Everybody’s trying to collapse the pocket on Jim Harbaugh.
``Michigan hasn't beaten Ohio State in six seasons. How much pressure do you feel to change that this year?’’ one interrogator asked him at Big Ten Media Day.
``You're 1-5 against Michigan State and Ohio State,’’ another one said. ``What do you have to do this year to demonstrate to the Michigan community that you are on the path to achieving what they hired you to achieve?’’
Harbaugh, who operates in his own realm, is used to this stuff. He glazes over and replies, ``We need to improve. And that will lead to success.’’
I'm guessing he'd like to give these now-bold critics a stiff arm. The best way to do that, though, is to win. And that's why, despite all the gloom and doom, I'm expecting the Wolverines to be tough this fall.
My favorite summation of Michigan woes comes from numbers-cruncher Phil Steele. Despite being ranked as high at 12th in 2015, 2nd in 2016 and seventh last year, the Wolverines ``have finished no higher than third place in the Big Ten East!’’
His exclamation point, not mine.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
However, comma, Steele offered this glimmer of hope. After being ranked 127th on his 2017 Experience Chart, Michigan is 37th this year.
Even more encouraging, Steele has Michigan ranked 11th in the nation. Other pre-season prognosticators also have the Wolverines in their top 15s.
Obviously, I agree. That’s even more true with a scandal threatening to bring Ohio State back to the pack.
I just have a hunch that after three years of under-achieving at Michigan, Harbaugh is ready to return to his past M.O. of over-achieving. He’s quirky, but he’s still an excellent coach. And this is still Michigan.
Why the optimism?
The Wolverines return nine starters on a defense that led the nation in passing yards allowed (150.1), was third in total defense (271 yards) and was 13th in scoring defense (18.8 points).
They have added quarterback Shea Patterson, a grad transfer who put up big numbers in 10 career starts at Ole Miss. Patterson obviously is the maize-and-blue key to success. But he is surrounded by locksmiths.
To further bolster an offense that finished 105th in total offense (348.9) and tied for 91st in scoring (25.2) last fall, Harbaugh hired former Florida coach Jim McElwain, who won two national championships as an OC for Nick Saban, as wide receivers coach. He also has brough in veteran O line coach Ed Warinner, who worked for Urban Meyer on Ohio State’s 2014 national champions, and tight ends coach Sherrone Moore.
Considering that defensive coordinator Don Brown is among the best in the business, and that D line coach Greg Mattison has been a coordinator for Notre Dame and the Baltimore Ravens, Michigan has one of the most accomplished staffs in the nation.
Considering that the Wolverines travel to Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State, and have home dates with Wisconsin and Penn State, they’ll need to listen and learn from their coaches.
The ingredients are all there for Harbaugh, who’s quirky but is also a proven motivator and winner.
All he has to do now to silence the grumbles is win.[/membership]