Preview 2017: Michigan Looking For That REALLY Big Win
Michigan has been great, but the really, really big wins have to come soon.
”Who’s got it better than Michigan?”
Well, at the moment … Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State, Florida State, Alabama, Washington, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, USC …
It’s all been a hoot so far under Jim Harbaugh, but when will Michigan win something really, really big again?
It’s going to happen eventually, but after losing just about everyone, can Harbaugh finally win an FBS conference championship with a team with almost no returning starters?
And if and when he doesn’t, get ready for the detractors to kick it in full force.
Dog the two 10-3 seasons all you want, but he breathed life into the notoriously stodgy program, making it even possible to come into a season like this after losing just about everyone and still expect big things to come.
Imagine the preseason ranking five years ago if Michigan lost around 20 starters.
You think this is easy? How badly does Nebraska want to be a big national thing again? How about Tennessee, Notre Dame, Texas and Miami? Harbaugh was able to do that instantly.
He generated a school-changing buzz that made it cool for recruits, all while giving the notoriously self-loving alumni more reason than normal to wear things that say the word Michigan.
With all of his eccentricities, all of his wackiness, all of his promotion, and all of his poking the bear, he’s already won most of the battle in terms of turning everything around.
Winning the rest of that battle, though, requires winning more football games.
Since Harbaugh has taken over, Ohio State has gone to the College Football Playoff. So has Michigan State, and it won a Big Ten title. So did Penn State, while Wisconsin and Iowa have at least made it to the B1G Championship.
Michigan hasn’t done any of that, finishing third in the Big Ten East in each of the last two seasons.
Of course, there’s no questioning Harbaugh’s talent or coaching chops – four words: Nick Saban Miami Dolphins – but despite putting the wheels in motion at Stanford, and even though he’s been great in his first two years in Ann Arbor, going 20-6 so far feels sort of … incomplete.
Brady Hoke went 19-7 in his first two seasons at Michigan – and he finished second in the division both years.
If Harbaugh wins championships, then everything he is/was doing becomes amazing on a legendary level – Dabo Swinney went from goofy to genius in a snap – but as a college coach, it’s time to win something more than two Pioneer League titles at San Diego.
On the one hand, last year, Michigan came within a field goal against Iowa and/or an inch against Ohio State from probably going off to the CFP after winning the Big Ten Championship – all three losses on the year were by a grand total of five points.
Throw in the punting meltdown against Michigan State in 2015, and the 24-17 loss to Utah to open up the era, and five of the six losses so far could’ve easily gone the other way.
On the other hand, winning tight games is the difference between being, well, Michigan, and living among the elite.
Oklahoma State went 10-3 with a win over Colorado, too.
So what happens if this year’s team doesn’t win the Big Ten title? It’s not supposed to after losing almost everyone of note on both sides of the ball, but that’s not an excuse.
Ohio State lost a bajillion players to the NFL after the 2015 season and got into the CFP the next year. Alabama managed to be even better in some ways after losing a ton of talent off its national title winner two years ago. That’s the bar. That’s where Michigan is supposed to be at now, and 2017 will show just how far things really have come under Harbaugh.
The talent is there, and now all it needs is a little experience.
Despite losing 11 of the top 13 tacklers – and with eight of then being drafted – the defense that finished No. 1 might not skip a beat.
The line is going to be terrific, the linebackers active with a good rotation, and the sore spot of a young secondary doesn’t have to face anyone who can throw a forward pass until the middle of the season – and Indiana just isn’t all that scary.
The offense loses a ton, too, but the line will be solid, QB Wilton Speight is a veteran presence who should be a difference-maker, there’s a good-looking four-man crew at running back, and what the receiving corps lacks in experience, it makes up for with next-level skill.
It’s not going to be easy with the opener against Florida, road games at Penn State and Wisconsin, and Michigan State and Ohio State to deal with, as always, but this might be right where Harbaugh wants things.
No one will pick Michigan to win the East, and certainly not the Big Ten. Harbaugh can use that. He can play the disrespect card, he can pull out every motivational trick, and he can do all this with a good enough team to win any game on the schedule.
So, who’s got it better than Michigan? That’s not the point.
Thanks to Harbaugh, Michigan has it at least as good as almost everyone else.
Eventually, that’ll be good enough for those really, really big wins to come.