AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

Jim Harbaugh and Year 3 at Michigan


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.

FAU QB dismissed by Oklahoma ‘actually thanked’ Lane Kiffin for suspension that lasted two days

Getty Images
Leave a comment

That certainly didn’t last long.

Tuesday, after the first day of spring practice, Lane Kiffin revealed that Chris Robison had been indefinitely suspended from the Florida Atlantic football program for unspecified violations of team rules; one report had the suspension connected to skipping a mandatory tutoring session. At the time, the second-year head coach indicated that the suspension was day-to-day and could be lifted at any time.

As it turns out, Thursday was that time as the quarterback returned to the practice field with the rest of his FAU teammates.

“He came in [Wednesday] and actually thanked me for it,” Kiffin said according to the Sun-Sentinel. “He said it really kind of embarrassed him nationally and humbled him that things could kind of be taken away. It was good to see.”

A four-star member of Oklahoma’s 2017 recruiting class, Robison was arrested in April of that year for public intoxication; four months later, OU announced that Robison had been dismissed from the football program.  In August of last year, Robison announced his decision to transfer to FAU and ended up taking a redshirt for the 2017 season.

Robison and De’Andre Johnson are expected to compete for the starting job vacated by Jason Driskel, who announced earlier this offseason that he was retiring from the sport.  Johnson missed most of the 2017 season after blood clots were discovered in one of his arms.

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa (thumb) returns to practice

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the end, it appears to be much ado about (mostly) nothing.

Tuesday, after the reigning national champions had put the finishing touches on its first practice of the spring, Nick Saban confirmed that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had suffered an unspecified injury to the thumb on his left (throwing) hand. It was expected that the quarterback would travel to Birmingham for further evaluation of the injury.

Wednesday, it was reported that the injury was believed to be just a sprain and that Tagovailoa could return to practice soon. That report proved prophetic as Tagovailoa was indeed back at practice Thursday, albeit on a limited basis.

From al.com:

The quarterback was not doing the normal drills with his teammates but was off to the side working with head athletic trainer Jeff Allen. It looked like they were testing Tagovailoa’s ability to grip the football since the injury was suffered on his throwing hand. He replicated a few play-action roll outs with the ball in his left hand. At one point, he rolled over toward where Jalen Hurts was standing and they high fived.

Until Tagovailoa is fully recovered, Jalen Hurts will take the majority of the reps as the Crimson Tide continues its march through their 15 spring practice sessions.

The rising true junior Hurts, who has started every game but one the past two seasons, and the rising true sophomore Tagovailoa, the national championship game hero who replaced Hurts at halftime of the overtime win, are entrenched in a competition for the starting job that, barring a post-spring transfer, is expected to extend into summer camp. That said, most observers outside of the UA football program fully expect Tagovailoa, because of his proficiency in the passing game relative to Hurts, to earn the job at some point before the Tide opens the defense of their title against Louisville in Orlando Sept. 1.

USC graduate transfer Jalen Greene heads east to play at Illinois in 2018

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Greene is turning orange. Well, Jalen Greene is at least.

The former USC wide receiver who announced he would pursue a graduate transfer earlier this month announced on Twitter that he would be heading East to play at Illinois in 2018. He will be immediately eligible to play for the Illini.

Greene was originally recruited by the Trojans as a dual-threat quarterback but eventually made the move to receiver. He caught eight passes for 98 yards at USC last season as a partial starter and added another eight receptions for 116 yards the year prior.

Illinois has already begun spring practice and has been trying several new players at wide receiver in the process to find a good complement to Mike Dudek on the outside. It seems Greene could find himself in the mix to be one of those guys when he arrives in Champaign.

Josh Heupel keeping most of Scott Frost’s playbook at UCF as spring practice begins

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There are a ton of interesting storylines as spring practice begins across the country but one of the most intriguing programs to watch might be in Orlando as UCF looks to simultaneously follow up an undefeated season while also transitioning to a new coaching staff.

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson wrote a good story on the Knights changing some things up under head coach Josh Heupel the past few months like eating with players during meals, new strength and conditioning regiments and the usual offseason stuff you typically wind up season. However there was one interesting nugget about the team’s playbook that the coach relayed:

In other areas, player input has kept a few things unchanged. Take the offensive playbook, for example. Heupel and (Scott) Frost share enough offensive concepts that the new staff has adopted the terminology that players already know on the plays they have in common. So in theory, that should allow the offense to hit spring practice, which started Tuesday, with much more familiarity than another program that has completely changed over its staff.

As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In Heupel’s first head coaching gig, it seems he’s taking that to heart.