Same story, different state. Star quarterback turned star coach comes back to rescue his alma mater, to lift a blue blood gone wrong. In December 2014, it was Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. Almost exactly three years later, it was Scott Frost at Nebraska.
And yet, after three seasons, not everything in Ann Arbor has landed right side up for Harbaugh, who has yet to finish higher than third in the uber-competitive Big Ten East. Do the cards hold the same fate for Frost in Lincoln? Former Michigan and NFL running back Chris Howard and Land of 10 writer-columnist Sean Keeler wondered what Frost and his staff could learn from Harbaugh’s ups and occasional downs since the fall of 2015 …
Q: WHAT IS THE ONE THING SCOTT FROST COULD LEARN FROM JIM HARBAUGH’S FIRST THREE SEASONS AT MICHIGAN?
SEAN KEELER: DO NOT, FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, GET OWNED BY YOUR RIVALS
The common sense stuff, Scott Frost already knows. Don’t pick fights with Nick Saban and Urban Meyer until you’ve got a roster that can run with them. Don’t turn up at a recruit’s house with a sleeping bag and a toothbrush. Don’t climb a tree in khakis. Don’t declare war on Paul Finebaum until pointing to the scoreboard ends the argument.
But the best way to minimize the talk radio damage, the best way to keep the true believers — and there are many, full hearts by the thousands — pulling on the same rope is to put the teams those believers hate the most in the corner. And keep ’em there.
To put it another way …
Jim Harbaugh’s record versus Ohio State: 0-3. Harbaugh’s record vs. Ohio State and Michigan State combined: 1-5.
Small sample size.
Colossal ball and chain.
Will be interesting to see how the attention-seeking Harbaugh tweets play this offseason. Packs a bit less punch when you're 1-5 vs. your rivals.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) December 4, 2017
Jim Harbaugh will be 1-5 vs Ohio St & Mich St at Michigan.
— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) November 25, 2017
NCAA Football’s $7M Per Yr Club.
Nick Saban: 6 Nat'l Titles
Dabo: 2016 Nat'l Champ
Meyer: 2014 Nat’l Champ
Jimbo: 2013 Nat’l Champ
Malzahn: 2010 Nat’l Champ
Kirby: 2017 Runner-Up
…Harbaugh: 3rd place Big Ten East x2, 1-5 vs OSU & MSU.
— FOX Sports Radio (@FoxSportsRadio) May 4, 2018
You can rock the APR. You can take your kids around the world in 80 days. You can howl with Ric Flair and roll with Derek Jeter. You can hike with Marty Smith until your toes bleed. You can name drop.
But you can’t mic drop, not with a straight face, if Iowa treats you the way Ben Affleck treated the 8th grade grads in Dazed and Confused, then hands Wisconsin the paddle.
In three seasons, Mike Riley went 0-6 against the teams you have to beat in the Big Ten West to be taken seriously. Bo Pelini got fat on the Hawkeyes (3-1) but was owned by the Badgers (1-3), bashings that left indelible scars on a program used to scoring 70 as opposed to surrendering it. Hurricane Bo was 8-17 vs. the AP top 25; Riley went 2-6.
Harbaugh’s had a long rope, longer than would have been considered for anyone who wasn’t a Michigan man, first and foremost. Like Frost, he was program hero who’d returned home to an alma mater that had been reduced to rubble, and charged with building a fortress again. But the biggest bricks, the biggest scalps, remain elusive, and political capital will only burn for so long. For all that hype, all that sizzle, Ann Arbor is still waiting for its steak.
If you’re in the West, the path to national relevance, to College Football Playoff contention, runs through Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan or Michigan State in Indianapolis.
And the path to Indianapolis runs through Iowa City and Madison first. Unless you change the paradigm, unless you snatch control of the narrative back again. Like the song says, no more Mr. Nice Guy.