Free Press sports writers Nick Baumgardner, George Sipple and Shawn Windsor discuss Michigan’s 31-20 loss to Ohio State on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, in Ann Arbor.
Jim Harbaugh doesn’t always arrive at his conclusion on the spot.
Far from a knee-jerk reactionary, Harbaugh comes from the “measure twice, cut once” school. So when he brought up the notion of Michigan’s need to “get stronger” multiple times after the Wolverines’ season-ending loss to Ohio State, I figured there was more to this than weight training.
Physical strength. Mental strength. Talent strength. Harbaugh meant what he said. And a week later, he arrived at his point.
“We look at it right now, we’re not good enough. Not good enough to win all our games,” Harbaugh said Sunday night. “We need to be better. We need to be good enough.”
Not good enough. An 8-4 record isn’t good enough. Good enough, in Harbaugh’s world. is winning a championship. This wasn’t a championship team.
More: Jim Harbaugh: Michigan’s not good enough right now, working to fix it
Over the past week, Harbaugh’s pursuit of Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson and other Rebel players who are looking for a new home in the aftermath of the school’s NCAA sanctions has drawn attention.
It also proves he meant what he said. Michigan’s not good enough right now. And he’s trying to fix it.
More: QB Shea Patterson hits transfer market, Michigan reportedly in the mix
The pursuit of another transfer quarterback right now is an interesting one for Harbaugh, as he’ll enter his fourth year in Ann Arbor after the close of the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1. He’s already taken two transfers. One (Jake Rudock) worked, one (John O’Korn) didn’t. Both of those came prior to the start of his first season, when Michigan was in desperate need of an influx of talent at the position.
With year three wrapping up, Harbaugh now has two quarterbacks he’s fully recruited in redshirt freshman Brandon Peters and true freshman Dylan McCaffrey set to return next year. Some pundits say his pursuit of Patterson is overkill, claiming he should have found an established, no-doubt, homegrown starting quarterback after three years.
Maybe that’s fair. But reality shows us Michigan just went through a season where two starters went down with serious injuries; the Wolverines are set to enter a critical 2018 season with almost zero proven depth at the most important position on the field.
Patterson, a Toledo native, was the No. 1-ranked pro-style quarterback prospect in 2016. the same class as Peters. He’s thrown for 3,139 yards and 23 touchdowns (vs. 12 interceptions) during 10 games as an SEC quarterback over the last two years.
And while it remains to be seen if he’ll gain immediate eligibility as a transfer, he’s put up more yardage and touchdown passes than any quarterback on Michigan’s rosterover the past two seasons.
“We’ve got to get stronger,” Harbaugh said after the Ohio State loss. “We’ve got to improve.”
It’s a fine line to walk, as far as quarterback goes. At some point, Michigan will have to pick a lane with a quarterback and allow that player to develop in concert with a multitude of young pass-catching options. Bringing in a player like Patterson would ignite a full-blown quarterback battle for the third straight offseason.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh discusses the disappointing 31-20 loss to Ohio State in the regular season finale Saturday, Nov. 25,2017 at Michigan Stadium.
Nick Baumgardner, Detroit Free Press
But is Michigan really in a place to take chances otherwise? That 8-4 record says no.
Quarterback’s not the only position of interest, though. Harbaugh also met with Ole Miss safety Deontay Anderson this week. Wide receiver Van Jefferson — a player Michigan recruited heavily in 2015 — is scheduled to visit this week. Both play at positions where Michigan struggled in 2017.
More: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh meets with Ole Miss safety Deontay Anderson
So while some may criticize Harbaugh’s need to dive into the mess at Ole Miss with hopes of finding a few gems, reality tells us otherwise.
Michigan needs all the help it can get.
To quote Harbaugh again: “A lot of people believe less is more. I believe more is more.”
Michigan enters its prep time for the Outback Bowl with questions to answer and things to prove. The Wolverines went through 2017 with a host of first-year starters who spent most of 2016 backing up players who wound up making the NFL.
Some of those first-year starters panned out and they’re coming back. Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, Khaleke Hudson, Lavert Hill, Sean McKeon, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans among them. Michigan entered 2017 with five returning starters between its offense and defense.
The Wolverines are expected to enter 2018 with 18 returning starters.
That talent just lost four games against top-level Big Ten competition. Critique Harbaugh if you’d like for not pushing the Wolverines to the rare air of college football’s elite during his first three seasons at Michigan. Ohio State’s there. Alabama’s there. Heck, even Wisconsin — a team that pays a fraction of what Michigan does for its coaching staff — is knocking on the door.
But you can’t critique him for trying to fix a situation that’s in obvious need of repair.
Michigan’s not good enough right now. Harbaugh said it himself.
He’s actively trying to fix that, by any means necessary.
It’s hard to find fault with that.
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.
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