In crowded, talented Big Ten East, Harbaugh the one to watch

One of the most interesting mysteries about this Big Ten football season is. . . what happens to the Big Ten East coach(es) who ``under-achieve?’’


We’re all sitting here now putting Ohio State into the College Football Playoff. And saying Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State are Top 25 teams that have a chance to survive and advance in what is looking like the most ferocious division in the nation.

There's going to be disappointment here. But who? And how do they deal with it?[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

A year ago, I would have thought Mark Dantonio, coming off a difficult 3-9 season, was destined to be the odd man out.

No disrespect to him. But with Urban ``Legend'' Meyer at Ohio State, James ``Go for It'' Franklin at Penn State and Jim ``Rock Star'' Harbaugh in the same state, ``Tend to Your Knitting'' Dantonio was going to need some awfully sharp elbows.

Guess what? He showed ‘em, beating Harbaugh and Franklin en route to an impressive 10-3 bounceback season, including a nice Holiday Bowl romp past Washington State.

Franklin was no slouch, either. Penn State went 11-2, a very fine season despite the devastating 39-38 loss at Ohio State.

And while Meyer missed The Playoff due to ugly toe-stubs against Oklahoma and Iowa, only Nick Saban has accomplished more among current college coaches.

That leaves Harbaugh looking like the leading candidate to be the Odd Man Out.

And yet, I chuckle when I see Harbaugh’s name on Hot Seat lists.

Harbaugh won’t get fired. Barring something outrageous, none of these four coaches is going anywhere for a long time.

And yet, if Michigan has a rocky autumn, speculation will mount about Harbaugh’s Four Year Itch. In his two previous stops, at Stanford and with the 49ers, he has been gone after four years despite eye-popping success.

I have a strong feeling he’s not going anywhere after this season. He’ll break the mold because 1) Michigan is different. It’s home. And he really wants to get it done in Ann Arbor. And 2) His most logical NFL options, including the Bears and the Colts, just hired new coaches.

That said, Harbaugh is the guy who bears the most watching.

He’s entertaining. Heck, he took his team on another European adventure that included London and the D-Day beaches. He took his mitt to a Padres game this summer. His oldest son, Jay, is Michigan’s running-backs coach. The youngest of his seven children, John, was born in January. And at 54, he’s leaving the door open for more kids.

Harbaugh’s not only an excellent coach. He’s always doing or saying something interesting.

On the plus side, Michigan returns a studly defense and welcomes grad transfer QB Shea Patterson from Ole Miss.

On the worrisome side, Michigan plays a stout schedule that includes the opener at Notre Dame and a meeting with Wisconsin along with the three Big Ten East rivals. And while there are signs the offense will step it up, they need to prove it against tough competition.

When you put four teams that are capable of reaching the College Football Playoff in one division, there is always the potential for serious disappointment—and over-reaction to that disappointment.

All four of those coaches have earned the right to carry on, no matter what happens this fall. Because they’re good. And accomplished.

That said, keep an eye on Harbaugh.

Come to think of it, that’s always good advice.

And come to think of it, the whole Big Ten East ought to come with a tightly buckled chinstrap.[/membership]