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”?

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

Michigan’s Narrow Chance for the Big Ten East

Don’t look now, but it looks as if the Michigan offense might have found an identity to roll with from here on out. I know it’s only Rutgers and Minnesota, but it just feels like from the moment (RS) freshman quarterback, Brandon Peters, came off the bench, it’s given new life to this offense despite leaning heavily on the run game against Minnesota.

This type of offensive emergence gives this team their best chance to defy Vegas odds, and run the regular season table to win ten games for the third straight season.

Suffering losses from two in-division foes has already nearly sealed any chance of a Big Ten Championship game apperance for the Wolverines. There’s still a slight chance, so don’t completely count out the unranked 7-2 Michigan squad, but have I expressed how slight their chances truly are? Let me break it down:

  • Michigan needs to win out, beating Maryland (lost to Rutgers), undefeated no. 8 Wisconsin, and no. 13 Ohio State (whom is coming off a 55-24 loss to Iowa on the road which brought them down 7 spots in the CFP rankings).
  • No. 13 Ohio State will need to beat no. 12 Michigan State in Columbus.
  • No. 12 Michigan State will need to lose to either Maryland, or Rutgers (not very likely).
  • No. 14 Penn State will need to lose to Rutgers, Nebraska, or Maryland (again, doesn’t seem likely).

This is the one, sole, unlikely series of events that will need to unfold in order for Michigan to win their first Big Ten East division title. It’s asking for a complete miracle for this program and for this fan base; just know that in college football, anything really is possible.

What’s important for Jim Harbaugh and his team: focus on what they can control, which is to win out, one game at a time. Maryland is on this team’s mind as of this week, Wisconsin is on deck.

May the odds of this ill-probable shot at a 2017 Big Ten Championship forever be in favor of the youthful Michigan Wolverines.

For the fans who are currently complaining about a 7-2 Michigan team being snubbed of a ranking in the week 11 CFP poll: I have to ask what is there to be bitter about? Looking at it from a realistic fan/observer’s standpoint, Michigan lacks a win over an above .500 team, in other words they do not deserve to be ranked at this point in time. They have two games coming up where they’ll have the opportunity to earn wins which will almost certainly earn them a top 25 spot.

It’s Time to Start Brandon Peters

Last Saturday, Michigan was humiliated on national television in prime-time. Penn State beat up on the now unranked Wolverines 42-13 in Happy Valley, a loss was a probable prediction, just surprising to see it in blowout fashion. Sitting at 5-2, Michigan’s hopes for a division title are all but officially crushed. Outside of two touchdown scoring drives, the offense remained lifeless and was shutout in the 2nd half.

Meet Brandon Peters: 6’4 gunslinger redshirt freshman, Michigan’s backup quarterback, former no. 1 overall recruit in the state of Indiana, the favorable candidate for the starting job in 2018, was in the conversation to win the starting job for this season.

Peters went 9-17, threw for 160 yards, and added a score in the Spring Game earlier in 2017.

A large portion of the Michigan fan-base wanted the redshirt freshman to be the starter this season after seeing him in the Spring Game. Harbaugh ultimately decided to stick with the experience, putting two veterans ahead of Peters on the depth chart, Speight and O’Korn. Which was reasonable and predictable in my mind, an inexperienced team usually can benefit from having a veteran QB, right?

The offense is as bad as it’s been in years for Michigan, the quarterback play hasn’t been flawless, but it hasn’t been the primary issue. The pocket collapses too quickly, not good separation thus far from young receivers, run-game very inconsistent, play-calling has been questionable and they’ve displayed overall bad communication throughout the unit as a whole.

This season was expected, by many, to be a transitional season considering the amount of talent departing from the program a season ago, graduating over 40 seniors, losing 11 to the NFL draft, and being faced with the task of retooling a very youthful team. Michigan fans, of course, are going to expect a lot, it’s in their nature and they crave a championship (haven’t won a conference title since ’04).

Harbaugh’s seat is not hot, if he keeps losing big games then it’ll definitely get there, but that’s a conversation for another day. Michigan is currently 5-2, both in-division losses, likely crushing any hopes to win the Big Ten yet again for the Wolverines. The reality of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure is that there’s now legitimate pressure to win big games, and championships for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. The only goals in front of Michigan for this regular season are to win 10 games, spoil Ohio State’s season, and win a bowl game.

