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BY CHRISTIAN CRITTENDEN
Jim Harbaugh is the designated savior that Michigan anointed nearly four years ago to bring its program back to glory. Although that “glory” for the Wolverines is rather hallow, well, I’ll finally concede something.
He’s the man for the job.
Michigan has not won a Big Ten championship since 2004, and If you think that’s a lengthy drought, listen to this: The Wolverines haven’t captured a national championship since January 1, 1998. To put that into perspective, I was 11 months old at the time, and I’m 21 now.
But none of that matters at the moment, because Harbaugh has his team on the verge of something big . . . a Big Ten championship.
Even so, The Jim Harbaugh Debate continues nationally and locally over whether he is overrated as that Michigan savior, but I’m here to tell you that, no matter what happens this season, he is exactly what the Wolverines need.
I understand the doubters, though. The hoopla was massive after Harbaugh returned to his alma mater in December 2014 following a decade as a successful head coach elsewhere (University of San Diego, Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers). He rose in a hurry with the Wolverines after going 10-3 his first two seasons, but they finished last year with an 8-5 record, including losses to rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. They also were clobbered by Penn State and Wisconsin.
That’s not a good look for somebody who has became an ESPN highlight video waiting to happen around Ann Arbor, Mich. The media hangs on Harbaugh’s every move, ranging from his taking of Michigan teams on trips overseas for bonding purposes to his wearing of Walmart khakis during games.
As a result, the scrutiny was huge for this 54-year-old former Wolverines quarterback when the wins in signature games didn’t come in waves.
In fact, they didn’t come at all.
Everyone wants success for their team, and it should be demanded of programs such as Michigan, but let’s be fair. Harbaugh never said publicly, “We will win national championships year in and year out.” Those expectations came from the national media and other places, and when their predictions for Michigan’s return to the good old days of Bo Schembechler didn’t come to fruition, the consensus was that the sky was falling around the Wolverines, and that Harbaugh was the culprit.
Does Harbaugh need to beat rivals and win big games? Yes, he does, especially after he entered this season 1-5 against Ohio State and Michigan State, and he has taken steps in that direction.
Michigan star defensive end Chase Winovich has dubbed this season the “revenge tour,” because he said the Wolverines are obsessed with beating teams that embarrassed them in the past. So far the Wolverines are three for three regarding Winovich’s wishes after defeating Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State. And their 21-7 victory over Michigan State last month was their first win on the road against a ranked opponent since 2006.
What does that tell you? Progress is happening for the maize and blue, and Harbaugh is building Michigan into the image that he wants. He’s had success in the past after a couple of 11-1 seasons at San Diego, a 12-1 finish at Stanford that ended in the Orange Bowl and three trips to the NFC Championship with the 49ers, including a Super Bowl trip.
We’re starting to see Harbaugh bring that same success to Michigan, where he played for Schembechler in the 1980s.
I’ve been a Michigan fan for the majority of my life, and I’ve never seen them win anything of significance. So when they lost 24-17 during this year’s season opener at Notre Dame, I was about as ready as anyone to have Harbaugh shipped out of town. Then I sat back and analyzed the situation. The Wolverines played that game with a new quarterback and offensive line coach, and they only lost by seven points.
Two months later, Michigan is on the verge of snatching one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff as the No. 4 team right now, and the Wolverines are in this position because of patience.
I finally have it, and so should the rest of the Michigan Nation.
Christian Crittenden is a junior at Georgia State University majoring in journalism and minoring in marketing. He is a staff writer for The Signal, where he is the women’s basketball beat writer. When he isn’t working or writing, he’s playing basketball and football. @chris_critt