If Michigan-Minnesota is the game of the week, geez, things really have changed. Suddenly, Minnesota is the hot, young program with a hot, young coach (P.J. Fleck). Michigan is … actually, what is Michigan right now?
It’s certainly not Ohio State’s equal. That’s really the only standard the program is judged by as we head into Year 6 of Jim Harbaugh. The ultimate Michigan Man is coming off a fifth straight loss to the Buckeyes with somewhat of a rebuilding project on his hands.
If you had to choose a trajectory between the two programs, which would you pick? Fleck is coming off an 11-win season during which he had the Golden Gophers in College Football Playoff contention well into November.
“We want to get back to those days of a being a blueblood,” Fleck said of Saturday’s game for the Little Brown Jug. “We’re not ever going to just arrive on that day, but events like this back up what you’re saying, back up what’s going on.”
“Blueblood” and “Minnesota” in the same sentence. Drink that in with your virtual tailgate.
Fleck returns the Big Ten’s leading passer (Tanner Morgan) and his favorite target (Rashod Bateman). Michigan’s projected starter (Dylan McCaffrey) has opted out. Like Harbaugh, Fleck has won everywhere he’s coached. Like Harbaugh, he recruits well and is a perfect face of the program.
Sure, this is a one-game, opening-week assessment. But with Ohio State being head and shoulder pads ahead of the pack, it’s worth measuring which Big Ten team is second-best. It’s also worth asking when was the last time anyone said Minnesota had more upside than Michigan?
And could it be we’ve already witnessed Harbaugh’s ceiling in Ann Arbor, Michigan? If so, it’s one hell of a ceiling (.723 winning percentage), one that is still lacking that the proper headroom — a win over the Buckeyes.
Much was made this week of Harbaugh’s contract. An expected extension hasn’t yet arrived. Harbaugh’s deal is one of only six among FBS public schools that expire in the next 14 months (January 2022), according to USA Today’s coaching salaries database. Harbaugh is the only such Power Five coach at a public school in that space.
That’s where the Harbaugh dichotomy enters the discussion. Only 10 other FBS coaches have won at a higher rate at their current school. The nation’s fourth-highest paid coach ($7.8 million) says more with less than most coaches. When asked this week how recruits might view what appears to be a lack of job security, Harbaugh replied, “Go Blue.”
“Lack of a contract, I wouldn’t say it’s never important to recruiting,” said 247Sports recruiting analyst Bud Elliott, “but I think it’s only really relevant if a coach is really legitimately on the hot seat. Otherwise, this is the tool agents use to get athletic directors to cave to their demands for extensions.”
To say Harbaugh is in trouble would be overstating things. A Michigan legacy, a Wolverines legend and a direct connection to Bo