Harbaugh hopes the changes will finally help Michigan beat Ohio

Harbaugh hopes the changes will finally help Michigan beat Ohio

Ann Arbor, I. Jim Harbaugh shook his coaching staff and whipped himself as if he was still playing behind the middle after his chance to coach at his alma mater was extended last winter for at least another season.

Michigan state athletic director Ward Manuel, a former Harbaugh teammate under the late Bo Schembechler, signed Harbaugh to a new deal that lowered his guaranteed salary to what was essentially a contract from year to year in a move that fell somewhere between his extension and his dismissal.

Harbow responded shortly thereafter by bringing in new defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald to replace Don Brown. He recruits a pair of young and dynamic former Wolverines, Mike Hart and Ron Bellamy, to join his new coaching staff. He even renamed the team’s 9-on-7 workout to Defeat Ohio early spring practice, trying to strengthen his players while increasing their focus on rival Buckeyes.

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So far, it appears to be working because the Wolverines (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) ranked sixth in the AP Top 25 and College Football Playoff rankings. Ohio ranks second in the AP poll and fourth in the CFP.

Harbaugh, perhaps more than anyone else, is fervently hopeful that Michigan’s many changes will finally help Michigan beat Ohio State on Saturday at the Big House. He appears to have a chance of winning the competition for his first time as a coach, but the Buckeyes (10-1, 8-0) are favored to win more touchdowns, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

The difference is a relatively respectable one in a suddenly lopsided streak that has seen Ohio State win a school record eight games in a row and 15 of 16 games. Keeping it close wouldn’t cut it for Harbaugh, whose tenure as a Michigan coach was for so long a hype and short of big wins.

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“Both teams have a lot at stake,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “It’s a true playoff in that sense. In the world of College Football Playoff, this is the start of the playoffs.

“The team that wins will advance. The team that doesn’t. It is, and it is also the big game, the game, the rivalry.”

The winners will win the Big Ten East Division, earn a place in the Conference Championship game and a shot at making the College Football Playoff.

Even if the Buckeyes win through several touchdowns, Harbaugh will likely keep his job. However, another setback will haunt him for months and lead to further doubts that he can reclaim the best program in college football for a championship contender in today’s game.

Last summer in his Big Ten media days, he set his public sights on winning the conference championship—the school’s first since 2004—and overcoming its rivals in Ohio State and Michigan State.

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“We will do it or die trying,” Harbow said in July.

Despite the 37-33 loss to the then-no. 8 Spartans last month that dropped Harbaugh to 3-4 in the in-state rivalry, and the Wolverines are a victory away from advancing to a Big Ten Championship match for the first time. Harbo thought briefly of his “do or die” comments.

He said, “It comes all the way to life. It’s here. It happens.”

The game didn’t happen last season for the first time in 102 years, and she’s one victim of the COVID-19 outbreak in a Michigan show that ended its season prematurely with an embarrassing 2-4 score.

Some joked that the Wolverines were thrilled to have survived a trip to Ohio State because coach Ryan Day told his players they would “hang 100 of them” at a horseshoe.

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That upset my Michigan coaches and players, who all insisted they wanted to play the Buckeyes last year — and every season.

And while Harbaugh has his share of detractors, his players seem to back him.

“We have a coach who is willing to do anything for us,” said Mike Sainrestel, one of the players. “He’s going to the ends of this earth to make sure we’re all in the right place. He’s going to put everything on the line for us, you know, Coach Harbaugh is the guy you really want to play for. He’s a great coach and a great human being and he’s shown that all year.

“I don’t want to go into that field with any coach but him on Saturday.”

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Follow Larry Lage at https://twitter.com/larrylage

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