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Jim Harbaugh and Year 3 at Michigan

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Jim Harbaugh is entering what some may suggest is a pivotal third season at Michigan. I tend to give head coaches in a new job a full four-year cycle to prove whether or not they are the right fit for a job, but there are certain jobs that see that evaluation period trimmed down. Michigan, paying Harbaugh over $9 million, is most definitely one of them.

Last week on The Comeback, during Big Ten week on the college football preview schedule, Harbaugh was in the spotlight heading into the 2017 season. The question posed to the roundtable forum was how long the Harbaugh hype can continue to carry the load at Michigan. The premise of the question was based on the fact Michigan has finished the past two seasons in third place in the Big Ten East, during a stretch in which Harbaugh and Michigan are 0-2 against Ohio State. Overall, you would be silly to suggest Harbaugh has been a failure at Michigan after just two seasons (one of which was highly encouraging), but as time goes by it is fair to suggest Michigan should expect more out of Harbaugh if that trend continues in 2017.

Michigan will start the year far less experienced than they were a year ago, but the talent and potential for the Wolverines is still considerably high given how Harbaugh has recruited since arriving as the head coach and seeing what he can do to help develop the talent he brings in and inherits (see this past NFL Draft as an example). But in 2017, Ohio State figures to be the Big Ten favorite with a chance at making a third trip to the College Football Playoff. Penn State is also entering the season with some high expectations and some consider the Nittany Lions a viable playoff contender as well. Does that leave Michigan sitting in a reserved spot for third place once again?

While playing off the recent conversation on The Comeback on Twitter with some others on Twitter, I gathered a few collective thoughts and shared them in one Twitter post to recap where the discussion had gone. I will admit it comes off looking much more nitpicky and narrative-esque than I intended. In it, I looked at the results of some head coaches in their third years at their current jobs so we can get a sense of what Harbaugh may be up against as far as his job performance is concerned.

Fortunately for me, the president tweeted a video meme of him knocking down CNN so it got people off my back for a little bit.

Of course, we are comparing gala apples to red delicious apples here. For starters, building a foundation at Stanford in no way should be comparable to what any of the other coaches happened to do at their current jobs. The intro comes off misleading because it looks as though I am completely ignoring the previous head coaching stints of Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and James Franklin while including Harbaugh’s first FBS job. That was not the intention at all. But I would suggest that taking over as the head coach of a program like Michigan is on par with Saban taking over at Alabama at the time Saban was hired by the Crimson Tide. Alabama wasn’t the Alabama they are today before Saban took the job, and in his third year he managed to win a national title.

Ohio State was a well-oiled machine before Meyer took over as head coach (it just needed a one-year service check-up under Luke Fickell after Jim Tressel was removed), but he won a national title in his third year on the job and went undefeated in his first (and probably would have beaten Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game if not for a postseason ban). At Clemson, Dabo Swinney turned Clemson in the right direction and stunned Virginia Tech for the ACC Championship in his third season in charge. (nevermind what happened in the Orange Bowl after that).

And yes, Harbaugh is 2-0 against Franklin and smacked Penn State all around Ann Arbor last season, but Penn State was the one hoisting the Big Ten championship trophy at the end of the season thanks in part to wins against two teams Michigan lost to in November. Penn State also got on a fast track with a rebuidling roster that was inherited in worst shape than Harbaugh took over at Michigan.

Considering all that is being invested in Michigan football between the coaching contracts, a spring practice trip in Florida, an overseas trip to Italy (and more to come?), and so on, should Michigan fans begin putting more pressure on Harbaugh to deliver a Big Ten championship, if not a national championship? Absolutely, if he doesn’t do it this year.

Harbaugh entering Year 3 as Michigan’s head coach will do so starting the year with a younger roster in need of experience. Ohio State is a better team. Playing at Penn State in a revenge game could be difficult. Playing Florida in the opener should be a challenge. Michigan may not really have a shot at winning the Big Ten in 2017, and most will give Harbaugh a pass for that. That’s fair, but the pressure for winning big in 2018 will be high. By then, the entire program will have been modeled and developed by Harbaugh and his staff. The excuses will be gone, just as they expired for Brady Hoke taking over for Rich Rodriguez and Brian Kelly taking over after Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.

Harbaugh is not going to be thrown on any hot seats so long as the donors keep supporting Michigan and the Wolverines remain relevant. But if Harbaugh does not deliver a national championship in the next 24 months, the story could begin spinning a different direction.

Ex-Minnesota QB Demry Croft appears headed to FCS school

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A little less than three weeks after leaving Minnesota, Demry Croft appears to have found a new college football home.

