B1G 5: Was Michigan sold a dream that Jim Harbaugh can't deliver?
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
There’s a saying in NFL locker rooms that players use when they feel one of their own is underperforming: That guy is stealing.
Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Harbaugh is stealing.
As Harbaugh begins his 6th season in Ann Arbor this weekend, the undeniable can no longer be ignored: Was Michigan sold a dream Harbaugh can’t deliver?
At $8 million a year.
“I really feel like this team is at a championship level,” Harbaugh said Monday during his weekly press conference.
It is here where it’s appropriate to remind everyone that Michigan:
— Hasn’t won the Big Ten East Division under Harbaugh, much less the Big Ten – which is job No. 1.
— Hasn’t beaten bitter rival Ohio State under Harbaugh – also, job No. 1.
Yet here’s the rub: despite those prominent failures, Harbaugh’s standing at Michigan has never been stronger.
His supporters (of which there are many within the university power structure) say he’s averaging nearly 10 wins a season, Michigan’s graduation rate is among the best in the FBS and there are no NCAA issues.
Besides, Ohio State has owned the Big Ten. The only team(s) that consistently beat the Buckeyes are outside the conference.
To this I say: This is really where you want to go?
The winningest program in college football history is now settling for No. 2 (or in most Harbaugh years, 3, 4 or 5) in the Big Ten because of graduation rates and clean NCAA books.
I’m going to puke.
Listen, before you get all high and mighty about Michigan and its standards, let me remind you that in Harbaugh’s 5 seasons in Ann Arbor, Ohio State has won 3 Big Ten titles. Michigan State (see: that team Michigan looks down on) won it once, so did Penn State.
Both have beaten Ohio State.
Harbaugh is 1-4 in bowl games, and 5-6 overall vs. Power 5 teams outside the Big Ten. If you’re comparing Harbaugh’s 47-18 record (32-12, Big Ten) to what unfolded prior to his arrival, there’s no argument.
Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke were unmitigated disasters; one a terrible fit, and one who never should have had the job in the first place.
Then came Harbaugh, on his shiny white horse, to save the day. This was Captain Comeback, the former Michigan quarterback who was the closest thing to have the almighty himself, Bo Schembechler, back on campus.
He won at Stanford, won in the NFL and developed elite quarterbacks at both levels. It was everything Michigan could’ve dreamed about and hoped for, tied together with a beautiful maize and blue bow.
But a funny thing happened along the way to Camelot: expectations haven’t aligned with reality.
When the messiah doesn’t deliver, the ugly losses outshine the significant wins by a long, long way.
We don’t remember Harbaugh beat up SEC runner-up Florida in his first bowl game. We remember the 4 bowls losses since, including an ugly meltdown to South Carolina. That’s right, I said South Carolina.
No one remembers last year’s impressive rout of Notre Dame. A month earlier, Wisconsin emasculated Michigan, and two months after the Notre Dmae wins, Alabama did the same to the Wolverines.
One step forward, three (or more) steps back. Not exactly high and mighty at $8 million a year.
2. It’s a QB thing
Jake Rudock. Wilton Speight. John O’Korn. Brandon Peters. Shea Patterson. Dylan McCaffrey.
And now Joe Milton.
Want to know why Harbaugh hasn’t won big at Michigan? Because he can’t do the very thing he was hired to do: recruit and develop an elite quarterback.
He got Andrew Luck to Stanford because Luck was a unique student-athlete who wanted to challenge himself on and off the field – and ignored Alabama and Texas to sign with Stanford.
Luck played 2 seasons at Stanford (he redshirted), and frankly, didn’t need much coaching. Other than Luck, who has Harbaugh recruited and developed at the collegiate level that has become anything other than an afterthought?
His 3 best – and by best, I mean most productive – quarterbacks at Michigan were all transfers: Ruddock, O’Korn, Patterson. Speight, who played well in spots, was recruited by Hoke.
McCaffrey, a 5-star recruit, opted out of the season and is considering a transfer. None of Harbaugh’s Michigan quarterbacks are playing in the NFL.
