For Michigan Football, Is It Harbaugh Or Bust?
Joel Elconin is the co-host of Benzinga's #PreMarket Prep, a daily trading idea radio show. He is also a 1985 graduate of the University of Michigan and a multi-generational season-ticket holder.
It is fact that the University of Michigan football team is the all-time NCAA leader with 915 wins, a 72.9 win percentage (third-best of all time). Whether or not that makes the Wolverines the greatest program is a subject of great debate.
Although the program has amassed 11 national titles, 42 conference titles, three Heisman trophy winners, numerous All-Americans, produced some of the greatest players in NFL history, and even a United States President, many haters are waiting for their wildest dream to come true: the demise of Michigan football.
Over the last nine years -- since the death of Bo Schembechler, the day prior to UM's loss in the 2006 No. 1 (Ohio State) vs. No. 2 (Michigan) battle in Columbus, Ohio -- the program has been in a downward spiral.
In the 2007 season opener, the team suffered what many consider the greatest upset in the history of sports, when Michigan lost to a Division 2 team, Appalachian State. At the end of the season, Lloyd Carr’s ill-timed departure left the university scrambling for a new coach at an inopportune time.
With fans and administration being impatient, the Rich Rodriguez era (2008-2010) ended after three years and the subsequent hiring of an inexperienced and unproven Brady Hoke. Now that Hoke has been disposed of, the moment of truth has arrived.
After two very publicized coaching searches, the third was even more of a media circus that ended with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh. Two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance and being highly coveted for many high-profile NFL jobs, Harbaugh came back to his roots.
The haters are now licking their chops. If Harbaugh can't turn the storied program around, who can? Or who would want to even try? Over the last nine years, the team has endured many embarrassing losses to their major rivals (Ohio State and Michigan State) amid others.
But let's take a trip down memory lane.
Harken back to 1968 after a humiliating 50-14 loss to Ohio State, in which Buckeyes Coach Woody Hayes completed a successful two-point conversion late in the game when Ohio State was ahead 48-14 (when asked why he went for two, he replied, “because I could not go for three.”) Michigan answered with a new coach, Bo Schembechler, to right the ship after 10 years of up and down seasons that culminated in a dismal 53-48-3 record over the 1958-1968 period.
In 1969, Michigan spoiled Ohio State's undefeated season, beating the Buckeyes 24-12.
The similarities between the two time periods over 40 years apart are strikingly similar. Back in 1969, Ohio State was coming off a national championship and in the midst of a 22-game winning streak; many pundits thought they were capable of beating some NFL teams.
In 2015, Ohio State is coming off a national championship and an impressive 38-3 record that includes a perfect 24-0 record in the Big Ten under Urban Meyer. Furthermore, they're heavily favored by many to repeat this season. One more similarity: the 1969 game was in Ann Arbor, where the 2015 game will be held.
Will Michigan even be able to win their first game (on the road versus Utah) in the inaugural game of the Harbaugh era? What will their record be after a grueling four game non-conference schedule that many rank as one of the toughest in the country? How will they fare against Ohio State and Michigan State, which has undeniably taken the title as the best college football team in the state over the last few years?
Certainly all of these questions will be answered on the field this year and the years to come, but remember the old saying, “history tends to repeat itself."
Based on Michigan’s football history, I certainly hope so. If not, the Michigan haters might be lining up at my front door.
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