Jim Harbaugh, Michigan must make Big Ten breakthrough with top-ranked class

first_imgMichigan has the nation’s No. 8 recruiting class. More importantly, it has the top class in the Big Ten for the first time since 2007.Now, it’s on fifth-year coach Jim Harbaugh to use this class to get the Wolverines back to the top of the conference for the first time since 2004. As far as a timetable to deliver those expectations, you can start that four-year clock now. The Wolverines can’t be expected to do all that in the next five years, but a Big Ten championship and CFP appearance aren’t out of the question for a program with expectations of getting back to the top. That starts with closing that gap with Ohio State, and landing the top class in the Big Ten is a start.When will you know if Harbaugh has done that?Check back here in four years. MORE: Zach Harrison to OSU shows Michigan still has ground to coverIs that fair? Shouldn’t Harbaugh be on the hot seat now? After all, the Wolverines are 0-4 against rival Ohio State under his tenure, the last loss an embarrassing 62-39 blowout at Ohio Stadium that preceded another flop in the Peach Bowl against Florida. Harbaugh is 1-9 against top-10 teams. You will hear that all day, every day until the opener against Middle Tennessee State on Aug. 31 — and probably after that, too.What do the last four years mean for Harbaugh’s job security and the direction of the program? Not much.Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel continues to support Harbaugh at every opportunity. Harbaugh has not interviewed for NFL jobs since coming to Michigan, despite constant speculation he might head in that direction. Those four years were spent trying to bridge the gap with Ohio State, which had the top recruiting class in the Big Ten every under Urban Meyer from 2012-18.There is still a talent gap between the Buckeyes and Wolverines, and that was the reason for the freakout after Michigan hauled in the nation’s No. 22 class — according to 247Sports’ Composite rankings — in 2018.Harbaugh has elevated Michigan’s talent with the last four cycles, which have produced an average national ranking of 10.8 and Big Ten ranking of 2.0. That’s better than the four cycles under Brady Hoke from 2012-15, which produced average ranks of 16.8 nationally and 2.8 in the Big Ten. From 2009-11, Rich Rodriguez’s classes had average ranks of 19 nationally and 3.0 in the Big Ten.Harbaugh has brought the recruiting back to where Lloyd Carr had it. Michigan had the No. 1 class in the Big Ten in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007.The 2001 class — led by Braylon Edwards — were were part of a run that included back-to-back Big Ten championships in 2003-04.The 2003 class featured five-stars LaMarr Woodley and Prescott Burgess. The 2004 class featured five-star quarterback Chad Henne. They were part of teams that were Big Ten contenders, but couldn’t beat Ohio State on the field. Carr’s last No. 1 class featured five-star quarterback Ryan Mallett, who transferred to Arkansas when Rodriguez took over.The recruiting wasn’t the same again until Harbaugh arrived. Harbaugh has brought that kind of talent back to Michigan. Devin Bush, Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich will be part of a strong 2019 NFL Draft class. This year’s recruiting class features defensive end Chris Hinton and safety Daxton Hill.There’s less fanfare, too. The days of the Signing of the Stars are over. Other than a social media video that played off the old sitcom “Family Matters,” there wasn’t much promotion for this class — Harbaugh’s most important class to date.MORE: Michigan ‘has to win’ for next chapter of OSU rivalry to startWhat do the next four years mean for Harbaugh’s job security and the direction of the program? Everything.Meyer retired and was replaced by first-year coach Ryan Day. The Wolverines have lost seven in a row and 14 of the last 15 meetings to the Buckeyes. Michigan last beat a ranked Ohio State team 35-21 in Ann Arbor on Nov. 22, 2003. It’s not a coincidence that came after two No. 1 Big Ten recruiting classes in three years.This is the breakthrough Harbaugh must make with the help of this class. Michigan is 38-14 under Harbaugh, which is the eighth-best record among Power 5 schools, behind only Alabama (55-4), Clemson (55-4), Ohio State (48-6), Oklahoma (46-8), Wisconsin (42-12), Georgia (42-13) and Stanford (40-14).Michigan is still looking for a breakthrough that would change its big-game reputation. It’s the same breakthrough Clemson made under Dabo Swinney, who was 47-20 from 2009-13 and had to break a five-game losing streak to South Carolina. The Tigers are 65-7 with two national championships in the last five years — and have a five-game win streak over the rival Gamecocks.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *