Edson: Wolverines Eye Big Ten Title, Playoff Berth

It’s all laid out for Jim Harbaugh and his Michigan Wolverines football team.

If they win their final four games they will play for the Big Ten title and most likely land a spot in college football’s final four playoffs.

That would be a huge turnaround for a team given up for dead after a week one loss to Notre Dame.

But it’s hard to fault people for souring on U-M after that first game. After all, Harbaugh’s teams had finished third, third and fourth in the Big Ten East during his first three years on the job.

What people tend to forget is Harbaugh’s track record.

He was the Big Ten MVP as the Wolverine quarterback in 1986 and finished third in the Heisman voting that year.

After being an assistant coach at NFL stops in Oakland and San Diego, he took over the head coaching reins at Stanford and turned that program around.

From there, he took over as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers for four years and led them to the Super Bowl. He was voted NFL Coach of the Year in 2011.

So it was widely assumed Harbaugh would march back to his alma mater and make the Wolverines instant National Champions.

As longtime ESPN analyst Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.”

During Harbaugh’s first three years at Michigan, his Wolverines went 18-8 in the Big Ten. That’s above average for a regular coach, but not for a coach making the big money that Harbaugh is.

What’s worse is that he was losing to both Ohio State and Michigan State.

But Harbaugh and his staff kept working, kept digging. They came up with a solid quarterback in transfer Shea Patterson to go with their great defense. They became better as game-day coaches.

Now they are 5-0 in the Big Ten and 7-1 overall.

Their schedule the rest of the way is challenging but something they can pull off – winning at home against Penn State and Indiana and on the road at Rutgers and Ohio State.

Here’s the rub. If Michigan State does U-M a favor and beats the Buckeyes in East Lansing in two weeks, U-M can lose to Ohio State and still advance to the Big Ten title game.

But a loss to the Buckeyes would surely take the Wolverines out of the national playoff picture.

I look at it this way: If the Wolverines win out in the regular season, they deserve both the Big Ten title and a national playoff berth.

If they lose one of those final four games, they will have to settle for a conference title and keep building toward the national playoff.

Either way, there has been progress at U-M this season. Given Jim Harbaugh’s track record, I wouldn’t have expected less.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.