During the on-field postgame interview with ABC, following a 59-18 win over Maryland, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked about the meaning of the victory, or something like that.

He responded with: “We’re in the position we wanted to (be in).”

At 10-1, Michigan has fought its way through the No. 10-ranked strength of schedule en route to a date with destiny this weekend with guest Ohio State.

Scenarios like these are the reason why Harbaugh took over at Michigan in 2015. College football has been waiting for this for weeks, back when it became clear that the Wolverines were on track for a pretty good season (likely after 38-17 win at Wisconsin, let’s go with that).

Three months ago, not many were giving the Wolverines much of a chance of getting this far. Most preseason projections had UM as a 6- or 7-win team, mostly due to its 2-4 finish in 2020. Today, Harbaugh has his fourth 10-win season in Ann Arbor and, for the second time, a serious shot at a College Football Playoff berth.

In 2016, the CFP dreams were pretty much erased by a 14-13 loss at Iowa in Week 10. Michigan has never been in the thick of the CFP during the final week of the regular season (so take that, Harbaugh haters). Ohio State may be overwhelming favorites, but this year’s meeting could end up turning out a little differently than in previous years.

If this is where Michigan “wanted to be,” it’s worth taking a look at how it landed in this spot.

First 4

The first 4 games are always important. They provide a glimpse into what a team could be down the road and, in this case — for teams like Michigan — they provide an opportunity for young players to get a lot of action.

The Wolverines scored a lot of points and ran the hell out of the ball during that stretch. They learned that they had one of the nation’s best tandems in RBs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins. Remember, Michigan was once viewed as a run-heavy team. That one-dimensional style wouldn’t bode well for the rest of the season, said media.

Well, that probably would have been true. Not many teams can run the same stuff every week and win games. Eventually, the opposition catches onto the whole thing and shuts down the running game.

However, Michigan was simply developing one side of the offense.

Game No. 5: Go aerial

When it came time to play Wisconsin, the biggest game of the year at that point, Michigan opened up the playbook. Instead of throwing 14-16 times, Cade McNamara completed 17 of 28 attempts for 197 yards. He’s attempted at least 27 passes every week since then, with the exception of a 10-for-18 performance against Indiana.

McNamara couldn’t throw, critics said. He couldn’t complete the deep ball, critics said. Michigan couldn’t stretch the field with its passing game, critics said.

The Wolverines don’t have the vertical threat of Ohio State (who does?), but they do have enough talent at QB and WR to go deep. Think of how many UM receivers have had receptions of at least 40 yards this year. Think of how many of those deep strikes resulted in touchdowns. We’ll save that analysis for another day. But players such as Daylen Baldwin, Roman Wilson, Cornelius Johnson, Donovan Edwards, Erick All — and probably a couple of others — have all hit big-time payloads.

Michigan has a respectable passing game. Balance was questioned, but now it’s been answered: Yes, the Wolverines have a nice two-way thing going with the run and the pass. There was never an issue in that regard.

Early reps

Development looks to be there, as usual. Harbaugh has always liked giving young players chances to play. He did that early on with a handful, but two of his key newcomers have continued seeing the field, all the way into the final week of the regular season.

Quarterback JJ McCarthy and running back Donovan Edwards immediately received reps this year, prepping them for what they’ve become today: McCarthy might only see a couple of plays at a time, but he’s proven that he can help create points. He’s thrown 3 TDs in 33 passing attempts — and he’s also scored a rushing TD.

The true freshman has a bright future within the Wolverines’ offense. Once he settles into the position, McCarthy should evolve into a true star for the Wolverines. He can scramble, make plays, and he’s maturing in terms of the way he reads the defense. Yes, he’s made some mistakes — fumble, interception — but he appears to be learning each week.

Edwards, also a true freshman, set a Michigan single-game record Saturday vs. Maryland, catching 10 passes for 170 yards. One of those catches was a 77-yard touchdown reception via McCarthy. McCarthy-to-Edwards will be a lethal combination in the upcoming seasons, that much seems pretty certain.

If Michigan, as a team, is where it wants to be, imagine how Edwards and McCarthy feel right about now. They’ve been season-long contributors for a Big Ten title contender/CFP-hopeful.

Look at Andrel Anthony. His first TD was a 93-yarder at Michigan State, and he continues to see the field and get opportunities. With a nice 18-yard grab against Maryland, the true frosh WR continues to show that he could be a difference-maker.

Michigan has a long list of playmakers. There’s no doubt that all hands will be on-deck Saturday vs. the Buckeyes, so expect anything from anyone. Could be a veteran, could be a true freshman.


This topic has been addressed all season; but without its defense, Michigan wouldn’t be in its current position. The duo of DE Aidan Hutchinson and LB David Ojabo has become a fixture of national conversation. They are mentioned across all networks and platforms, by all types of analysts, all of the time. Yeah, they’re pretty good.

They’ll have to apply the most pressure they’ve ever applied if they hope to slow down Buckeyes QB CJ Stroud, who made Michigan State look like it didn’t belong on the same field during Saturday’s 56-7 offensive gala in Columbus. Michigan’s secondary has had hiccups this season, but those issues began to slowly correct themselves as the Wolverines settled into Big Ten play.

Stopping the run was never the issue. Michigan has only given up 9 rushing touchdowns and gives up 3.6 yards per carry (No. 34 overall). UM has the No. 8-ranked total defense in the nation, too. Saturday, it’ll face the No. 1-ranked total offense in the country, so it’ll be a test of who breaks and who bends.

Home stretch

Of course, other instances could be cited — but the above mentioned pretty much highlights the major steps taken by the Wolverines this year. They established a strong run game in the first 4 games, only to expand the offense in the following weeks. Meanwhile, the defense was in typical form and a quarterback gained confidence. Some guys developed into season-long contributors.

There will be more to review at a later date, but this pretty much covers the Wolverines’ track to 10-1 and Big Ten contention.