In a tweet posted to his personal Twitter account Saturday afternoon, Croft seemed to indicate that he has decided to transfer to Tennessee State to continue his playing career.  As TSU plays at the FCS level, Croft will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

Including next season, he has two years of eligibility remaining.

This season, Croft, who started the last six games of 2017,  completed 42 percent of his 122 passes for 674 yards, four touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 87.6 pass efficiency rating is not amongst the top 126 quarterbacks in the country.  Perhaps the most noteworthy moment of his Gophers career was posting a negative quarterback rating in a mid-November loss to Northwestern two weeks before he decided to transfer.

Conversely, though, he was good with his feet as his 309 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns were fourth and third on the team, respectively.

Troy leading North Texas halfway through an entertaining New Orleans Bowl

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Brandon Silvers hit his first 11 passes and Troy threatened to blow the game open early, but North Texas found its footing at fought its way back into the New Orleans Bowl. As it stands, Troy holds a 22-20 lead at the break.

Troy accepted the ball to open the game and promptly rolled 80 yards in nine plays, capped by a 1-yard Josh Anderson scoring run. The Trojans immediately pushed the lead to two scores when North Texas quarterback Mason Fine was sacked and fumbled at his own 14, setting up Anderson’s second touchdown run of the first half of the first quarter. Silvers hit John Johnson for a 2-point conversion to stake the Trojans to a 15-0 lead at the 9:21 mark of the opening frame.

The Mean Green went three-and-out on their next possession but, facing the prospect of getting buried for the game in just the first quarter, the North Texas defense rose up when Joshua Wheeler sacked Silvers on third down at the Troy 39. The UNT offense awoke with an 11-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a 12-yard pass from Fine to Rico Bussey, Jr.

Anderson immediately responded with a 55-yard run on the final play of the first quarter, and Silvers completed the drive four plays later with a 7-yard strike to Damion Willis at the 14:24 mark of the second quarter. North Texas attempted to return service with another touchdown, but Fine under-threw a wide open Bussey on 3rd-and-2 from the Troy 31 and his fourth down pass to Michael Lawrence was dropped.

Troy threatened to push its lead to three touchdowns on its next drive, moving to the North Texas 22, when disaster struck — a snap went over Silvers’s head and was scooped up by the Mean Green’s Colton McDonald, who returned the loose pigskin 56 yards for a touchdown. Fine’s 2-point conversion rush failed, but North Texas was still within 22-13 with 5:49 left in the first half.

North Texas had a golden opportunity to pull within one score of the Trojans when Kishawn McClain intercepted Silvers at the UNT 46 on Troy’s first play of the ensuing possession, but the Mean Green were forced to punt after just one first down.

But North Texas forced its third straight stop, this drive ended by another Wheeler sack, and Fine capitalized with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Lawrence with 49 seconds left before the break to pull the Mean Green within two. Fine completed 13-of-23 passes in the half for 146 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Mean Green have mustered just 15 yards on 14 carries.

Silvers closed the half hitting 16-of-21 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown and a pick, and Anderson led all rushers with 13 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns.

North Texas will receive to open the second half.

Colorado State suspends three ahead of New Mexico Bowl matchup with Marshall

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Especially in the backfield, Colorado State will be at less than full strength for half of its postseason game.

CSU announced Saturday afternoon that it has suspended three players — running backs Rashaad Boddie (pictured, being tackled) and Marvin Kinsey and defensive back Robert Awunganyi — for the first half of today’s New Mexico Bowl matchup with Marshall.  The only reason given was an unspecified violation of team rules.

The most noteworthy name in the trio is Boddie, whose 254 yards rushing are third on the Rams while his four rushing touchdowns are third as well.  Kinsey’s 124 yards rushing are fifth on the team.

Awunganyi has not played a down this season.

As noted by the Denver Post, CSU will also be without linebacker Josh Watson for the first half as well.  The redshirt junior currently leads the Rams in tackles with 103.

Ninth player has left Lovie Smith’s Illinois team since end of season

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a Power Five program harder hit when it comes to roster attrition than Illinois.

The latest departure from Lovie Smith‘s football program is Dominic Thieman, with the wide receiver taking to Twitter to announce that he has decided to transfer from the Fighting Illini. As a true sophomore, Thieman will have two years of eligibility remaining at another FBS school after he sits out the 2018 season.

Thieman, a three-star 2016 signee, was fifth on the team in receptions this past season with 11 and sixth in receiving yards with 144. He’ll finish the Illini portion of his collegiate playing career with 17 catches for 176 yards.

According to the Chicago Tribune‘s Shannon Ryan, Thieman is the ninth player on scholarship to leave Smith’s program since the end of the 2017 regular season. Among those who have been confirmed as departees are the highest-rated signee in the Illini’s 2015 recruiting class and one of its most talented players on the defensive side of the ball.