But while Harbaugh’s been tremendous selling the Michigan experience and becoming the most talked-about coach in college football, at what point does he have to make the leap from 10-3 and 3rd place in his division, to reaching the college football playoff?
For example: Jim Harbaugh in two years at Michigan: 20-6.
Less talked about: Paul Chryst during that same time at Wisconsin, albeit in the lesser division: 21-6. James Franklin at Penn State, in his 3rd season at Penn State: 11-3, tying Ohio State for the division crown, and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Urban Meyer was 24-2 in his first two years at Ohio State, and didn’t lose a game in the Big Ten. In year three, he won a National title.
At established programs, several Big Ten coaches have found quick success in recent years.
I’m a big believer in patience and baby steps, as opposed to throwing Hail Mary passes and trying to make quantum leaps. You can get away with slow and steady if you dial down the bluster and handle your business quietly.
Harbaugh hasn’t done that. And he’s set himself up for a potentially brutal year in Ann Arbor:
- The schedule is challenging. They open vs. Florida in Texas, and they’re only 4.5-point favorites. The Gators probably have a better shot if they start former Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire. Florida returns 14 starters; Michigan just six. The Wolverines are actually 14-point underdogs at Penn State (Oct. 21) and 8-point dogs vs. Ohio State (Nov. 25). Toss in trips to Wisconsin (Michigan hasn’t won there since 2001, going 0-3) and the rivalry showdown with Michigan State, and it’s possible that in a worst-case scenario, Harbaugh could be in for a 5-loss regular season.
- I say worst case because of this: Michigan lost 11 players to the NFL draft. They’ve got freshman at WR, two freshman on the starting offensive line, and the secondary has three freshman. Expect returning QBs like JT Barrett (OSU) and Trace McSorley (PSU) to torch the Wolverines.
If Michigan loses four or five games, Harbaugh could spin it as a “transition year,” with all the departures … but then does the discussion shift to, “Harbaugh exceeded expectations” the first two years … to “well, he won with Brady Hoke’s players.”
And when the media turns the screws on Harbaugh for all his offseason antics and coming up small on the field, one wonders: When will he throw up his hands and wonder about getting back to the NFL?
No pressure, Harbaugh.