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Take Two: Has Harbaugh era been disappointing at Michigan?

Take Two returns with a daily offering tackling a handful of issues in the college football landscape. National Recruiting Analyst Adam Gorney lays out the situation and then receives takes from National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell and an expert from the network.

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Coach Jim Harbaugh finished 10-3 during his first two seasons at Michigan but the Wolverines also were third in the Big Ten East during both of their campaigns.

Michigan is 11.5-point underdogs going into their annual rivalry against Ohio State this weekend, a game the Wolverines have won on the field only once since 2003. And it looks like Michigan will finish fourth in its own division this season.

So has Harbaugh been a disappointment at Michigan so far? Or were expectations so unreasonably high that they could never have been met?

It doesn’t appear there is even the hint of unrest if you believe the whispers from the decision-makers in Ann Arbor, who seem to be working on a “lifetime contract” for Harbaugh, reports say this week. It’s an unprecedented step in college sports - but also a step to keeping Harbaugh at Michigan for a long, long time.

Many observers pointed to this as a rebuilding season after losing nearly 20 players to the NFL Draft or free agent signings. But the Wolverines still couldn’t win their own division, let alone their own conference, let alone earn a spot in the College Football Playoff last season with so much NFL talent on their roster.

Is this a team that looks like it’s on the verge of playing for a national title, in the same company as Alabama, Clemson and, yes, Ohio State? Are things lining up in 2018 for a run at the title? Is Harbaugh building this program into a national contender or has he just been average so far in Ann Arbor?


“The biggest disappointment involves what-might-have-been, beyond expectations. Most national observers called for Michigan to go 9-3 or 8-4 in the regular season, after losing 19 to the NFL Draft or free agent signings last spring. But the Wolverines' defense recovered very quickly, and has been good enough that U-M might have won 10 games to this point.

“The offense, on the other hand, couldn’t keep up with that kind of reloading pace, especially given a revolving door at quarterback. Redshirt junior Wilton Speight got hurt in the Big Ten opener, fifth-year senior John O'Korn eventually gave way to redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, and Wisconsin knocked Peters from the game at a crucial point. The Wolverines just don't feature enough offensive firepower and pass protection at this point to overcome against the best opponents.

“So there are individual disappointments, sure. This team could have beaten Michigan State and Wisconsin. If the Wolverines rebound going forward – and they retain in 2018 as many key performers as they lost in 2017 – some perspective will set in.”


“I don’t think it’s been a disappointment because of what it was before he got there. It was pretty bad. The recruiting was OK. It was actually pretty good but the player development was awful. When Harbaugh got there, he immediately changed it. They put a bunch of guys in the NFL last year, replacing a bunch of starters this year and they’re still 8-3.

“With his name and with him being a Michigan alum, with his antics, the pressure ramps up. It would be similar if Jon Gruden takes the Tennessee job. People expect miracles. I don’t think they’re a disappointment. They need to fix the quarterback situation and they have some young skill guys who are going to develop. Losing Tarik Black early very much hurt the offense. I’m not disappointed. I thought this would be a rebuilding year and 8-3 is not so bad.”