Now comes Milton, whom Harbaugh praised Monday for his development as a thrower.
“He has made a lot of strides,” Harbaugh said.
A ringing endorsement if there ever was one.
3. Chasing greatness, The Epilogue
Harbaugh is the only Power 5 coach with less than 2 years remaining on his contract.
Harbaugh said Monday he was in discussions with Michigan earlier this year before the pandemic hit, and Michigan’s administration has since had “bigger fish to fry.”
Harbaugh still is working under his original 7-year deal, one that initially began at $5 million a year but has since grown to the current $8 million. He recently took a 10% pay cut as part of Michigan’s cost-saving measures during the pandemic.
The backdrop of this looming contract negotiation is this: Ohio State has its best team in years, and Buckeyes coach Ryan Day has already reportedly threatened to “hang a hundred” on Michigan after an alleged dustup between Day and Harbaugh during an offseason coaches conference call.
If Ohio State routs Michigan (again), and the Wolverines can’t win the Big Ten East (again), and the only consolation is another meaningless bowl game, what does Michigan do with the coach that has very clearly underperformed where it matters most?
The Big Ten Power Poll – and one big thing.
1. Ohio State: What’s not to like? The Buckeyes are loaded and benefitted from the NCAA allowing players to return to their teams after opting out. CB Shaun Wade and G Wyatt Davis are the elite of their respective positions in college football.
2. Penn State: This team will go as far as QB Sean Clifford can take them. They’re balanced and athletic on both sides of the ball – and Clifford has the talent to have a special season.
3. Wisconsin: We don’t know how long QB Jack Coan will be out, and now Graham Mertz – the biggest quarterback recruit (and maybe biggest overall recruit) in program history — gets his shot.
4. Minnesota: No team benefitted from players returning from opting out as much as the Gophers. Can’t wait to watch QB Tanner Morgan to WR Rashod Bateman go to work.
5. Michigan: It’s all about the quarterback at Michigan, which hasn’t had one among the conference elite in 5 previous seasons under Harbaugh. Milton, a raw but gifted project, is next up.
6. Indiana: QB Michael Penix Jr. is fun to watch, and a terror for defenses. The Hoosiers need to break through at least once against the conference elite.
7. Iowa: It’s hard to imagine a tumultuous team offseason not impacting this already stressful 2020 season. Don’t be surprised if this is Kirk Ferentz’s last season at Iowa.
8. Nebraska: it doesn’t matter what Scott Frost can bring culture-wise to the program. On Saturdays, it’s about dudes on the field. And Nebraska still is well behind the league elite in difference-makers.
9. Purdue: The return of dynamic WR Rondale Moore from the opt-out list is critical for a team still searching for continuity (and steady quarterback play) on offense.
10. Illinois: The Illini showed fight last season, got back to a bowl game and saved the university from having to make a tough decision regarding coach Lovie Smith. There are too many questions on the lines of scrimmage to think 2020 automatically gets better.
11. Michigan State: This is a rebuild. And it won’t be pretty this fall. One key advantage for Mel Tucker: His tough-guy mentality fits perfectly with what former MSU coach Mark Dantonio preached all those successful years in East Lansing.
12. Northwestern: The offense last season was, in a word, awful. They had high hopes for Clemson transfer QB Hunter Johnson. Now another transfer, Peyton Ramsey from Indiana, is likely next up.
13. Maryland: The Terps hired Locksley after the 2018 season because he’s a local guy who can recruit. There’s plenty of heavy lifting – on the recruiting trail and the field — ahead.
14. Rutgers: The worst Power 5 team in America. Maybe there some comfort level there with Greg Schiano as he begins his second tenure in Piscataway. He has done it before, just not at this conference level.
The Weekly Five
Five picks against the spread.
- Illinois (+20) at Wisconsin
- Penn State (-6.5) at Indiana
- Nebraska at Ohio State (-26)
- Iowa (-3.5) at Purdue
- Michigan at Minnesota (+3)