By: Rajan Nanavati
Ohio State’s beatdown of Michigan on Saturday could fill an entire Wikipedia page with all the ways you could describe just how ugly and demoralizing this loss was.
• For the 14th time in 15 years, the Buckeys have defeated the Wolverines
• The 62 points scored by the hated Buckeyes are the second-most points ever allowed by the Wolverines football program.
• The last time Michigan beat Ohio State in Columbus, the Supreme Court was still finalizing the decision in the 2000 Presidential Election.
• Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was still playing in the NFL, as a member of the then-San Diego Chargers.
With the loss on Saturday, Harbaugh becomes the only head coach in Michigan history to start 0-4 against the hated Ohio State Buckeyes. Even former Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke, who won eight or less games in three of his four seasons in Ann Arbor, has more wins over Ohio State than Harbaugh.
Given all of that, can Harbaugh legitimately bounce back from this loss? And just as importantly, should he be allowed to do so?
If there was ever a year for Michigan to reclaim supremacy from the Big 10 from Ohio State, this was the year to do it. Harbaugh led the Wolverines to a top four ranking; they would’ve clinched a spot in the Big 10 Championship game with a win over Ohio State, and a spot in the college football playoffs with a Big 10 title.
Meanwhile, Ohio State was making up for a midseason loss to Big 10 rival Purude University, with the dark cloud of the allegations around former position coach Zach Smith – and a potential cover-up by head coach Urban Meyer – hanging over the program.
And yet, Harbaugh lost by double-digits to Ohio State for the third time in four years. How is he going to go into the homes of prospects in the Midwest, and get them to come to Ann Arbor – especially if they’re also considering going to school in Columbus – when they know that their chances of winning the conference are slim, at best?
And while Harbaugh has publicly stated he’s not leaving Ann Arbor himself, there will be NFL teams who are more than willing to lift up their skirt and show Harbaugh whatever he desires, despite his shortcomings at Michigan.
Cleveland is less than 200 miles away from Ann Arbor, and Harbaugh would have the chance to make his imprint on a Browns team with plenty of defensive talent. The Green Bay Packers could offer Harbaugh the chance to work with the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL today. The New York Jets could sell Harbaugh on the chance to work in Gotham with a young centerpiece quarterback in place, with Harbaugh being able to bring in his own personnel guys. A job opening in Denver could have great appeal, given Harbaugh’s experience in the AFC West and the mutual connection to Stanford University between him and John Elway. And what if the Jacksonville job suddenly becomes available, and Harbaugh gets to work with an underperforming defense that’s still one of the most talented groups in the league?
It’s rather ironic we’re discussing all of this, because if Michigan had won against Ohio State on Saturday, Harbaugh would legitimately be in the national coach of the year conversation.
But with another loss to Ohio State, and another year without a Big 10 title, the whispers from detractors who claim Harbaugh is more hype than substance will only grow louder and louder, especially considering this was probably his best chance to date to do so.