(This is an opinion piece intended to evaluate the full picture in Ann Arbor)
Everyone watched Michigan’s chances of winning the Big Ten East and playing for the Big Ten Championship likely slip away this past weekend. That game is already behind us, and I sure can understand the frustration and lack of patience among the fan base who seem to be keen on reminding anyone within earshot how long it has been since Michigan has been in the national contender conversation.
Not since 2006 has Michigan been in that conversation and ranked close to the top at the end of the season. Yes, Harbaugh had Michigan in a position to make the playoff last year, until the game against Iowa. And we all remember the outcome of The Game on November 18th that year.
I'm not writing another one of these Jim Harbaugh not getting it done at Michigan stories, to point out how he may never consistently win against his biggest rivals or compete for the Big Ten and College Football Playoff. Is he the right guy for the job? Absolutely, and anyone who says otherwise and feel they should make a change is crazy. I think it's comical when someone throws up a comparison of Jim Harbaugh to Butch Jones, or even Brady Hoke. It’s been popping up lately and it's far from reality because those pictures do not capture the full picture of what's happening inside those programs under those head coaches. Let me explain this in greater detail.
What else outside of championships has not happened lately at Michigan? Consistency.
If you're a reasonable Michigan fan, you would agree that what Jim Harbaugh has been able to do is impressive. If he can pull out another 10-win season, it will only be the third time a Michigan coach has had three consecutive 10-win seasons since 1978. The last two happened with Lloyd Carr (1997-1999) and Bo Schembechler (1976-1978).
Are we living in a world now of a more competitive Big Ten? Absolutely. The Big Ten is very competitive and much different when Bo and Carr were coaching, probably the most overall among the power five conferences. Just look inside the East division and what’s happened since the conference alignment began with two divisions.
Looking back at the transition and roller coaster since Lloyd Carr.
If you go back to the end of 2007 when Lloyd Carr ended his coaching career after 13 seasons, there has been no true consistency from one season to the next. It's been a roller coaster from having seasons with records of 11-2 under Brady Hoke to 3-9 when Rich Rodriguez took over. Michigan’s record over each of the past nine seasons is evidence enough to reach for the vomit bag:
2008: 3-9, no bowl
2009: 5-7, no bowl
2010: 7-6, Gator Bowl loss
2011: 11-2, Sugar Bowl win
2012: 8-5, Outback Bowl loss
2013: 7-6, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss
2014: 5-7, no bowl
2015: 10-3, Citrus Bowl win
2016: 10-3, Orange Bowl loss
For all you Cedar Point fans, these last nine years feel a lot like the Valravn roller coaster. 2011 was that first and impressive 223-foot-tall hill after the slow and brutal clicking climb of 2008, then the total wins went soaring down like that 75 miles per hour fall. The bottom of that first 223-foot hill was 2014 with a 5-7 record, a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame and losses against Rutgers and Maryland.
What's more impressive is how Jim Harbaugh took a 2014 team with most of the same players and doubled their wins in 2015. He’s also lost six of eight games so far by seven points or less. There are less blowouts and close games, which is another clear sign of consistency and Michigan being competitive again in a tough conference and division.
While fans are frustrated and impatient, they must remain patient at this point in the ride. Nobody knows exactly when that next big hill will come with a Big Ten title or College Football Playoff appearance. Chances are it happens quicker with who is managing the ride and coaching right now than anyone else who would come in after him. If you aren't a fan of what's going on in Ann Arbor right now, then get off the ride. Or stay on board and evaluate your expectations, knowing that nobody wants it more than the individuals inside that program at Schembechler Hall.
We endured a few bumps and bruises on the ride last week, but let’s keep ascending up the hill and see what Rutgers has in store for us this weekend.