Jim Harbaugh finally has resilient Michigan at ‘big-boy table’ with ultimate goal in reach
It was roughly nine years ago that Jim Harbaugh returned to his alma mater a conquering hero.
Hours after he was introduced as the next Michigan football coach, there was a Khakis Out, with fans wearing a Michigan shirt, baseball cap and Harbaughs trademark khaki pants, taking over a December basketball game at Crisler Arena.
Greatness was expected. Championships were supposed to follow.
You want to be at the big-boy table, Harbaugh said at the time. This is what we signed up for this is what I signed up for.
Nearly a decade later, Michigan has earned its spot at that coveted table led by its controversial coach who spent almost as many games this season suspended (six) as he did on the sideline (seven). Love him or hate him, and unless youre a maize and blue devotee, you probably are in the latter category, its impossible not to at least respect Harbaugh.
Not after his team showed incredible resolve in battling past Alabama, 27-20 in overtime, in the Rose Bowl on Monday, earning a shot at the schools first national championship since 1997 on Jan. 8 in Houston. Not after he flipped the script on his tenure, going from underwhelming the first six years to dominating the last three. He turned the Ohio State rivalry on its head, and now has the Wolverines 60 minutes from a championship despite all the time hes been forced to spend away from the team. Now, hes obviously a major part of the reason for that the first suspension was issued by the school amid an investigation of alleged recruiting violations and the secondcame from the Big Ten over the sign-stealing and in-game scouting scandal but Michigan staying together without its leader also speaks to the job hes done.
4Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh hugs one of his players after a win over Alabama in the Rose Bowl. APIts almost been an unfair advantage, all the things the team has gone through, the 60-year-old Harbaugh said after Michigans biggest win in over two decades. We dont care any more. We dont care what people say. We dont care about anything that comes up. We just know were gonna overcome it.
Lets not forget, Michigan was a disrespected favorite. Alabama was the team nobody wanted to play. There was that video that went viral of the Wolverines hardly looking pleased at the College Football Playoff announcement in early December, and the fac that the Crimson Tide was coming off a mammoth upset of Georgia.
Michigan didnt play nearly the schedule that Alabama did, and had hardly been impressive down the stretch. It wasnt even an overwhelming favorite to get past Ohio State on Thanksgiving weekend.
Harbaughs team has kept on winning despite the doubts, despite the sign-sealing saga that rocked college football and led to the second three-game suspension for Harbaugh that included that Ohio State game. The Wolverines refused to let it become a distraction. They got past the SEC champion on New Years Day, its first win in the College Football Playoff in three tries, when the defense stuffed Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe on a keeper on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line in overtime.
4Jim Harbaugh and Michigan are headed to the national championship game. Getty ImagesWere so ogether, were so connected, Harbaugh said on ESPN. Were going to overcome anything.
Michigan will be the favorite to win it all Jan. 8 in Houston, whether it is Washington or Texas on the opposing sideline, and it absolutely should be.
Michigan was dominant over the games first 30 minutes, out-gaining Alabama, 197-96, and sacking Milroe five times. Alabama was limited to 2.5 yards per carry. Really, it shouldve been ahead by more than three points, but mistakes and missed opportunities allowed the Crimson Tide to stay close.
During the lengthy intermission, Alabama coach Nick Saban made major adjustments, most notably going to the run game to neutralize Michigans pass rush. The Wolverines offense, meanwhile, was shut down. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy was inaccurate and Alabama wouldnt let Michigan run the ball with much success. Even when Milroe fumbled, setting the Wolverines up at their own 49-yard line early in the fourth quarter down four points, Michigan couldnt capitalize.
4Jim Harbaugh celebrates after Michigan beat Alabama in the Rose Bowl on Monday. Getty ImagesAlabama had regained control, or so it seemed. Michigan had other ideas, displaying an iron jaw when one was desperately needed. McCarthy found his game when he had to, leding Michigan on a memorable 75-yard, eight-play drive to pull the Wolverines even with 1:34 remaining. It included a gutsy fourth-and-2 conversion at their own 33 and included McCarthy running for 16 yards and completing 3 of 4 passes for 60 yards. It scored the games final 14 points, taking over in winning time.
This was the game Michigan couldnt win for so long. Sure, it had beaten Ohio State three consecutive times, but the Wolverines hadnt come through in the playoff. Last year, they blew a golden opportunity against Cinderella TCU, which was embarrassed in the title game by Georgia.
Those Bulldogs, who had ended Michigans season two years ago, arent in the playoff this time standing in the way. Alabama took care of them, and Michigan took care of the Crimson Tide, earning a shot at the schools first national championship in 27 years.
4Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh (center) celebrates with quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) and running back Blake Corum (2) after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters ConIts uncertain what will happen after Jan. 8. There are rumors that Harbaugh will move on to the NFL he has yet to sign a massive contract extension that Michigan has offered after reportedly finding new representation in NFL agent Don Yee.
But at this point, no matter what else is going on, its hard to pick against Michigan in a week. On the first day of 2024, it answered the bell like it hasnt in a long time. Harbaugh has the Wolverines at the big-boy table, just as he promised he would nine years ago.
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