When Jim Harbaugh became the head football coach of the Michigan Wolverines in 2015, he was greeted in Ann Arbor with a hero’s welcome. Harbaugh came to Michigan fresh off of a four-year stint as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football League where he compiled a record of 44-19-1 which included a Super Bowl berth and three consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances. Prior to Harbaugh having success with the 49ers, he had reversed the fortunes of the Stanford Cardinal which included an Orange Bowl victory to culminate the 2010 college football season as the Cardinal finished with a record of 12-1. And the impact that Harbaugh had with both Stanford as well as the Niners made him a hot commodity on the coaching scene.
Upon coming to Michigan, Harbaugh was expected to restore a Michigan program that was a national power which had fallen on hard times. In Michigan’s prior six seasons, they had three losing campaigns, while they have not been able to win the Big Ten Conference since 2003.
Harbaugh was able to immediately restore some order for the Wolverines as in his first season he led Michigan to 10 wins. The Wolverines would follow this up in 2016 by going 10-3 for the second consecutive year and they finished in the top 10 of the Associated Press Poll for the first time since 2006. But as good as things have been for Harbaugh in Ann Arbor, there is a big storm cloud hanging over his head which is that school to the south.
You’d be hard pressed to find that many rivalries in college football which are more intense than the one that Michigan has with the Ohio State Buckeyes. Between Michigan and Ohio State, they have combined to win 77 Big Ten Championships which has also led to 34 Rose Bowl Game appearances. Michigan leads the all-time series 58-49-6, but this rivalry has recently been dominated by the Buckeyes.
Since 2001, Ohio State is 15-2 versus Michigan with the Wolverines not securing a victory since 2011, while they’ve failed to defeat the Buckeyes in Columbus since 2000.
For Harbaugh, he was supposed to be the guy that changed things around in this rivalry, but versus Ohio State he is 0-3, while he is only 1-2 versus the Michigan State Spartans, while losing both meetings in Ann Arbor versus the squad from East Lansing. And what this equates to is a Michigan team that is good, but not great which fairly or unfairly falls into the lap of Harbaugh.
The hype was immense for Harbaugh when he came to Michigan, and rightfully so due to his resume, but it is obvious that the complete turnaround in Ann Arbor won’t be as quick as it was initially anticipated to be. Harbuagh has brought in quality recruiting classes which is evident by the fact that Michigan consistently has had one of the top defenses under him. But that has not carried over to the offense which is supposed to be Harbaugh’s specialty.
The Wolverines are third in the nation this season in total defense, but this dominance has not carried over to their offense which is 101st in the nation in total offense. And these struggles on offense have shown up in the big games as in Michigan’s four losses this season they have combined to score 53 points.
Harbaugh has been deemed as a quarterback guru, but none of the three signal callers that he has used this season have been able to complete 60% of their respective passes. And combined, Michigan quarterbacks have only passed for 2,023 yards which is 112th in the nation as this is an issue that’ll continue to impede the progress of his team. This lack of having an impact player at quarterback is something that will continue to hurt Michigan as of their commits for next year, none of them are quarterbacks.
But even with that Michigan is 28-10 under Harbaugh, while they are 18-8 within the Big Ten. And Michigan can also take solace in knowing that the four teams that they lost to this season are a combined 41-7 with two of them in Ohio State and the Wisconsin Badgers set to meet for the Big Ten Championship this Saturday, while the other two in Penn State and Michigan State are in line to play in New Year’s Six Bowl Games.
However getting moral victories is not what Michigan football is all about which means that Harbaugh must find a way to consistently win the big games; especially when it comes to facing Ohio State.
The Big Ten Championship has been in place since 2011 and yet one of the conference’s premier football programs in Michigan has yet to make its way to Indianapolis. Harbaugh is still a revered and respected figure in Ann Arbor, but the honeymoon period appears to be over as another loss to the Buckeyes in 2018 will have the folks who follow the maize and blue beginning to question the direction in which their program is heading.