Most Michigan fans have been loath to give an 8-4 regular season a passing grade, especially given the Wolverines’ struggles in the passing game.
But when it comes to grading coach Jim Harbaugh through Year 3, Kirk Herbstreit sees a sunny present — and an even sunnier future.
“I see things a little bit differently than maybe what other people see,” the longtime ESPN/ABC college football analyst told Land of 10 recently. “I’d probably give him about an A. A or A-minus, maybe.
“Only because, if you go back and look — people talk about 1-5 against Michigan State and Ohio State. Look at those games, and think about how he lost in some of those games.
“You just say, ‘1-5,’ it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s not very good.’ But if you look at how close he’s been in those games, and how he’s lost a couple of those, I think Michigan is much closer than people maybe want to give him credit for.”
Harbaugh, who sports a 28-10 mark over his first three seasons in Ann Arbor (18-8 in league play) has lost all three meetings with Ohio State by an average of 14.3 points, two defeats coming by double digits. His Wolverines have dropped two of three meetings with Michigan State, but those defeats have each come by just 4 points, and the 2015 showdown was decided by a botched punt snap and chaos:
— Currency365 (@Currency365) October 25, 2015
— Kyle Mac (@KyleMcVideo) January 30, 2017
“Because he gives people such a stir in [recruiting], he’s an easy target,” Herbstreit continued. “It’s easy for people to want to go after him.”
The pot stirred again earlier this week, when the Outback Bowl selected the Wolverines over the Spartans, despite Michigan State’s better record (9-3, 7-2 Big Ten) and head-to-head win victory in 2017.
“The records are what they are,” Dantonio said during a news conference Sunday. “I’ll just continue to concentrate on beating Michigan, let things sort of sort out.”
And cue the response from Harbaugh:
Saw Coach D comments on continuing to “focus” on how “he” can beat Michigan. Congrats on turning around a 3-9 team, plagued with off field issues. Good for BIG to have him back.
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) December 4, 2017
But as far as lingering concerns along Main Street, Herbie’s on the same page as Wolverines fans: stability at quarterback. Among Big Ten schools, only Rutgers (7) and Illinois (8) threw for fewer touchdown passes than the Wolverines’ 9 this fall, as Michigan quarterbacks combined to finish 11th out of 14 league programs in passing yards (168.6 per game) and pass efficiency rating (115.5).
Week 1 starter Wilton Speight was injured during the Big Ten opener at Purdue and is transferring out for his final season of eligibility; backup Alex Malzone decided to do the same, leaving redshirt freshman Brandon Peters and freshman Dylan McCaffrey as the only scholarship quarterbacks currently on the roster with eligibility in 2018.
“I don’t know if McCaffrey’s the guy,” Herbstreit said. “Once [Harbaugh] gets a quarterback he can really count on, he’s going to get back to the kind of team that can get them over the hump and win those [rivalry] type of games.
“Wait until they get consistent play at that position, and I think you’re going to see a very different set of circumstances.”