NEW YORK, N.Y.- For fans of both Michigan and Ohio State, this past Saturday etched the latest chapter to a storied rivalry, although the result was all-too-familiar for Wolverine fans. The latest edition of “The Game” saw the Buckeyes run through Michigan 56-27. The result was a historical one for Jim Harbaugh, although not in a way Michigan fans would be proud of. Harbaugh’s career record against the school he is paid to beat is now 0-5, becoming the first coach on either side of this rivalry to lose their first five games.
The outgoing, brash head coach is being fairly criticized for talking a big game and not being able to back it up against the best competition. But the blame shouldn’t stop at Harbaugh. This problem goes beyond him and extends to the entire football program, athletics department and University.
Ohio State has made this anything but a rivalry, winning eight consecutive games and 15 of the last 16. The inability to beat their hated rival has been a problem for the maize and blue for almost two decades. The last four Michigan head coaches all have losing records against the Buckeyes, including the legendary Lloyd Carr. In fact, Gary Moeller was the last head coach to have a winning record against the scarlet and gray, going 3-1-1 from 1990-1994.
On the flip side, excluding Luke Fickell’s interim season, only one Ohio State coach since 1950 owns a losing record against “That Team Up North,” as John Cooper went a forgettable 2-10-1 from 1988-2000. In that same time frame, Michigan has had five coaches with losing records to Ohio State.
Both schools view this game as their Super Bowl. The difference is that Ohio State prepares for this game 24/7, 365, while Michigan prepares like it’s just another opponent. Buckeye quarterback Justin Fields, who’s brand new to this rivalry after transferring from Georgia, stated it best postgame when he said “I think we take this rivalry more serious than they do. I think it just means more at Ohio State.”
Herein lies the main issue at heart: There are more important things to Michigan than beating Ohio State in football. Striving to be the best public university in the nation is extremely important to Michigan. So is maintaining a pristine academic reputation. Beating Ohio State is up there, but not the biggest priority. This has allowed the Buckeyes to gain an upper hand in recruiting, which has been the biggest reason for the domination the last 25 years.
Harbaugh’s biggest flaw since taking over has been allowing the talent gap between the two schools to increase, as the Buckeyes have outclassed the Wolverines in every aspect the last few seasons. There should also be legitimate concern that the former Michigan quarterback is ignorant when it comes to recognizing the weaknesses of his team. When asked if there’s a talent, preparation or coaching gap between the two schools after Saturday’s game, Harbaugh responded by stating, “I’ll answer your questions, not your insults,” before crediting Ohio State for simply playing better.
The issue is right in Harbaugh’s answer, or should I say, lack there of. There is a legitimate gap in all three phases. Ohio State has nine more five-star and 11 more four-star recruits than their rival, something Michigan can’t allow to happen. This goes back to the buy-in, as the Buckeyes have used every resource possible to collect as much talent to Columbus.
Changes for Michigan need to start with recruiting, with efforts focused on building a team to specifically stop Ohio State. For years, the Wolverines have lacked defensive speed. This has to be an emphasis moving forward or else Michigan fans should get accustomed to crooked numbers being hung on the scoreboard.
While the outlook looks bleak for those in Ann Arbor, they have the ability to turn things around and become competitive with their biggest roadblock to the College Football Playoff. But it doesn’t start with Jim Harbaugh. It starts above him with the buy-in from the athletics department and administration to not only have this program continue to stay a consistent winner, but enter into that elite level that the Buckeyes have risen to since Urban Meyer was hired. If the buy-in isn’t there, then get used to having this conversation on the last Saturday in November for years to come.