2015 Michigan Wolverines may take a While to return to Glory

michigan-jim-harbaughWhen Lloyd Carr retired as Michigan head coach in 2007, it didn’t seem like there would be much drop off when Rich Rodriguez assumed the reigns. But since then, Michigan football has been plagued by six years of mediocrity, and one 11-2 season thanks to Brady Hoke’s best year during an otherwise forgetful 4-year tenure. So fans of the Wolverines owe little apology to anyone for their unbridled enthusiasm with Jim Harbaugh now coaching the team. Unfortunately, this enthusiasm may be a bit low key for the remainder of the 2015 season.

The unranked Utah Utes delivered sobering reality for the program last Thursday. Utah grabbed the lead early and never looked as threatened as the 24-17 final score might suggest. But perhaps the Wolverines could have threatened if not for some crucial mistakes.

The most-obvious mistakes are owed to Iowa transfer quarterback Jake Rudock, who had three interceptions on the afternoon. One was a painful red-zone interception while the other was a pick-six that hurt any chance of a comeback.

However, this loss was more than just about one guy tossing picks. The Michigan running game only managed a paltry 76 yards on 29 carries – good for 2.6 yards per carry. The offensive line didn’t do the greatest job of creating holes and the running backs didn’t offer any sort of explosion, with the longest run being just 7 yards.

jim-harbuagh-utan“[Offensive line play] improved in the second half,” Harbaugh said. “I think we played a little bit tentative in the first half, not coming off the ball like we need to.”

It’s not like the offense can look towards the receivers for big-play potential either; after all, there’s not one pass catcher on the roster who tallied a reception for 35 yards or more last season.

Moving to the other side of the ball, Michigan doesn’t feature a defense with big-play potential. This unit only forced 10 turnovers last year – good for 126th in Division 1A – and they got just one turnover against the Utes. It was a mere interception on a half-time Hail Mary attempt by Utah.

If there’s one thing that the defense did good, it was holding star running back Devontae Booker to 69 yards on 22 carries. But on the downside, QB Travis Wilson burned them for 53 yards while they were trying to contain Booker.

One takeaway from the Utah game is that college football’s winningest program won’t be restored to glory overnight – even with a fiery Harbaugh screaming into his headset. This team is coming off a 5-7 season under Hoke and they’ve lost at least seven games in five of the past season seasons.

This wouldn’t be Harbaugh’s first time taking over a reclamation project since he did so at Stanford before making the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers relevant again. Success with the Niners came quick, with Harbaugh going 13-3 in just his first season. But at Stanford, he was just 4-8 and 5-7 before engineering a big turnaround. Based on Michigan’s 2015 schedule, the Stanford scenario might be a little more realistic. Games at Maryland, vs. Michigan State, vs. Northwestern, at Minnesota, at Penn State and vs. Ohio State all figure to test this team greatly.

But it appears that Harbaugh is more than prepared to deal with the ups and downs. He said that overall he was “impressed” with his team’s effort in the first outing. And if Harbaugh seems pretty lenient about his school’s losing effort, it’s probably because he knows better days are coming in the future.

Will the Jim Harbaugh Saga affect the San Francisco 49ers’ 2014 Season?

jim-harbaugh-49ers-turmoilIt wasn’t long ago that controversy erupted in San Francisco after it became public knowledge that the 49ers were discussing a potential trade with Cleveland, whereby their coach would go to the hapless Browns. Harbaugh has been visibly disappointed over his lack of a big contract extension, while GM Trent Baalke is very reluctant to give it to him. Now, we have reports that the dissension in the San Francisco locker room may be growing after the Harbaugh trade talks.

Andy Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, “One source with inside knowledge of the team says that Harbaugh’s act has worn thin in the locker room, particularly among some key ‘face of the 49ers’ type players.”

So not only do we have a rift between Harbaugh and Baalke, but some of the players are allegedly tired of their coach’s hard-driving style. Putting two and two together, it becomes even murkier if Harbaugh will get the contract he wants and if the 49ers can continue their run of success.

Regarding the first point, the obvious reason why Baalke isn’t budging on the contract issue is because Harbaugh hasn’t won a Super Bowl yet. After signing a five-year, $25 million contract, he transformed a middling team that was going nowhere into a Super Bowl contender, going 36-11-1 over the past three years. More importantly, Harbaugh has made it to three straight NFC Championship games with a Super Bowl appearance two seasons ago. But the fact remains that, unlike New Orleans’ Sean Payton ($8 million a year) or Seattle’s Pete Carroll ($7 million a year), he hasn’t won a Super Bowl yet.

jim-harbaugh-49ers-turmoil-1Harbaugh has been close, coming within a drive of winning the 2013 Super Bowl, and coming within a single throw of making back to the Super Bowl in 2014. However, until he actually brings a Lombardi Trophy to the Bay Area, Baalke can’t see paying him more than Carroll or Payton. On the other hand, Harbaugh is the one who did what Mike Singletary failed miserably in doing: turning a talented roster into a winning football team.

Assuming San Francisco doesn’t give Harbaugh an extension, the Niners will still be good in 2014. They return a number of strong players and ironed out some problems on offense throughout last season. But if you’re looking to place a futures bet on San Francisco winning the Super Bowl, we doubt that you’ll get odds that will make this wager profitable.

At the moment, it just seems like there’s too much turmoil surrounding this team in the offseason. And with certain players already looking for a different voice in the 49ers’ locker room, it’s tough to predict another NFC Championship game run for San Francisco – let alone a Super Bowl victory.