The original premise of this #MyColumn was supposed to take a look at the Harbaugh/Michigan marriage and when the initial honeymoon phase could end. After some really in-depth research (I Snap Chatted like 10 people), the consensus seemed to be that the honeymoon will never end and save for a disaster year where the team gets busted for illegal tattoos or a former defensive coordinator goes to jail, it is hard to see Harbaugh losing his grip on this job.
The prodigal son returned and rattled off two 10-3 seasons with rosters full of talented, yet up-until-then disappointing players. Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, De’Veon Smith, Chris Wormley, Kyle Kalis, Kenny Allen,
Shane Morris, and Jabrill Peppers were all guys that came with some hype but had failed to live up to expectations under former coach, Brady Hoke.
After a surprising 2015 which saw the Wolverines throttle the University of Florida in the Capital One Citrus Buffalo Wild Wings Disney World Bowl, 2016’s expectations couldn’t have been higher.. For 3⁄4 of the year, the boys in blue did not disappoint. Unfortunately an inexcusable loss to Iowa in addition to a heartbreaker in Columbus to Daniel Capron and his crew ended Michigan’s national title hopes. Still, this was rarefied air for a roster barely removed from a 5-7 season a couple years earlier.
Go back three years, and many would have told you that 2017 was probably the first year to really judge Harbaugh and the program he’d built. In some ways, that expectation is still very fair, but in others, I can’t say it is.
The surprise success of year-1 led to a lack of roster turnover going into year-2. Much of the secondary was back, Jabrill Peppers moved down to help with the linebackers, and the DLine retained a ton of depth. Offensively, Wilton Speight was the only true question mark and he performed quite well for most of the season. While that bumped up expectations to year-2, the program set itself up for a potential drop off in year-3. The 2016 Michigan Wolverines had 11 players drafted and a handful of others scooped up by teams in free agency.
New faces are everywhere. While this team is arguably more talented than its predecessors, it lacks the type of bright lights experience of the 2016 team. The team’s three top receivers, Kekoa Crawford, Eddie McDoom, and Grant Perry totaled 36 catches for 417 yards and 3 touchdowns last season. Chesson and Darboh combined for 92 catches for 1362 yards and 9 touchdowns. That’s quite the gap.
So, in some ways, year-3 for Harbaugh is what year-2 was supposed to be. It’s the building year, the year before “the jump”. If Brandon Peters unseats Wilton Speight at quarterback, that probably rings even truer.
So no, the honeymoon (or Hokey... never mind that joke sucks) is not over, nor will it ever honestly be. Harbaugh is so loved within this community that he could go 0-3 against Ohio State in his first three years (please don’t, though) and the Ann Arbor faithful would still be in love with him. He’s the Prince who was Promised, the Cam’Ron to Dipset.
Even with all that true though, 2017 will represent a shift in expectations from here on out. The last two years were kind of like that college relationship that got surprisingly serious before you even knew what hit you. It was fun, it was spontaneous and surprising, but it’s time to hunker down and build something sustainable. It starts with beating Florida.