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In year four, welcome to Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines

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This is the type of team that Michigan hired Harbaugh to build.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The latest leg of the “Revenge Tour” is now over and one thing is for certain after eight weeks of football without a Michigan loss: we called things way too early after the loss to Notre Dame.

The Jim Harbaugh hot seat talk, the comments about this team being soft and not playing with an edge, whatever it was. Those of us that felt that way have to own it and eat crow now because Michigan Football under Harbaugh is truly a buzzsaw for the first time in his four seasons.

Even in 2016 when they let a golden opportunity slip away, there were still fundamental flaws with the team. The quarterback play was not good enough, the offensive line got pushed around in big games, the coaching was tentative and the team cracked under pressure late in the season. They could not not run the ball to close out games and that killer instinct just was not there.

Last season was the first true year where the lineup was made up of a majority of Harbaugh-recruited players and they had a rough go of it. That’s what happens with young teams still building depth. Due to a variety of reasons, the quarterback play was the worst we’d seen from Michigan in a decade.

After 2017, Michigan was staring a 1-5 record against rivals in the face, no wins over a ranked team on the road since 2007 and questions about if this simply is what they were destined to be under Harbaugh. A lot of things had to change this offseason, which included a roundabout shuffling of the coaching staff that led to Ed Warriner replacing Tim Drevno as offensive line coach, Jim McElwain being brought in to coach the wide receivers.

Somewhere along the way, Michigan lost itself and even in the game at Notre Dame this year, there were a lot of lost puppy dog-looking faces on the sideline. But that loss became the fuel for the Wolverines to become what many believed they were destined to be under Harbaugh.

Since Week 1, this team has gotten better every single week with the schedule setting up in a unique way in that the level of competition increased every week with it. All that Michigan has done is improve and pull everyone’s pants down since then. Outside of the 17-0 deficit at Northwestern, these wins have been as thorough a beatdown as anyone could imagine.

People have been waiting for this program to develop an identity and they have one. They are going to hammer you until you break. With that comes frustrations that they let teams hang around and leave chances for points on the field, but they have stuck with that and the second-half floodgates have opened every time, without failure.

Time off the clock with sustained drives is more valuable to this team right now than points are because it ensures that arguably the best Michigan defense in 20 years stays fresh and does not lose an edge. Could that come back to haunt them at some point? Maybe. But when the defense is playing the way it is, it may not matter if they score 13 points or 80 points.

This team and their players have taken on the identity of their head coach as a group that uses perceived slights against them as fuel and keeps all of the receipts. That’s why you see the stomping of the Spartan logo, the celebration on the field, the mocking of touchdown celebrations. As Chase Winovich said, this team has been bullied and wants its lunch money back, with interest paid.

The offensive line has gone from one of the worst among Power 5 schools into one of the nation’s most stout with the arrow continuing to point upward. Warriner deserves every cent and quite frankly, a blank check from Michigan when the time comes.

They can run the ball to close out games. Their defense gets better as the game goes on. They’ve got a quarterback with big-play ability that has been smart and efficient all season long. They’re young wide receivers are getting separation and are able to make big plays down the field. All of the ingredients are there and are coming together truly for the first time under Harbaugh, who after a few seasons with major question marks is pulling all of the right strings and has seen his full vision for his brand of football being realized for the first time in Ann Arbor.

It was always going to take time and year four was always going to be the make-or-break year that told you what Michigan was going to be. The development timeline accelerated when they won a lot more than they were expected to in that first season and then how 2016 began. They absolutely blew it and had nobody to blame for themselves as to how 2016 ended, but then all of the talent from that team went to the NFL. Any objective fan could have told you that 2017 was going to be a transitional year that set the table for 2018, but the hot take crowd and overly-emotional didn’t want to hear it.

Like Veruca Salt, they didn’t care how, they wanted it now.

There’s a lot of work to be done and now the Revenge Tour subsides for a few weeks. Games against Rutgers and Indiana should serve as their version of small club shows that bands play to work out the kinks to prepare for the bigger gigs. Ohio State is vulnerable and is bleeding right now and Michigan has to go to Columbus and get it done. With this team’s long memory, do not expect a tentative or scared team to go into that building in the last week of November. Everything is right in front of them.

Michigan State beating OSU this upcoming weekend would essentially lock down the East title for the Wolverines, which would be another feather in the cap and another narrative checked off the list. But at this point, not beating Ohio State would be a massive disappointment, perhaps even moreso than 2016.

Hell, you may not only have a chance to beat them. You may have a chance to break them.