Exactly one month from now, Jim Harbaugh begins his fourth season at Michigan with a Week 1 trip to Notre Dame. Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines have received a lot of hype this offseason, but why?
What exactly has Harbaugh done at in Ann Arbor? He has no Big Ten title game appearances, no major bowl wins, and a 1-5 record against Michigan State and Ohio State. It is laughable that Harbaugh often gets compared to the likes of Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. To put things in perspective, Saban led Alabama to an undefeated regular season in his second season in Tuscaloosa and won the national title in his third year. Meyer went undefeated during his first season at Ohio State and won the national title two seasons later. People will wrongly claim this isn’t a fair comparison because of the amount of talent on the respective rosters even though the entire 2016-2017 Michigan defense had each starter drafted into the NFL. The narrative that Jim Harbaugh hasn’t had enough talent to win at a significant level is false.
So now that we’ve established that Harbaugh doesn’t belong on the top-tier of college football coaches, where does he belong? Still, not as high as you might think. When ranking Harbaugh amongst the coaches in his own conference, he doesn’t crack the top 5. I would rank Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio, James Franklin, Paul Chryst and Scott Frost ahead of Jim Harbaugh.
Why haven’t the Wolverines won anything of major significance under Harbaugh? In his tenure, Michigan’s biggest weakness has been their passing game. This especially should not go unnoticed because Harbaugh has the reputation as an “offensive genius” and a “Quarterback Whisperer” which is odd because Michigan’s passing game this past season was nothing short of horrendous. In total, their quarterbacks threw for a combined nine touchdowns, ten interceptions while averaging under 200 passing yards per game. To put it into perspective, Georgia Tech, who runs a triple-option offense, produced more passing touchdowns than Michigan this past season.
Will Michigan get better quarterback production this season? The reason why many people have hyped up this year’s Michigan team is due to incoming transfer Shea Patterson from Ole Miss. His numbers overall from last season aren’t bad: 63.8% completion percentage, 2,259 yards, 17 TDs, 9 INTs. However, if you take a deeper look at his season there’s not a lot to be impressed about. Patterson’s stats are heavily inflated from his first two games against inferior competition.
Not to mention, over half of Patterson’s touchdowns last season came against South Alabama and UT Martin. Further, Patterson threw for only 209 yards per game (6.1 yards per attempt), including two TDs and five picks against teams with a record of .500 or better.
Against Power 5 teams with the same supporting cast, the Rebels’ Jordan Ta’amu registered 15 total touchdowns, four interceptions and averaged 52 more passing yards per game than Patterson, who totaled just eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. The idea that Patterson is Michigan’s “savior” is laughable.
So, will Michigan live up to their hype this season? They are regarded as one of the premier programs in college football. But, should they be? They haven’t won their conference since 2004! Also, they have been flat out owned by their two biggest rivals in recent memory. The Michigan Wolverines are 2-8 in their last ten games against Michigan State and 1-13 in their previous 14 games against Ohio State.
Given that their yearly showdown with the Buckeyes is considered by many as the best rivalry in all of sports, you’d think it would be more competitive. People will point out the number of national titles the Wolverines have won. However, Michigan has just one national title since 1950. How is that at all relevant to the present? This isn’t like Nick Saban currently winning national titles what seems like every year. Michigan should not be considered an elite program and Jim Harbaugh should not be considered an elite coach.