Michigan lost to a rival, again, in close fashion. It didn’t take long for the Jim Harbaugh critics to come out in force. Somebody even took time out from monitoring ESPN to call him the most overrated coach in college football.
Harbaugh and Michigan are lightning rods, and so that’s how something like Oklahoma losing at home to Iowa State while giving up repeated big plays late results in less of a drop in the polls than Michigan losing by 4 to Michigan State when being -5 in turnovers. Does that make sense? No, but Jim Harbaugh is overrated and let’s pile on!
Jim Harbaugh is now 1-4 against Michigan State and Ohio State, and is 24-7 overall at Michigan. Oh, and maybe you’ve seen this, but Brady Hoke was also 24-7 at Michigan to start, so oh my gosh he’s so overrated he’s Brady Hoke.
Except, well, the Big Ten has been a much better conference since Harbaugh joined compared to when Hoke was there, the East particularly, and last year, Michigan split with Penn State and Ohio State, losing the latter in overtime on the road and dominating the former, and faced a different schedule against the West.
Oh, and Brady Hoke’s third team got off to a riveting 5-0 start that included close victories over Akron and Connecticut. The comparisons will almost assuredly end with this 31st game, though. Hoke’s team went 2-6 the rest of the year in conference and bowl play and then went 5-7 a year later.
I feel pretty comfortable saying that those who are jumping on Harbaugh now are going to look dumb in a few years. Yes, this is a re-loading year, and the road schedule has some challenges. 8-4 is possible. But Michigan has consistently been a top 12 team under Harbaugh, and if anything could have done better. (Hoke’s second season finished at #24, and unranked in year 3). Hoke’s teams were 8-4 in close games decided by 8 or less through the first 31. Harbaugh’s are 3-6. But close game results are notoriously fickle (Hoke’s record collapsed in part because that changed for him).
They are still, after the Michigan State result, in the top 10 in “simple rating system” ranking, which is just point differential and strength of schedule. They finished 5th in each of the last two seasons. They have been consistently one of the best teams in the country and still are. The quarterback play has been shaky but even with all the roster turnover in 2017, the defense is stout. They barely lost a game where they turned the ball over repeatedly.
Besides Hoke, here are other major school hires who were within one win of Harbaugh through 31 games:
Jimbo Fisher 23-8 (Florida State)
Steve Spurrier 25-6 (Florida)
Mark Richt 25-6 (Georgia)
Nick Saban 23-8 (LSU)
Lloyd Carr 23-8 (Michigan)
Bo Pelini 23-8 (Nebraska)
Philip Fulmer 23-7-1 (Tennessee)
Over half those guys won a national title. Spurrier’s 3rd year started off with 2 losses and finished with 4, and could have been viewed as a step backward. You can find any comparison point but I feel pretty comfortable putting this out there.
(1) Jim Harbaugh’s teams have been better or as good as you might expect to this point.
(2) Jim Harbaugh’s teams have come up short in key moments so far. But that’s not necessarily something that holds forever.
(3) They are probably going to be a top 6 program over the next four years and have a good chance to win a title.
Heck, I’m not even writing them off from emerging from the Big Ten East gauntlet this year and it’s wide open between Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State.