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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.

No. 5 LSU handles No. 22 Mississippi State, advances to showdown vs. No. 1 Alabama

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LSU came into Saturday knowing if No. 22 Mississippi State was going to beat them, Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald would have to do it by himself.

Fitzgerald managed to run the ball 23 times for 131 hard, effective yards, but the Bulldogs’ passing game was simply atrocious. He finished 8-of-24 for 59 yards with four interceptions, allowing No. 5 LSU to coax out just enough offense for a 19-3 win in Baton Rouge.

The first of Fitzgerald’s two picks proved to be the backbreaker. On his second pass of the day, Fitzgerald hit LSU’s Michael Divinity, Jr., who returned the ball 30 yards to the Mississippi State 3. Nick Brossette punched in a 1-yard rush on 3rd-and-goal to put the Tigers up 7-0.

Mississippi State answered with a 73-yard drive, but Fitzgerald’s 3rd-and-one plunge from the 2 was stuffed, forcing a 19-yard Jace Christmann field goal.

The Tigers’ next seven possessions covered 22 yards in 15 plays, ending in six three-and-outs and one interception, but it didn’t matter. Mississippi State (4-3, 1-3 SEC) could not puncture the scoreboard again, and a 38-yard Cole Tracy field goal pushed the lead to 10-3 at the break.

That theme continued in the second half, as Tracy added second half field goals of 38, 29 and 40 yards.

Joe Burrow finished 16-of-28 for 129 yards with an interception, while the Tigers’ ground game mustered 111 yards on 43 carries.

While it was enough for LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC) to beat this week’s opponent, it won’t be enough to beat the next. After a mutual bye week, LSU next takes the field against No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge. 

And a major development in that game occurred at the end of this one. LSU linebacker Devin White was ejected in the fourth quarter for a targeting hit on Fitzgerald, meaning the Bayou Bengals will be without their best defensive player for the first half against Alabama.

Mark Dantonio calls ‘BS’ on Jim Harbaugh’s ‘bush league’ claims

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Things were chippy prior to the annual Michigan-Michigan State rivalry game Saturday afternoon… they stayed chippy throughout the Wolverines’ huge win in East Lansing… and the coaches from both sides continued chirping on into their respective postgame press conferences.

Jim Harbaugh ripped the Spartans’ “bush league” pregame tactics as the U-M head coach claimed that MSU players “clotheslined a couple of our guys” and ripped off the headphones of another player. Harbaugh also specifically mentioned his counterpart on the opposing sideline, and it wasn’t an especially flattering mention.

“Total bush league and apparently Coach [Mark] Dantonio was five yards behind it all smiling,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s bush league, that’s my impression of it.”

The MSU head coach’s response to being described as bush league? From the Detroit Free Press:

That’s BS,” Dantonio said. “You guys get your cameras out. I’m not gonna go to that. Go ahead, next question.”

A few seconds later, Dantonio said, unprompted: “Bush league? Mmmhmm.

Dantonio is now 8-4 all-time against the Wolverines, while Harbaugh evened his record at 2-2 against the Spartans.

Purdue tricks Ohio State with fake field goal and capitalizes with touchdown before halftime

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Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm knows his team cannot afford to settle for field goals if the Boilermakers are going to upset No. 2 Ohio State tonight. So with a 7-3 lead late in the first half and a fourth down from the Ohio State 13-yard line, Brohm opted to try a fake field goal in an attempt to tack on a few more points just before halftime. Fortunately for Brohm, that worked out to perfection, and now Purdue holds a 14-3 lead on the Buckeyes at halftime as result.

Holder Joe Schopper took the snap and promptly got up and ran to the left side of the field, needing four yards to pick up a first down for Purdue. Schopper had the room but needed to throw his body into a defender just enough to make sure he picked up the first down. Against Ohio State’s special teams unit, he did just that.

Had Purdue gone into halftime with a 10-3 lead, there may not be a Boilermaker fan in the state of Indiana that would have passed up on that scenario if it was an option before the game started. And the possibility of still having to settle for a field goal could still have become a reality if not for the first-and-goal pass from David Blough to Rondale Moore, who scooted into the end zone to cushion the Purdue lead.

Purdue’s late-half touchdown drive came immediately after Ohio State kicker Blake Haubeil missed on a 35-yard field goal to try cutting Purdue’s lead to one. So go ahead and consider this a 10-point swing that Brohm was not content to let slip by him.

We’ll see if Brohm has to dig into a bag of tricks in the second half.

No. 25 Wazzu up big against No. 12 Oregon heading to halftime

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Gardner Minshew threw an interception on No. 25 Washington State’s first drive of the game against No. 12 Oregon, leading many in the frenzied crowd at Martin Stadium to wonder if the team had Coug’d it before they even could get going. As it turns out, there was nowhere to go but up on a wild day-turned-night on the Palouse.

Wazzu wound up getting back on track in a big way, bouncing back to the tune of a 27-0 lead at halftime and a growing national profile in the process as they look to take control of the Pac-12 North.

Minshew, the mustache-sporting grad transfer behind center, finished the half with 231 yards and three touchdowns on 36 attempts — one of which was a dime to Easop Winston just before the end of the second quarter that officially signaled upset alert. As is typical of Mike Leach’s Air Raid, the ball was spread around quite a bit to the tune of nine different receivers with a catch, including two tailbacks in James Williams and Max Borghi with six apiece.

The Cougars even got the ground game going, with Williams managing to break out of at least six tackles for a 24 yard scamper to the end zone that included him tight rope-walking along the sideline before diving past the pylon.

As a result of all that, Oregon QB Justin Herbert hardly looked like the guy many were touting as the top draft pick in the spring as he failed to develop much consistency on any of the team’s drives and finished just 4-of-11 for 36 yards in the half. Running back CJ Verdell did have 17 yards rushing but it was other wise four straight three-and-outs for the offense to open the game and go into the locker room in search of answers.

This game is far from other when you factor in both #Pac12AfterDark vibes and Leach’s penchant for throwing the ball at all costs so there’s still plenty of intrigue going on in Pullman. After a rough start though, the Cougars have to be feeling good about the direction the team is taking as their Pac-12 rivals suddenly find themselves in a deep hole with quite the fight on their hands.