be safe.

What’s Next for Michigan, Harbaugh?

Right now, a majority of fans are demanding results in 2018 or declaring it a bust for Harbaugh’s tenure. A losing record against rivals (Notre Dame, MSU, OSU) will not be stomached well in Ann Arbor. If Michigan goes 0-3 against rivals, and fails to win his division yet gain, Harbaugh’s seat will undoubtedly be hot, if not on fire.

Michigan is paying Harbaugh $9 million per year to win big games, rivalry games, conference and national championships. So far, he’s only beaten one rival (3-9 MSU), has an 0-3 against Ohio State, an 0-2 against Michigan State at home, hasn’t been able to finish better than 3rd place in his own division, and has gone 1-2 in bowl games.

2018 will be a big season for Jim Harbaugh because we’ll get to find out what he’s made of 100 percent. Year four is the golden opportunity to showcase how you’ve built your program, the recruiting has been great, the talent is there, transfer quarterback from Ole Miss Shea Patterson might be eligible to play immediately, inexperience is no longer a factor, it’s time for results and if Harbaugh can’t produce said results, then he’s just not a great coach. That’s about all there is to it, the results just aren’t there and if they aren’t there one year from now, then Jim Harbaugh is a fraud.

 

Michigan Football: A Quarterback Away from a Championship?

Jim Harbaugh’s third season at Michigan suffered through what some might call growing pains while regressing from two consecutive 10-3 seasons to an 8-4 regular season prior the bowl game. The season is being looked at as a disappointment to say the least; failing to beat a team with an above .500 record, with an 0-2 record against chief rivals isn’t what Michigan pays Harbaugh $9 million a year to do.

Despite the perception of Harbaugh having “quarterback guru” characteristics, the QB position was arguably the weakest for the Michigan offense in 2017. Losing a starter, Wilton Speight, in September to a vertebrae injury didn’t help the situation by any means. There’s also an argument to question Harbaugh’s hindsight when (RS) freshman, Brandon Peters, took the field against Rutgers and was evidently the best quarterback on the roster.

Why wasn’t he the starter from week one?

Why didn’t he start over O’Korn once Speight went down?

Why wasn’t he ready to play?

In our mindset, as observers of this program, it doesn’t make sense to not have Brandon Peters starting against Florida for week one. Before we critique how the quarterback situation was handled, something we must keep in mind is that we don’t know what was going on at the practice field. Peters may have not been ready in the eyes of his coaches and I think that Jim Harbaugh, Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton know a little more about football than a lot of us, including myself, do.

In Michigan’s four losses this season, some would suggest that three out of those four losses could have potentially been avoided had there been, at least, average quarterback play.

Against Michigan State, the monsoon was a noticeable factor that effected offensive play for both teams, but John O’Korn’s three interceptions were definitely difference makers in favor of the Spartans that helped result in a 14-10 heart-breaker.

There wasn’t a lot that could be been done for this team to beat Penn State in the White Out game in Happy Valley. They were the better team and they were playing their best brand of football while Michigan was playing their worst. Sure, a better quarterback may have put some more points on the board and made it somewhat of a game at least, but they straight up lost that game, got outplayed, outcoached and it was ugly.

Against Wisconsin, Brandon Peters was holding his own on the day, leading an offense that was moving the ball prior to a concussion in the 2nd half. The score was 14-10 Wisconsin’s lead at the point of losing Peters. John O’Korn came in and then Michigan’s chances for the win were gone. 24-10 final score in Madison.

Against Ohio State, John O’Korn defined his distasteful legacy at Michigan. The offensive play-calling and the game-plan was very well put together. It allowed O’Korn to consistently rely on check-down routes and for most of the game, they were able to move the ball. Michigan was faced with a 24-20 deficit coming off a short Buckeye field goal attempt, with just 2:47 left in the game that gave the O’Korn led offense a chance to control their own destiny and go up 27-24. On the first play of the drive with all the hope in the world on Michigan’s sideline, John O’Korn misses multiple open targets and throws a downfield pass to virtually no one in the area and it was intercepted and the rest was history for a 6th consecutive win in the series for Urban Meyer.

