Heading into the 2021 season, skeptics were everywhere regarding Jim Harbaugh and his future in Ann Arbor. But after finally beating Ohio State, taking the Big Ten title and making a College Football Playoff appearance, the respect Harbaugh once had has returned.
Tom Fornelli from CBS Sports annually ranks the coaches across the country during the offseason and then divides that into each conference ranking the leaders of each program. For the Big Ten, only one name stands above Harbaugh, and unsurprisingly it is Ryan Day over at Ohio State. Here is what Fornelli had to say about the Buckeyes’ head coach:
Ryan Day (6 overall): Ohio State didn’t win the Big Ten last season, but it’s going to take more than one year without a conference title to knock Ryan Day off his perch in the conference. Many will argue this is too high a spot for Day, considering the program he inherited, but you cannot argue that he hasn’t done a fantastic job maintaining what was in place. The Buckeyes will once again enter the 2022 season as the favorite in the Big Ten and a favorite to win the College Football Playoff. People will give you that benefit of the doubt when you’ve gone 23-1 in-conference since taking over. Last year: 1 in Big Ten
It’s hard to negate that logic. Day may have been “born on third base” as Harbaugh has said in the past, but he has kept the Ohio State steamroller running through the Big Ten for pretty much his entire tenure. Now, if the Buckeyes show weakness again this season in a year that many expect them to compete for a National Championship, I think some arguments can be made for taking him off his pedestal.
Right behind him is Harbaugh who Fornelli admits there may be some recency bias for. In this same series in 2021, Fornelli ranked Harbaugh as the No. 7 coach in the conference behind Tom Allen, Paul Chryst, Kirk Ferentz, James Franklin and Pat Fitzgerald. A year later, and Harbaugh has ascended above all of those guys. Fornelli explains:
Jim Harbaugh (9 overall): Well, aren’t we all just prisoners of recency bias? After the Wolverines had a disastrous COVID campaign in 2020, our voters ignored the first five years of Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan and assumed he’d forgotten how to coach. One Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance later, and he’s back at No. 2 in the Big Ten and the top 10 of our Power Five coach rankings. The Wolverines lose a lot from last year’s team but still enter the season as one of the biggest obstacles between Ohio State and a Big Ten title. Last year: 7 in Big Ten
Faith in Harbaugh and this Michigan program were on troubled waters a year ago but now that it seems those issues have been sorted out, the question remains if Harbaugh can pull off the unthinkable again. The Ohio State mountain still feels like there is more to climb. For fans and the media, the next challenge for Harbaugh after winning his first game against his archrivals will be to level the playing field and a consistent basis. One win every eight years isn’t going to keep anyone happy. If he can make it a norm or even a routine, we’re going to be talking about him taking over the top spot.