Prior to Saturday, I was in support for the idea of keeping the guy with the most experience under-center, safest bet for the specific circumstances. It’s officially time to bench John O’Korn for Brandon Peters. It’s a distasteful decision if you have empathy towards O’Korn’s situation, but even he has to understand what’s best for the program. Like I said before, quarterbacks are not the issue with this offense, but he’s just not the future, his eligibility will expire at the end of 2017, Peters has the rest of this season, and three entire seasons left in Ann Arbor.

If I’m Jim Harbaugh, I want a ready-to-go, experienced quarterback for 2018. Wilton Speight will have a remaining season of eligibility but that’s not promising — we don’t know if Speight will ever be able to play football again, vertebrae injuries aren’t a joke. Harbaugh was asked about Speight following the Penn State game and had this to say about his situation: “Get healthy – that’s where most of his efforts are being concentrated. He’s at practice. I know he’s chomping at the bit. His bones (are) healing back together. It takes time. He’s been a good teammate. I know he’s chomping at the bit.”

Michigan’s remaining schedule consists of: Rutgers, Minnesota, @ Maryland, @ no. 5 Wisconsin, and no. 6 Ohio State. The Rutgers game this Saturday is an ideal matchup for a debut start where Peters can hit the ground running, build some confidence, have his home crowd behind him while he’d likely earn his first win as a starter for Michigan.

Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland are games that Michigan should win and I believe they’ll handle all three teams somewhat convincingly, all good opportunities for Brandon Peters to get his feel for Big Ten football, create a rhythm, and grow with an also young offense.

With three favorable match-ups under Peters’ belt, he should appear collected and confident heading into the Wisconsin, and Ohio State games. These two games will give Peters an even better feel for college football intensity, playing Wisconsin on the road, and then playing in the arguably biggest rivalry in American sports are both opportunities which a lot of quarterbacks strive to get.

Do I think Michigan can win at least one of these marquee November games, or potentially both? Nothing surprises me in college football today, it’s a crazy game. If a Brandon Peters led offense is able to host a likely top ten ranked Ohio State team, and pull off a win? Think about the confidence that’ll give the young quarterback headed into the 2018 season.

I don’t have faith that Jim Harbaugh starts Brandon Peters from here on out, as I believe he should, but I do have faith that he’ll have more than one opportunity to see an increased amount of playing time, most especially in the next three weeks. A championship team more times than not features an, at least, competent quarterback, and we need to prepare the young buck for the spotlight.

Harbaugh was asked about the possibility of Peters seeing more snaps/playing time and said: “Just going along the process of readying him to play. The backup quarterback always needs to be ready to play.” Still referring to him as the backup behind O’Korn.

What does this team have to lose at this point? The Brandon Peters era needs to begin, the fan-base craves it, and Michigan needs the Indiana native to be ready. Sorry John O’Korn, but college football is a business which revolves around winning, and you’re 2-2 (3-2 if you count Purdue, played three-quarters) as a starter, 0-2 in big games.

 

 

 

Harbaugh, Michigan in Control of their Own Destiny

This one’s for all of the Michigan fans out there hanging onto, what seems to be, an unlikely scenario for their favorite football team.

Can Jim Harbaugh’s third Michigan Football team run the table and crack the playoffs? I wouldn’t put my money on it considering what we’ve seen on the offensive side of the ball this season (98th total offense, 101st passing offense, through 6 games for Michigan). The run game appears to be the only hope for Michigan at this point in the schedule, Karan Higdon broke out last Saturday with 25 touches, 200 yards, and 3 scores.

I’m not counting out the Wolverines yet, they have a great opportunity on Saturday night to make a statement as they’re headed to Happy Valley to play no. 2 Penn State on national television. The pressure for Harbaugh to win this one is as big as it gets; win tomorrow night, then they’re back in the playoff conversation, but if they lose, they’ll likely be unranked for the first time since the BYU game in 2015.

After the upset loss to MSU, lot of the fan-base has thrown in the towel for the season, and began focusing on what Michigan will do in 2018. This is wrong because the reality of the current state of the season is that they’re sitting at 5-1, coming off a conference road-win, and they’re about to play the no. 2 team in the nation.