I will not say that quarterbacks were the reason for three of the losses, but I will say that they may have been a difference. Michigan had an arguable championship caliber defense, a solid backfield and young, talented receivers that were starting to create separation with their route running in late November. Is Michigan just a quarterback away from elite status? Some, including myself, believe that a top-tier quarterback play is the one missing ingredient for Jim Harbaugh’s signature season.

Brandon Peters is currently the QB1 in bowl game preparation and will be the starter for the Outback Bowl against South Carolina come New Year’s Day.

Prior to today’s official announcement, it seemed like a sure thing for Brandon Peters to be the starter for the 2018 season. Over the past few weeks, rumors and speculations became a reality when former Ole Miss sophomore quarterback, Shea Patterson, announced his decision to transfer to Michigan following his visit over the weekend.

Suddenly, this quarterback battle for 2018 just got very interesting. Let’s look at career statistics for both Brandon Peters and Shea Patterson:

Peters through 4 games: (37-64, 486 yards, 4 TDs, 57.8 completion percentage)

Patterson through 10 games: (238-392, 3,139 yds, 23 TDs, 60.7 completion percentage)

The Michigan fan base will likely have no issue with whoever wins the battle between these two, both come off as fan favorites as of late. Of course you can’t forget the sleeper candidates on the depth chart in (RS) freshman, Dylan McCaffery and true freshman Joe Milton, who will more than likely redshirt the 2018 season.

Three out of these four quarterbacks all possess the ability to extend a play with their legs; Brandon Peters has shown glimpses of good ability inside the pocket to step up and make tough throws under pressure. Shea Patterson is similar player to Johnny Manziel with a better arm, but a lesser scramble ability.

Patterson, in my guess, will be favored to be the starter in South Bend for week one. Brandon Peters’ only advantage is his prior relationship with the coaching staff and he already knows the offense. Also, Peters will get a golden opportunity in the upcoming bowl game to ball out against an 8-win SEC team and make his case for his coaches and to remind the fan base to not forget about number 18.

Jim Harbaugh’s offense doesn’t require you to be a Tom Brady, just make the simple, routine throws and don’t miss open downfield targets. Brandon Peters overthrew Donovan Peoples-Jones on what would’ve been a lengthy go-ahead touchdown pass against Wisconsin, one of the very few mistakes Peters made for Michigan.

Don Brown will return a defense with more than half of his starters from the 2017 unit. This offense, that struggled heavily in 2017, will have the hopeful return of tackle, Grant Newsome, this will help an offensive line in need of improvement, youthful receivers with talent and then a solid backfield with two shifty runningbacks, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, at the helm. Now you have four talented quarterbacks to work with, three four stars and one five star coming out of high school. Pick the one who gives this team the best chance for a championship and roll with him.

Excuses are out, you have the experience, you’ve recruited the talent, you’ve brought in outside talent from the SEC and you’ve had three seasons with the program, it’s time to beat your rivals and contest for a championship. We’ll find out what Jim Harbaugh is made of come 2018. This is poised to be, yet another, typical Harbaugh quarterback battle which will be heavily storied and documented on throughout the offseason, and per usual: we won’t know who the starter is until the first snap of the season.

 

 

Harbaugh: Hopes and Dreams or Smoke and Mirrors

The Michigan Wolverines lost to the Ohio State Buckeyes again last Saturday. It marked the sixth straight win in this rivalry for the team from Columbus. They have also accrued 15 victories in 18 chances since the start of the new millennium.

While “The Game” has been lopsided for quite some time now, U of M was hoping that the man they brought in three years ago, Jim Harbaugh, was going to change that. So far, he has not.

He is now 0-3 against Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes and 1-2 against Michigan State and Mark Dantonio. While these guys are both some of the best coaches in the country, they aren’t making over $9 million at their alma mater. Harbaugh is the highest paid coach in all of college football but has yet to lead the maize and blue anywhere in three years besides some good seasons record wise.

Now while I am not saying Harbaugh’s three years in Ann Arbor haven’t been successful, as he has racked up back to back 10-3 records in his first two seasons with a chance to go 9-4 record this year, but that’s not what Michigan envisioned when he stepped on campus in 2015.

