It’s been nearly four years since the infamous plane ride that saw University of Michigan officials head to Northern California to talk Jim Harbaugh into coming home. Harbaugh was fresh off of the heels of being fired by the San Francisco 49ers as their head coach, but his alma mater was more than happy to take him in. In the seven years for Michigan Wolverines football following the retirement of head football coach Lloyd Carr in 2007, their record was 46-42 which included a 1-6 mark versus the Ohio State Buckeyes as well as going 1-6 versus the Michigan State Spartans.
The return of Harbaugh was supposed to remedy that due to the fact that he knows what it takes to win at Michigan along with his revitalization of the Stanford Cardinal football program as in four years he took them from being cellar dwellers to contenders in the Pac-10 Conference as well as his 44-19-1 mark during his four years in the National Football League as the head coach of the 49ers which included a Super Bowl appearance.
Harbaugh’s return to Michigan has resulted in the Wolverines once again becoming respectable. The Wolverines are on the verge of finishing the season ranked for the third time in four years under Harbaugh which should include them heading to a big payout from a New Year’s Six Bowl Game as they finished the regular season with a record of 10-2. Under Harbaugh, the Wolverines are 38-12 which includes a 26-8 mark in the Big Ten. But there are two things that Harbaugh was brought to Michigan to do and he has yet to accomplish which are to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten.
For the second time in the last three years, Michigan headed into their regular season finale needing to defeat their arch rivals in Ohio State in order to win the Big Ten East and advance to the conference title game. And in each of those situations, the Wolverines have come up short.
This college football season began with a ton of questions for Michigan as to whether or not that Harbaugh could get it done for them. The Wolverines finished 2017 with a record of 8-5 which included losing to Ohio State, Michigan State, and the Penn State Nittany Lions. And those questions as to whether or not that Harbaugh could get it done in the big game at Michigan only intensified when the Wolverines dropped their season opener versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 24-17.
But after the loss to Notre Dame, Michigan would rebound to win their next ten games which included dominating wins over Penn State, Michigan State, and the Wisconsin Badgers. The Wolverines also boasted the top defense in the nation which only added to the thought that maybe this would be the year where everything would come together for them under Harbaugh. However Ohio State would have something to say about that as not only did they defeat Michigan, but they embarrassed them in the process.
At the end of 60 football minutes this past Saturday, Ohio State managed to roll up 62 points on proud Michigan which included racking up 567 yards on the nation’s top defense. All game long it appeared that Ohio State was playing at a different speed as Michigan never had an answer for the precision in every phase of the game by the Buckeyes. And after Michigan was taken behind the woodshed this past Saturday in Columbus, Harbaugh just earned himself another 365 days worth of criticism and question marks.
Make no mistake about it that Harbaugh is still one of the best head coaches on the college football scene due to his ability to recruit as well as motivate his players, but even he cannot avoid the big “what if?” At Michigan, being able to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten are prerequisites. But even Harbaugh has been unable to keep one of the best rivalries in sports from being one-sided in favor of the guys from Columbus.
Now as Michigan awaits to see if they’ll be playing in the Rose, Fiesta, or Sugar Bowl for New Year’s, they will attempt to do what they’ve recently become accustomed to doing which is to lick their wounds following another setback versus Ohio State. And it will be back to the drawing board for Harbaugh as the defense that supposed to slow down the potent Ohio State offense was carved like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Harbaugh still has a wealth of support inside of the Michigan family, but how much longer will or the Wolverines have to wait before they can get the best of Ohio State and win the Big Ten? Only time will tell.