Michigan enters the season with perhaps the highest expectations during the Jim Harbaugh era yet. That brings even more pressure than the Wolverines have faced thus far.
UM is the favorite to win the Big Ten, in both sportsbook odds and media opinion. With Urban Meyer gone, and an experienced Wolverines team returning, it feels like a perfect year for the team to take that leap to the top of the Big Ten East.
Of course, that brings up College Football Playoff discussions as well. Michigan has been in the conversation in recent years, and has been closer than many probably remember in the final rankings, but ultimately, it is very hard to make that field without beating Ohio State, something Harbaugh has failed to do.
Sporting News‘ Bill Bender published a column of “unpopular opinions” for the upcoming college football season, one of which is “Jim Harbaugh is fine.”
Even with some restless fans, Bender is almost definitely correct. It is hard to imagine a situation in which Michigan fires Harbaugh after this season, barring a total bottoming out. That includes yet another loss to Ohio State.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t significant pressure. It just raises the question of where Michigan goes if Harbaugh doesn’t work out.
If Michigan loses to Ohio State, then it will be a big thing heading into 2020. Harbaugh has to beat the Buckeyes, and that has become even more urgent now that Meyer is gone. It can’t be more of the same against Day – not with the addition of new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and the promise of a wide-open offense.
A loss this year would not be the end of Harbaugh. Answer this question: Who would they hire next? Michigan already found out how wrong that can go after Lloyd Carr.
The easiest answer, of course, is to just get it done this year, as Ryan Day is still learning the ins-and-outs of being a head coach at a place like Ohio State. Even if Michigan falls a bit short of winning the Big Ten or making the CFP, finally beating Ohio State would take a big weight off of Harbaugh’s shoulders.