With all the highly ranked recruiting classes and 5-star after 5-star walking through the doors of the Big House, Michigan has had high expectations since Harbaugh took over the reins. But each season, seemingly, has started, and ended, the same way. Filled with optimism and then ending in disappointment.

2015 started off with a loss to the Utah Utes but then the Wolverines reeled off five straight wins before losing to the Spartans at home. They also lost to the Buckeyes at the Big House before beating the Florida Gators in the Citrus Bowl to go 10-3.

2016 started off even better as they ran off a 9-0 record with a win over MSU before stumbling at the end of the year. The Wolverines proceeded to lose 3 of their next 4 games, including a loss to OSU, to finish with another 10-3 record.

2017 began similarly with the Wolverines beating Florida at Jerry’s World in Arlington and starting off 4-0 before facing off against Michigan State. Harbaugh and his team once again lost to Sparty to drop to 4-1. They also lost to Penn State and Wisconsin on the way to “The Game” against Meyer’s Buckeyes. And while Michigan had a good chance to win this past Saturday with 14-0 and 20-14 leads, they ultimately couldn’t pull it out and lost 31-20.

So while Harbaugh has had a rough go and winning big games against his rivals, I believe he is still the right man for the job at the moment. After three years, a 28-10 record is not too shabby. I also believe he has brought a different mindset to the university.

While he hasn’t won anything yet, the expectations are there and they have had their chances at returning to Indy to play for the Big Ten title. Under the leadership of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, it felt like this team wasn’t going anywhere.

One last comparison/point I’d like to make about Harbaugh is his connection to Bo Schembechler. He played and learned under the tutelage of the Michigan great. But for all the glory that he receives, he never brought home a national championship to U of M in his 21 years as the head coach.

His teams won 13 Big Ten Conference titles, of course, but he could never win the big one. I think Harbaugh could, at the very least, bring a Big Ten title to Ann Arbor in the next few years, but will that appease anyone? Also, if they do make it to the playoffs, is that successful or is nothing short of a national championship constitute success?

So while some people’s patience may be running thin with Harbaugh, I think they need to give him a little more time. Sure, his “Signing with the Stars”, satellite camps and sleepovers may not be endearing to all, but that’s just who he is and I don’t think he is going to change. Harbaugh is an old-school, ground and pound type of coach who wants to shove it down your throat. If that style can/will work in todays college football landscape is yet to be seen.

I believe fans just need to relax and let his plan come to fruition. It hasn’t worked out completely in his first three years, but it’s still a work in progress. Of course there are things he can work on, but what coach doesn’t have room for improvement?

In a couple more years, if Michigan is still floating around at 8-4 or 9-3, or heck, even 10-2 with no Big Ten titles or playoff appearances, then this conversation needs to be revisited. But for now, U of M has the coach they want.

After all, what other option do the Wolverines have other than their “Michigan Man”?

 

 

 

THE GAME: Ohio State @ Michigan Predictions

The Big House. The Horseshoe. The Maize and Blue. The Scarlet and Grey. Bo Schembechler. Woody Hayes. The Ten Year War. The Big Two and the Little Eight. Jim Harbaugh. Urban Meyer.

This will be the 100th consecutive meeting between the arch-rivals, 113 meetings in total. Records and rankings are thrown out the window because after kickoff, the only thing that matters is beating that team on the other sideline, it’s an absolute war. To keep it short, these schools don’t like each other and that’s just how it is.

(9-2) no. 9 ranked, Ohio State, will come to Ann Arbor and play (8-3) unranked, Michigan. This rivalry is widely considered to be one of the best in all of sports, despite the 21st century being a tad-lopsided in favor of the Buckeyes.

The Block M Insider has just four contributors for both our blog and to run our Twitter pages, and this article is featuring opinions and predictions on how “The Game” will potentially unfold come this Saturday:

Shane: 

Not many will be predicting a Michigan victory in Ann Arbor come Saturday when the Buckeyes will come to the Big House as a likely double digit favorite. Wolverine season-ticket holders everywhere have been looking to sell their tickets, feeling similar to the 2013 game that held little to no confidence throughout the fan-base.

