Jim Harbaugh: Michigan Is About as Close as You Can Possibly Be to Winning Title

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2020

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh argues a call against Middle Tennessee in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Jim Harbaugh has never even won a divisional crown during his nine years as a collegiate head coach, but he believes his Michigan Wolverines have been right on the cusp of the national championship during his five seasons in charge.  

"I mean, just look back over the last the last years that we've been here last five years," he said, per Zach Shaw of 247Sports. "About as close as you can possibly be. But you got to put it over the top. That's what drives us."

To Harbaugh's credit, he took over the Wolverines at a particularly low point for the historic program and wasted little time putting them on the right track.

Despite going 5-7 in 2014 during Brady Hoke's final season, Michigan went 10-3 in 2015 during Harbaugh's first season. It went 10-3 in Harbaugh's second season, but the final record doesn't tell the entire story.

Those 2016 Wolverines were 10-1 and on track to potentially make the College Football Playoff when they lost a heartbreaker on the road to the archrival Ohio State Buckeyes in double-overtime to end their chances at a Big Ten title. They then lost the Orange Bowl by a single point to Florida State.

That 2016 campaign was the closest Harbaugh has come to competing for a national championship, but he still would have needed to win the Big Ten Championship Game and two CFP games to lift the trophy.

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He went 8-5 in 2017 and 9-4 in 2019, but the 2018 season was another in which Michigan had an opportunity to play its way into the national picture.

It was once again 10-1 and in position to make the CFP heading into the final regular-season game when it was embarrassed by the Buckeyes. Ohio State didn't need double-overtime to dispatch the Wolverines this time and instead unleashed a 62-39 blowout before Michigan lost the ensuing bowl game to Florida by 26 points.

And therein lies the rub with Harbaugh.

Until he can find a way to beat the powerhouse Buckeyes, he cannot be taken seriously as a national championship contender. He is 0-5 against Ohio State and lost the last two rivalry showdowns by a combined 52 points, underscoring the vast difference between the two programs at this point.

That difference could only get bigger. The Buckeyes have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for 2021, although Michigan is an impressive No. 5, per 247Sports' composite rankings.

Only when Harbaugh finds a way to parlay his recruits into a victory over Michigan's archrival and then postseason success will he finally be able to call himself a champion. Until then, he will continue searching for his first division title in the collegiate ranks.