As our Big Ten preview coverage continues, The Comeback’s college football staff came together to share some thoughts about the one and only Jim Harbaugh. The head coach of the Michigan Wolverines enters his third season in Ann Arbor and finds himself looking to find a way to finish higher than third place in the Big Ten East for the first time.
This week’s roundtable question actually asked the staff to look into their crystal balls and predict what the situation will be with Michigan and Harbaugh. For the amount of money Michigan is investing in Harbaugh, his staff’s salaries and overseas trips for the entire football program, one has to wonder just how long the Harbaugh hype machine can continue to work its magic if the results on the field do not lead to a Big Ten championship.
Is it too soon to start looking at Harbaugh’s run at Michigan in a different light if things do not pan out this fall, or is there still plenty of milk left in the bottle to keep everything running on positivity for the Wolverines?
Our staff weighs in with their thoughts…
Phil: What has Harbaugh really done for Michigan? Okay, so there are some really good recruiting classes, but someone by the name of Brady Hoke also hauled in some blue-chippers. I think Harbaugh is a very, very good coach and has made the Michigan brand relevant again, but he’s still got something to prove. He’s yet to win any sort of championship (save for the NFC title in San Francisco), hasn’t beaten his arch-rival and measuring stick in Ohio State, and as mentioned, has only finished third within the East division. Anyone else and there would likely be some more teeth gnashing and hand-ringing.
Go to this year, and it might be tough to turn the corner yet again. I know the thought is that there’s enough talent on the roster to fill in the holes left because of graduation and NFL departures, but you can’t return just one starter on the defensive side of the ball — and five total — and not lose production on the field. Penn State will be lights out, Ohio State’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and look for Michigan State to rebound. And that’s just in the East division.
So yeah. Look for the hype to slow a little after this year. And I’ll add one more thing. If he doesn’t start picking up some hardware soon, the Twitter rants, uncomfortable press conferences and crazy publicity stunts will start to wear on the administration I think.
All that being said, if he can get something big done in 2017, he deserves that hype that has seemed to follow him. Then maybe he can truly say “Who’s Got It Better Than Us?” That’s going to be a tall order of Fairlife milk in my opinion however.
Kevin M.: I am not at all ready to suggest the temperature on Harbaugh’s seat is ready to hit a boil, nor am I going to sit here and suggest Harbaugh should feel any pressure to prove anything this season. I will, however, stand by my belief that if Harbaugh finishes in third place and fails to beat Ohio State this season, we could begin to hear at least a slight rumble from within the Michigan community.
I say that only because of how much Michigan is investing in the program since hiring Harbaugh. Simply put, it is a ton of money to finish in third place behind your biggest rival and either an in-state foe (Michigan State in 2015) or a team you smashed on the football field (Penn State in 2016). There will be some who suggest Harbaugh needs the time to rebuild Michigan football to his liking after the Brady Hoke era, and there is no denying he has done well in recruiting to do what he needs. This being his third year, the program is now beginning to take form in Harbaugh’s vision.
Another loss to Ohio State would be tough to take, especially with the game being played at home this season. Not getting to a New Year’s Six game would be a minor setback as well. If Michigan were to lose to Florida and Penn State, some of the steam on that Harbaugh train could begin escaping.
Matt: Harbaugh has to rebuild Michigan, so to speak, after losing so much talent on both sides of the ball last year. He always brings in a massive recruiting class, and this year is no different. But what’s different from years past is that expectations aren’t quite as high for Michigan as they are for Ohio State and Penn State, therefore allowing Harbaugh to, amazingly, lay low a bit. Having to play Penn State and Wisconsin on the road is not helpful, as is an opening week date with Florida, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Michigan only picks up 8 or 9 wins this season.
The Wolverines have plenty of talent, but it’s young talent and in key spots, meaning this reload on the fly is going to take its toll behind the juggernauts in Columbus and State College this season. But maybe that does Harbaugh and Michigan a service, perhaps, although since it’s Michigan, expectations are going to be sky high regardless of the situation.
Terry: When sports media actually sticks to sports (what a concept?!), it seems like it is either talking about the SEC or what Jim Harbaugh did to get under their skin.
To be honest, I don’t understand the hype. Is Harbaugh a great coach? Certainly. But is he worth the constant media attention he receives? Definitely not. After all, he’s never won a conference — or division — title. Yet given the amount of media coverage he receives, you’d think he’s won more national championships than Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and Knute Rockne combined.
Believe it or not, I expect this trend to continue after the 2017 season. With only five starters returning, Michigan is the most inexperienced team in the nation. If the Wolverines win 10 games again this season, the media will (correctly) give him credit for doing so despite breaking in a number of new starters.
Bart: The Harbaugh Hype Machine is most appropriately, a handle of Jim Beam Fire. If you like it, you can’t get enough. If you hate it, even the smell of the stuff sends you running for the hills. But for the majority of folks, there’s a Goldilocks level of Harbaugh Hype that is acceptable and it generally corresponds with what’s done on the field.
Anti-Harbaugh holdouts point to those two third-place division finishes and fill their tummies with fun memes about how Michigan really hasn’t tangibly accomplished anything since he’s been here. Quiet Michigan fans not wanting to upset the apple cart just rock back and forth seeing those thinking, “Well, at least it’s better than Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez.”
Because I think Michigan will end up winning the Big Ten East, you can pretty much assume I think the HHM will be in full overdrive come the end of the season. The schedule isn’t impossible, though the team has a great deal to replace from last year’s club, particularly in overhauling the secondary and the wide receiver corps. But the Maize and Blue have recruited well under Jim Freakin’ Harbaugh, and the talent is certainly there to make a seamless transition.
The other sneaky aspect no one wants to really talk about when discussing Michigan’s fate since Jim came on board? The Big Ten West has arguably been the best division in college football, especially at the top. Third place isn’t great, but be careful, anti-Wolverines. Eventually, they’re going to get one (I’m guessing this year) and it’s only going to make the Fire even more unpalatable going down, and you’ll have no choice but to drink it straight from the bottle.
What do you think will be the story for Harbaugh and Michigan this time next year as we begin looking forward to the 2018 season? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter and Facebook or leave a comment below.