Michigan’s recipe for a potential playoff berth is as simple as it gets: win out. If the no. 19 ranked Wolverines are capable of winning the games they’re supposed to win (Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland), and pull off wins against currently ranked top ten teams (no. 2 Penn State, no. 5 Wisconsin, no. 6 Ohio State), then they’re in. This scenario would only work out under an assumption that MSU drops another game or two to fall short of the East division title.

I don’t realistically expect Michigan to pull off the unlikely run to crack the playoffs, I personally believe that they lack the offense competence to do so. Do I think it’s crazy to think that Harbaugh has enough tricks up his sleeve to sneak a win or two out of the three marquee games remaining this season? Absolutely not, Harbaugh is a wild-card and he’s managed to win games that his teams have had no business winning.

I hope I’m wrong, I hope the offense comes to life against Penn State, and a newfound momentum propels this young team to new heights. After all, this is college football, crazy things have happened and they’ll definitely continue to happen — anything is possible.  It’s up to them to do it, and it starts tomorrow night with all odds stacked against them, backs against the wall.

 

 

Michigan Fan Expectations

The University of Michigan, the Wolverines, the Maize and Blue, the Winged Helmet, the Big House, the ‘MGoBlue” banner, the Victors, Desmond Howard’s “Hello Heisman”…it’s a national brand, a true college football treasure.

Michigan’s football program has a history to be quite proud of, one full of tradition, and such excellence that has allowed them to be well-known as one of the more successful programs from an all-time standpoint. These fans are very proud of their program which has 11 national titles, 42 Big Ten titles, 3 Heisman trophies, and not to mention the most wins of all time.

The most recent history of Michigan Football has been colorful, full of ups and downs, much like a roller-coaster. A lot has changed in Ann Arbor since 2008, but one thing that hasn’t changed would be the fan-base’s expectations for the program year in, year out.

Last Saturday, Michigan was upset by their in-state rival, MSU, in the Big House and fell to 4-1 on the season. Judging from the initial reaction to the loss on the Internet, on TV, on the radio, etc. you’d think that Michigan hasn’t won a game this season. Was it an ugly loss? Absolutely, this team, primarily the offense, evidently has work to do. I think the bizarre reactions would be ones that include fans calling for Harbaugh’s job.

As of late, Michigan hasn’t been the “leaders and best”. After seven seasons of mediocrity, three with Rich Rod, four with Brady Hoke, it’s no secret that Michigan fans are becoming inpatient with not beating their rivals, not winning Big Ten titles, not making the playoffs, and not winning a national title.

Michigan hasn’t won a conference title since ’04, and also hasn’t won a national title since ’97. The Wolverines have beaten their arch-rival, Ohio State, just three times this millennia (2000, 2003, 2011), current Buckeye head coach, Urban Meyer, is 5-0 in this rivalry game. MSU head coach, Mark Dantonio has beaten Michigan in eight out of eleven meetings, 2-1 against Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan program.

The thought of Harbaugh, the former Michigan quarterback, leaving the NFL to come back and coach his alma-mater was something for this fan base to dream about. Well, that dream is now a reality, and the reality is that whether you like what he’s done thus far or not, the man is a helluva football coach, and that’s not a question.

Through 31 games at Michigan, Jim Harbaugh is 24-7 with two ten win seasons, 1-1 in bowl games, 1-4 against rivals. Clearly the rivalry record isn’t ideal, and I’m sure that Harbaugh and his staff would agree.

Michigan has entered the 2017-18 season as the least experienced team in the nation based off losing over 40 seniors, and 11 NFL draft picks. Of course they’ve recruited well, Michigan is one of the easiest recruiting jobs in the country, but this is a young team, a talented young team, but still a young team. This is not an excuse by any means, it’s just a hard soil fact.

It’s fair to be critical over Harbaugh’s play-calling, the tenacity his teams bring to rivalry games, and the incompetence of the offense in year three. I’ll be the first one to tell you that if Jim Harbaugh doesn’t start winning these rivalry games, his seat is eventually going to get hot.

Right now, through 31 games, after he’s been the biggest reason for Michigan becoming nationally relevant once again, it’s not fair to say that his job is on the line. We’re allowed to have high expectations, but we need to have patience because building an NFL-machine, national title-winning, powerhouse of a program takes time.