I’d love to sit here and say that the intensity of this rivalry is going to lift this younger, inexperienced, lesser coached, less talented Michigan team to a victory come Saturday but that simply hasn’t been the case in my lifetime. I don’t think this team is good enough to hang with the Buckeyes, but I’m also a firm believer that in college football on any given day, anything is possible.

This Michigan defense is a stout unit with a front to be reckoned with, however they have a inexperienced secondary with plenty of vulnerabilities that have been exposed to man coverage specifically this season. Overall, this group is arguably atop in the nation in terms of quality, they’d be able to perform at a higher level had their offense give them time to rest in between possessions. Going up against this Buckeye offense who has more dimensions than one, they’ll be able to spread it out to attack these said vulnerabilities within the Michigan defense. This will be the best total offense that Michigan has gone up against this season, Penn State being the 2nd best as they put up 42 points. Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown must prepare their best game-plan along with unanimous execution to limit the Heisman hopeful, J.T. Barrett, freshman RB, J.K. Dobbins, and the rest of the Buckeye play-makers.

Offensively in Ann Arbor, this season has not been a favorable one and it’s difficult to say things will change this week. We’ve seen three different quarterbacks under center for Michigan this season and Brandon Peters, the fan favorite, is not a guarantee for play on Saturday, remains in concussion protocol. Wilton Speight’s status remains in non-contact for practice, not likely he dresses. If both are out for the game, that would likely leave it up to John O’Korn, or Alex Malzone if they wanted to risk playing someone with no experience. It’s no secret that the offense has clicked the most efficiently while having Peters in the huddle and it would be in Michigan’s favor to have him ready to go, but the real bread and butter to this unit are two men named Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. The passing game struggle has allowed the run game to open up several times this season; Higdon is 124 yards away from being Michigan’s first 1,000 yard rusher in a season since Fitz Toussiant in 2011. Evans has carried his weight as well with a 594 yard season thus far. Unfortunately for the offense, Ohio State’s run-defense is their strength and Iowa, who routed the Buckeyes, were able to expose their secondary. I can’t express how crucial it is for Michigan to have Brandon Peters’ arm, gives them the best chance to move the ball in my opinion because we’ve seen the John O’Korn offense and I really don’t think there’s a chance with him under center.

As a fan, I’m hoping for a close game that comes within a possession or two at the very least, but I’m taking Ohio State in this one and expect them to cover the spread. This isn’t Michigan’s season, but a win over your rival would essentially forgive the losses this season strictly due to transitional circumstances after losing over 40 seniors and returning less than 5 total starters. Michigan is the least experienced team in the FBS to my understanding, currently fighting for a 9 or 10 win season while the Buckeyes are trying to make their case to the committee for yet another college football playoff appearance.

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Michigan 14.

Mark:

Weird things happen in sports.  It’s the unpredictability that makes fans go crazy.  For Michigan fans, it’s “The Game.”  There have been so many upsets in this rivalry.  They are actually easy to remember.

1969 – Michigan 24, Ohio State 12

1987 – Ohio State 23, Michigan 20

1996 – Michigan 13, Ohio State 9

2016 – Ohio State 30, Michigan 27 (2OT)

Why do I list all of the more memorable ones?   That’s the point.  This game is SPECIAL.  This game is TRADITION.  And for both fan bases who reside on the internet like they know it all, those four games above prove that when you least expect it, we know nothing.

So now let’s move on to 2017…

QUICK FACTS

  • Michigan has allowed 14 points or less in the last 10 home games.  Last team to score more than 14…Ohio State in 1015.
  • Not a player on Michigan’s roster has beaten Ohio State.
  • Ohio State has only scored less than 30 points twice (Oklahoma & Iowa).
  • Michigan has only given up more than 24 points in a game once (Penn State).

Do you know what the problem with facts can lead to?  Short-sighted conclusions based on insufficient evidence.

So let’s get to it.  To the casual observer and to the most loyal fan, this seems to be a game that Ohio State should win. This is the game that Michigan has been preparing for since last year’s loss in the Horseshoe.

