Jim Harbaugh could finally reach the soccer pinnacle with Michigan

For all his accomplishments as a player and as a coach, for all his successes on the pitch and on the touchline, Jim Harbaugh never reached the top of the mountain.

He has coached in a Super Bowl and last year in the college football playoffs. He played in an AFC championship game and quartered Michigan in 1985’s 2nd-rank finish and Fiesta Bowl victory.

This could be the year he finally wins it all.

His Wolverines will be at least one of four teams playing for the national championship after throttling Ohio State 45-23 in Columbus on Saturday. The smart money is Michigan getting a rematch with last year’s national champion, undefeated Georgia, in the title game at So-Fi Stadium in California on Jan. 9.

So much has changed for Harbaugh and Michigan over the past calendar year. There is no more Ohio State hex. No more questions if he could make it at the school he once starred in. No more doubts.

He has led his alma mater to 12 consecutive wins of the season for the first time in program history. He lost his star defensive ends, Aidan Hutchinson and David Njabo, to the NFL and rebuilt a roster that feels more dangerous. Despite a knee injury that limited the Heisman Trophy nominee running back Blake Corum to two carries, Michigan still amassed 530 offensive yards at Ohio State on Saturday and kept the explosive Buckeyes on three points in the second half. The Wolverines have defeated likely Heisman Trophy finalist CJ Stroud twice, just the second multiple-interception game of his career.

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh (R) celebrates with linebacker Michael Barrett (L) during a news conference following a win over Ohio State on November 26, 2022.
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh (R) celebrates with linebacker Michael Barrett (L) during a news conference following a win over Ohio State on November 26, 2022.
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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh hugs quarterback JJ McCarthy (9) on the field after defeating Ohio State November 26, 2022.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh hugs quarterback JJ McCarthy (9) on the field after defeating Ohio State November 26, 2022.
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It is the only team in the nation to place in the top nine in scoring defense and points scored, and the only school in the top five in both rushing defense and rushing offense. Michigan has now won 22 of their last 24 games. It has claimed back-to-back Big Ten East crowns. It will make the playoffs for the second straight season after busting for the second time in as many seasons against hated Ohio State. It has won five of six against its big three rivals Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, beating the three by a combined 115-47 this season.

It’s stunning to see this turnaround after the Wolverines struggled so hard in the COVID-19-shortened season, losing four out of six games and giving them a mediocre 9-4 the previous year. There were calls for Harbaugh to resign; legitimate questions at the time as to whether he was the right man to bring Michigan back into national competition. He took a massive pay cut last year and saw his $8 million salary cut in half.

“No big deal. [It’s] just money,” he recalled last December.

COLUMBUS, OHIO – Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh led the team to a 45-23 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes on Nov. 26, 2022.  (Photo by Aaron J Thornton/Getty Images)
Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh led the team to a 45-23 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes on November 26, 2022.
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In February, he received a five-year, $36.7 million extension, and he went on to prove that he was worth every penny. In his eighth season at Ann Arbor, Harbaugh Michigan is among the elite and looks like a team capable of propelling him to the top of the sport for the first time in his memorable career as a player and coach.


For now, the College Football Playoff has a predicted top 4 (in that order) from Georgia, Michigan, TCU, and USC. Georgia enters the SEC championship with a loss to LSU, and Michigan can afford to face Purdue in the Big Ten finals next Saturday as well, unlikely as those scenarios may be. But then, when either TCU or USC lose in their respective title games — and both programs have made it a habit to play close games — things can get interesting.

Ohio State with one loss, Alabama with two losses and Tennessee with two losses are the contenders. Tennessee has by far the best win of the three, at home to Alabama, but quarterback Hendon Hooker’s season-ending knee injury certainly hurts them. Alabama doesn’t own a quality win, though its two losses are strong, totaling four points en route to Tennessee and LSU.

Ohio State Quarterback CJ Stroud (7) attempts a throw against Michigan on Nov. 26, 2022.
Ohio State Quarterback CJ Stroud (7) attempts a throw against Michigan on Nov. 26, 2022.
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Then there’s the Buckeyes, who only lost once in an ugly fashion to Michigan on Saturday. Ohio State has victories over Penn State and Notre Dame; Teams ranked 11th and 15th by committee. That could give the Big Ten school a slight advantage over Alabama. On the other hand, a TCU loss to Kansas State shouldn’t necessarily eliminate them. In other words, there are still a lot of scenarios on the table as we head into the final week of the regular season.


My colleague, Ryan Glasspiegel, nailed it on Twitter on Saturday afternoon. Matt Rhule didn’t prove why college coaches shouldn’t go to the NFL; he proved why they absolutely should. There really is no risk. You either succeed at the next level and join a select club that also includes Pete Carroll and Jimmy Johnson, or you get big money and still go back to college and land a top job, like Rhule did when he took over Nebraska did.

Rhule’s failure with the Panthers, where he was fired after posting a terrible 11-27 record in parts of three seasons, certainly didn’t deter the Cornhuskers. They were still sold on Rhule from his good work at Temple and Baylor reviving dormant programs. And he still got a long-term deal, an announced eight-year contract. More successful coaches should go this route.

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