By LARRY LAGE, AP sports writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) – Jim Harbaugh rocked his coaching staff and got in shape like he’s still playing quarterback after his opportunity to train at his alma mater was extended last winter of at least one more season.
Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, a former Harbaugh teammate under Bo Schembechler, signed a new deal with Harbaugh that lowered his guaranteed salary with what is essentially a year-over-year contract in a movement that falls somewhere between extension and firing. .
Harbaugh responded shortly thereafter by bringing in new defensive coordinator Mike Maconald to replace Don Brown. He has recruited a pair of young and dynamic former Wolverines, Mike Hart and Ron Bellamy, to join the new coaching staff. He even changed the name of the team’s 9v7 drill to Beat Ohio early in the spring drills, trying to strengthen his players while focusing more on rival Buckeyes.
So far this has seemed to work as the Wolverines (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) are ranked sixth in the Top 25 AP and college football playoff standings. The state of Ohio is # 2 in the AP poll and fourth in the CFP.
Harbaugh, perhaps more than anyone, is desperately hoping the many changes he’s made will help Michigan finally beat Ohio State on Saturday at the Big House. He appears to have a chance of winning the rivalry for the first time as a coach, but the Buckeyes (10-1, 8-0) are favored to win by more than one touchdown, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
The gap is relatively respectable in a suddenly lopsided series that has seen Ohio State win a school record of eight straight, 15 of 16 games. Keeping it close won’t cut it for Harbaugh, whose tenure as a coach at the Michigan lasted a long time. hype and short of important wins.
“Both teams have a lot at stake,” Harbaugh said Monday. “It’s a real playoff in that sense. In the college football playoff world it’s the start of playoffs.
“The winning team will advance. The team that won’t. That’s it, and it’s also the great game, The Game, the rivalry.
The winners will take the Big Ten East division, earning a spot in the conference championship game and a solid chance to advance to the college football playoffs.
Even if the Buckeyes win by multiple touchdowns, Harbaugh will most likely keep his job. Another setback, however, would haunt him for many months to come and lead to more doubts about his ability to restore college football’s most successful schedule by claiming the championship in today’s game.
Last summer, during Big Ten media days, he set a public goal of winning the conference championship – the school’s first since 2004 – and beating rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.
“We’re going to do it or die trying,” Harbaugh said in July.
Despite a 37-33 loss against the number at the time. 8 Spartans last month that brought Harbaugh down to 3-4 in the state rivalry, the Wolverines are one win away from qualifying for the Big Ten Championship game for the first time. Harbaugh briefly reflected on his “do or die” comments.
“It takes the whole path of life,” he said. “It is here. It is happening.”
The game did not take place last season for the first time in 102 years as a victim of a COVID-19 outbreak within the Michigan program that ended its season prematurely with an embarrassing 2-4 record.
Some chuckled that the Wolverines were thrilled to be spared a trip to Ohio state because coach Ryan Day reportedly told his players they “were going to get them 100” at the Horseshoe.
It bothered Michigan coaches and players, who all insisted they wanted to play the Buckeyes last year – and every season.
And while Harbaugh has his fair share of detractors, his players seem to support him.
“We have a coach who is ready for anything for us,” said wide receiver Mike Sainristil. “He will go to the ends of the earth to make sure we are all in the right position. He’s going to stake everything for us and, you know, Coach Harbaugh is a guy you really want to play for. He’s a great trainer, a great human and he’s shown it throughout the year.
“I wouldn’t want to take this pitch with any coach other than him on Saturday.”
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