The Buckeye offense is potent and features playmakers all over the field…including a dual-threat quarterback.  J.T. Barrett is good enough to make Michigan fans sick to their stomachs.  Why?  Barrett is the only real quarterback that is going to force Michigan into a “Spy” situation.  Don Brown will have to assign somebody to mirror Barrett because the “Cover 10” defense that Michigan uses is the most vulnerable to a scrambling quarterback.  While OSU has made recent gains in the run game with Dobbins and Weber, there is nothing to suggest that they will be able to run against Michigan.   In the passing game, it’s about containable pressure on Barrett while winning the individual matchups outside.

Will he play?  Earlier in the week, my sources around Schembechler Hall thought it was more likely that Peters would play.  As the week has gone on, that outlook has dimmed just a bit. As I pen this prediction, my gut tells me that O’Korn is the starter.  Most Michigan fans just clicked to another website because they think that tells the whole story but let me add a twist to their perceived ending.  Here’s what UM has to do to be in position to win:

  • Be efficient in the intermediate passing game (5-15 yards down field)
  • Stay out of ’22’ personnel and run the ball while spreading out the Buckeye defense
  • Use designed runs/rollouts to enable O’Korn to be on the move
  • Take shots downfield as the Buckeye defense starts to roll to the line of scrimmage as the game is much tighter than they expect.

In both OSU losses, you see the OSU defense lose steam in the second half.  Why?  This Buckeye team is really not built to dominate for four quarters.  They are much more like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.  They are going to try to knock you out early.  Harbaugh and Co. has to put the Rocky Balboa shorts on and just keep punching.

That’s how upsets happen.  Being told you can’t win can motivate but does this Michigan team have enough toughness to stand in and punch with the B1G Ten’s Drago (no matter how flawed they are).

The answer…yes and it’ll shock the hell out of most of us.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Ohio State 12. 

Now let me get back to my Rocky training montage.

 

 

Brandon: 

First played in 1897, the 2017 edition will be played in Ann Arbor at the Big House. The Ohio State-Michigan game is one of, if not the, biggest rivalries in sports.

This year’s Buckeyes team comes into this game ranked no. 9 by the College Football Playoff Committee while the Wolverines will be unranked. Ohio State is sporting a 9-2 record with a tough loss to a good Oklahoma Sooner squad along with a blowout loss to Iowa on the road. Michigan will come into this one with an 8-3 record with close losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin and a drubbing at the hands of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

So while these teams are only separated by a game in the standings, they’ll be playing for completely different reasons. OSU has already clinched the East for a spot in the conference title game, a win against Michigan on the road and a victory against the Wisconsin Badgers in Indy gives the Buckeyes and the Big Ten a resume worthy of potential consideration for the CFP final four. Michigan on the other hand is looking to beat their rival for the first time since 2011 and have a chance at their third consecutive 10-win season under Jim Harbaugh.

I believe this game will come down to the battle of the quarterbacks. J.T. Barrett leads this Buckeye team and they are currently the fourth ranked offense in the nation when it comes to yards per game as they are averaging over 546 total YPG. They are also averaging over 44 points per contest as well.

Michigan, on the other hand, comes into this game having played three different QBs this season (Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Brandon Peters) with Speight being sidelined due to injury, O’Korn being benched due to poor play, and Peters playing decent but he is now hurt as well and is uncertain for Saturday’s matchup.

If OSU is going to be victorious, they will need two key elements. First, their defense will need to contain the run game that Michigan employs; Karan Higdon, Chris Evans and Ty Issac provide the offense with a lethal backfield when clicking on all cylinders. When Michigan’s ground game is going, it helps their defense by allowing them to control the time of possession battle. Second, they will also have to not get picked apart by the weak air attack that U of M employs, regardless of who is under center. Iowa put up 55 on the Buckeyes a couple of weeks back and they accomplished it primarily through the air.