The wins will come, and hopefully so will the conference/national titles. As a fan-base, let’s not run Jim Harbaugh out-of-town, criticize him when he may deserve it, but we can’t throw our coach under the bus. Any team in the country, college or pro, with an open slot at head coach would be thrilled to take Harbaugh off our hands, and that’s not what we want.

Michigan fans will always have high expectations, but keep in mind how bad their recent history has been, and also keep in mind that this program is trending upwards in terms of national relevance, recruiting, and winning. Patience is everything.

 

Honeymoon Over, Time to Win

In late December of 2014, Michigan fans had just suffered through, yet another, head coach’s tenure which consisted of mostly unwatchable, non bowl-eligible caliber football. The fan-base of the winningest program in college football history needed a change.

Bring in Jim Harbaugh: former Michigan quarterback, lengthy playing career in the NFL, the guy who resurrected the Stanford football program, the Super Bowl 47 runner-up, respected name in the coaching carousel.

Doesn’t get any better than Harbaugh, right? He’s been keeping Michigan in the headlines, he’s hysterically obnoxious on the sidelines, recruits in very unique ways, and he’s a Michigan man.

The head coach’s first two seasons with the program were simple: put UM back on the national relevance map, make waves on the recruiting trail, build a powerhouse program. 20-6 in the first two seasons, 1-1 bowl record, 1-4 in chief rivalry games (only win over a 3-9 MSU team), and back-to-back top ten recruiting classes.

You won’t find a head coaching job in America that expresses the importance of beating your rivals the way Michigan does.

Jim Harbaugh is 4-1 in early October for the 2017-18 season; after an ugly loss to in-state rival, MSU, some of the fan-base has officially began to give constructive criticism on their beloved head coach. Play-calling was a big issue in the eyes of many: the decision to throw the football as much as they did in a monsoon, failing to target Zach Gentry in the passing game, or giving Karan Higedon just 12 touches despite being the most productive back for Michigan (5.4 YPC).

On the defensive side of the ball, there really isn’t much you can ask for. When your offense turns the ball over five times and your defense only allows 14 points, that’s a championship defense.

In Jim Harbaugh’s third season, wouldn’t you think that Michigan should have, at the very least, a quarterback and an offense who can give enough ‘run support’ to win a football game if your defense shuts out a team in the 2nd half?

Michigan was out-coached, outplayed, and flat-out did not deserve to win this football game. Jim Harbaugh, and his staff get paid far too much money to lose a game like this one, there is no excuse to justify what happened in the Big House on Saturday.

For me, it wasn’t just that they lost, the way they lost is what really stung. Repeatedly shot themselves in the foot offensively, and could not capitalize on the opportunities given to them time after time. Michigan is a team that is evidently more talented that Michigan State — it’s obvious, look at the recruiting classes. Michigan isn’t a poorly coached team, but they were simply out coached by Mark Dantonio and his staff.

Michigan has everything needed to be a national powerhouse: a top-tier coaching staff with years of NFL experience, multiple top ten recruiting classes, endless hype and publicity that most programs strive to have. What is the missing recipe? Why can’t Michigan win these big games?

The seat isn’t hot for Jim Harbaugh, but how long before it starts getting warm? Beating Ohio State in November would change the picture, but a loss would mean Harbaugh’s rivalry game record falls to 1-5. When you’re paying a coach nine million annually, you expect them to win more than one rivalry game per every three seasons.

Maybe I’m part of the fan-base that’s overreacting, and maybe I just need to give Harbaugh’s program more time and have patience. Michigan fans demand a lot, they have very high expectations and standards; we’re all growing at least a little impatient after watching Michigan football from 2008-2014.

Bottom line is that pressure to win is more real than it’s ever been for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. I won’t be able to stomach another off-season of Harbaugh making headlines for doing weird, quirky, recruiting tactics if he’s 0-3 against the Buckeyes. If you want to go to Rome, climb trees, sleep at recruit’s houses, jump off a diving board into a pool fully clothed, have a podcast, and to separate yourself from the other CFB coaches in the media…beat a rival, win a big game, win a Big Ten championship, make the playoffs.