Following Saturday’s 42-13 thrashing at the hands of #2 Penn State, one should examine what is really going on at the University of Michigan. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s arrival at Michigan came with hopes of national championships and a true return to the big stage for one of college football’s most historically prestigious programs. His fiery nature and sideline antics was the perfect fit for a team like Michigan that has thrived on playing the villain throughout the years. Harbaugh also brought with him a solid track record of success, reaching a Super Bowl in the NFL as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers after playing the central role in the resurgence of the Stanford program out west.
Coach Harbaugh has proved to be a very capable head coach every step of the way. But is he good enough to fulfill the vision Michigan had when he was brought in to restore the program? With an 0-2 record vs Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes and a 1-2 record vs in-state foe Michigan State, Harbaugh has just one win against UM’s most hated rivals. The program has also shown only moderate success against other top programs under Harbaugh, posting a 4-5 record vs Top 25 opponents since Harbaugh take over at Michigan in 2015. To put that in perspective, Urban Meyer and Chris Petersen, last year’s Playoff losers, are 6-3 and 6-4 vs ranked opponents, respectively, during the same stretch. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is 12-1 while Alabama’s Nick Saban is an astounding 18-2 in Top 25 matchups since 2015. Michigan simply is not winning the big games the top programs are winning under Harbaugh.
For a more positive perspective, Harbaugh and the Wolverines do still have showdowns with Wisconsin and Ohio State left on the schedule. The two contests against Top 10 opponents will grant Coach Harbaugh one final chance to rewrite the narrative that is continuing into 2017. The upcoming games are double sided, though, as a third straight lose to Ohio State would surely deal a death blow to Harbaugh’s claim as an elite college football coach.
Jim Harbaugh is not a bad college football coach, not by any means. He is 25-8 at Michigan and has split the two bowl games he has led the Wolverines to. The unfortunate thing for Harbaugh, and the University of Michigan, is that he just might not be a great college football coach. He might not be the one to bring Michigan back up to college football prominence and contend with the elites once again. The one to bring the Wolverines their first national championship since sharing the title with Nebraska in 1999. Under Harbaugh, the Michigan Wolverines are a good but not great football team. As long as Harbaugh is there, that is likely how they will stay.