If the Wolverines are going to come out of this game with a win, they will have to do two things as well. First, whoever is playing at quarterback will need to attack the weak part of Ohio State’s defense, which is their secondary. Secondly, they will have to put pressure on J.T. Barrett. He one fine player, but when you contain him and make him throw from the pocket, he isn’t himself. This will be a tall task for this Michigan defense, but it is a must if they want to leave the Big House on a high note.

As for my final score prediction, I believe this one could get ugly. Ohio State is a double-digit (I’ve seen anywhere from -11 to -14) favorite in Vegas and I think they will cover the spread. Not saying Michigan can’t shock the world and pull of the upset, but I just see that as a long shot. J.T. won’t be short this year, folks.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan 13.

Michael:

November 25th, 2017 3:50 pm. The ESPN ticker scrolls along, you catch a glimpse of something deceives your eye, you check again and it was true. Michigan defeats Ohio State.

Harbaugh finally gets his signature win, on the heels of a defensive masterpiece constructed by Don Brown. Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton dig up their best game plan, and the offense clicks just enough to pull of the upset.

Prediction: Michigan 28, Ohio State 7.

Playing for Bragging Rights; 10 Win Season on the Line for Michigan

8-3 Michigan’s prior narrow, division title hopes were officially crushed on Saturday as undefeated Wisconsin put away the Wolverines by two touchdowns in Madison. The game was 14-10 at the point of the Michigan offense losing their freshman quarterback, Brandon Peters, for the remainder of the game. After Peters was carted off the field, so was Michigan’s shot at offensive ball movement; the game took on a final score if 24-10 in favor of the home team.

Not many expected Michigan to win last Saturday, the game very well could have had a different outcome had Michigan been able to keep their quarterback, but to put it shortly: the better football team most definitely won.

Michigan’s expectations for this season were up in the air depending on your confidence in the coaching staff as some were predicting a playoff run, few were saying a 7-8 win season, and others were saying anything in between. When any college program loses over 40 seniors and returns 5 or less starters, it’s really a hit or miss season.

One thing Michigan has at least done so far in 2017, with the exception of the MSU game, they’ve beaten every team they were expected to beat. That doesn’t mean we can ignore the obvious shortcomings: something this program has struggled with in recent seasons primarily is winning the big games; Michigan is 0-16 in road games against ranked teams since 2006.

Michigan might not even crack top three in their own division to end the season, which isn’t a good look. In their slight defense, the Big Ten East is about as tough as a college football division can get. Nevertheless, the highest paid coach in the conference, Jim Harbaugh, should be able to finish better than third or fourth in a division in three seasons right? He’ll get just one more pass for a disappointing conference finish, but excuses are running thin come next season.

What’s next for Michigan? What is left for this nightmare of a season?

  • A chance to beat your rival, something this program and fan-base needs like none other.
  • Win a bowl game.
  • Opportunity to win 10 games for the third consecutive seasons.
  • Showcase what fans can expect come 2018-19.

Much like last Saturday, Michigan will be an Vegas underdog; Ohio State opened as a 13 point favorite in Ann Arbor.

Uncertain of who will be under center on Saturday, Harbaugh just announced today that Peters is in concussion protocol and could potentially be out of protocol by Wednesday or Thursday, or not at all, it’s up to the doctors. We will find out more information on Peters as the week progresses, chance to play is “hopeful”. Wilton Speight’s status is doubtful for Saturday, was cleared for non-contact last week. Harbaugh also said that Lavert Hill was cleared for practice this week.

The Buckeyes are coming off two blowout wins over a respected MSU team (48-3) and over Illinois (52-14). Michigan hasn’t scored more than 36 points in any game this season, they’ll look to their defense as an asset to keep them in the game on Saturday. A healthy Brandon Peters can potentially lower the line for the game, the freshman QB gives this Michigan offense a better chance to open up the passing game.

Despite having their primary goals out of reach yet again for the season, there’s still plenty motivation for this Michigan team to come out fired up this Saturday and for the bowl season. The confidence is scarce, but Jim Harbaugh has pulled off major, statistical upsets at prior coaching jobs.

A lot of this team still has fond memory and a bad taste in their mouths from what some players and many fans feel was an officiating wrong-doing in Columbus a season ago, rivalries can give teams a newfound motivation to up their play and execute.