“Michigan fans, this is for real.”
That is what Fox Sports commentator Joel Klatt declared immediately following a solid Michigan football victory over in-state rival Michigan State. The Wolverines were finally able to defeat a top-25 team on the road and overcome one of their top rivals, previously one of the biggest knocks on head coach Jim Harbaugh.
The win, many argue, validates Harbaugh as a great Michigan coach. They say, as Klatt did, that Harbaugh’s history in Ann Arbor has been a successful one, and that Michigan fans should be very pleased with him at the helm. As a Michigan fan myself, I’m here to say: Hold your horses, everybody.
Let’s take an honest look at Harbaugh’s tenure at the University of Michigan. His first season in 2015 can accurately be called a success, given that he took a five-win team and turned it into a 10-win team, exceeding expectations. However, that season also featured a disastrous loss to the Spartans and a blowout defeat against Ohio State in the most important game on the schedule, both of those at home. Michigan concluded the year defeating Florida in the Citrus Bowl.
In 2016, expectations were much higher, and Michigan started out the year on track to meet them, starting off the season 9-0. Then the season spiraled down to the ground. A flat loss at Iowa was followed two weeks later by a heart-crushing defeat to Ohio State. The Wolverines didn’t make the College Football Playoff, nor could they even earn a Rose Bowl berth. The team instead went to the Orange Bowl, and even then they couldn’t come out on top, dropping the game to an irrefutably inferior Florida State squad.
Last year was a very underwhelming season for Harbaugh’s team. Michigan lost against nearly every ranked team it faced, looking like a second-tier team below the Big Ten’s top contenders. The Wolverines mustered just eight victories that year and lost in a minor bowl game to South Carolina.
Yes, Harbaugh brought this team back from a Rich Rodriguez/Brady Hoke wasteland, an important first step on the road back to former glory. But we’re now in the fourth year of Harbaugh’s tenure, and Michigan has failed to take the next step into top-tier football. Citrus Bowl victories over Florida isn’t the peak of Michigan football, and not what Harbaugh was hired to accomplish.
Harbaugh was hired by Michigan to win national titles. Harbaugh was hired to win Rose Bowls. Harbaugh was hired to secure Big Ten Championships. And yes, Harbaugh was hired to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes. Thus far, Harbaugh has yet to accomplish any of those things.
Now, that isn’t to say that this isn’t the year that the Wolverines will finally get over the hump. The team is finally set at quarterback with Shea Patterson, and defensive coordinator/mastermind Don Brown has his defense playing as well as ever. But that doesn’t change the fact that Michigan isn’t there yet.
The team next has to face Penn State at home, a touch matchup against a ranked team. Indiana also lurks on the schedule, a team that has given Harbaugh’s Wolverines a surprising amount of trouble the past three times they’ve met. Top that off with a trip to the horseshoe to face the Buckeyes, and if they get past all that, a Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin or Iowa. All of that just to reach the playoff, and not a millimeter of room for error.
If the Wolverines get past all of that and into the College Football Playoff, then I’d be more than happy to jump on the Harbaugh train. Until then, Harbaugh’s record stands for what it is. And a single win over Michigan State does very little to change that.