The Wolverine

2020 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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4 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW "Right now, we're kind of on the cusp. We haven't gotten over the top into the playoff, and that's what drives us and motivates us every day on the field and every day working toward that goal. "We've been to the New Year's bowl games and we've had success on the field. But winning that championship, making the playoff, that's something our players and our coaches are pouring our hearts and souls into. We're determined to get there." — Jim Harbaugh, on the TK Show podcast H arbaugh knows what it will take, before the College Football Playoff even become a consideration. Any championship, any playoff game, comes af- ter destroying the monster. The Michigan head coach's job hasn't changed all that much over the past 50 years, at least when it comes to the bottom line. Beat Ohio State. Everything else then falls into place. Harbaugh has been there before, although not as coach. In 1985, he fired the 77-yard touchdown pass to John Kolesar to put the Buckeyes away in Michigan Stadium, 27-17. He withstood a bone-jarring shot by a blitz- ing strong safety to get it done. "This little Jimmy Harbaugh stood back in there, Kolesar ran right past their best defender, and Jimmy looked at that strong safety who is going to hit him right under the chin and knock him flat, and pinpointed that ball in to Kolesar," Bo Schembechler said afterward. A year later, Harbaugh made good on his "guarantee," throwing for 261 yards while tailback Jamie Morris ran for 210 in Michi- gan's 26-24 win at Columbus for the Big Ten championship. Those two remain revered in Ann Arbor, in no small measure because they slayed the dragon. Morris talks Michigan football and more every afternoon on local radio station WTKA. He understands the Wolverines have been good under Harbaugh, after a seven- year stretch of mostly bad. Morris also remembers when good wasn't good enough. "Look, Jim Harbaugh has done every- thing Michigan fans have wanted him to do, except for one thing — beat Ohio State," Morris said. "He's come in, quieted every- body down. "He's come in and beat the teams we mark. He's taken Michigan State on a regu- lar basis. He's on equal footing with the best team in the West, and that's Wisconsin. Same with Penn State. "He's got to conquer the No. 1 team right now. He's got to beat Ohio State." This doesn't qualify as a revelation — merely an observation. No one knows better than Harbaugh that the Buckeyes represent the massive scarlet stumbling block on the road to everything Michigan desires. He avoided talking about it directly for some time. He often stressed, "every game is a championship game," not downplaying The Game, but avoiding extensive public engagement over it. Harbaugh altered that approach on a pod- cast in the spring with NBC's Mike Tirico. "We've got to beat Ohio State," Harbaugh forcefully affirmed. "Nothing makes us an- grier than that … or me. But that's what we're working toward every day. We've beaten everybody else, but we haven't beaten them. "That's what we have to do — beat them, win a [Big Ten] championship, get ourselves in the playoff, win a national championship." In some ways, Michigan seems farther than ever from doing so. The combined score from the past two years against the Buckeyes — 118-66 — makes "the cusp" seem like a stretch. Ohio State remains on a roll, like Al Ca- pone in the late 1920s — armed with similar tendencies. Ever since OSU committed to serial NCAA cheater and liar Jim Tressel in 2001, the Buckeyes surged into an unprec- edented streak of success. His successors keep the chains moving, one former OSU employee confiding in private that he could, in fact, reveal how they do so. "Does it come with witness protection?" he quipped. In reality, it doesn't matter, given the NCAA's assiduous disinterest. The mission remains the mission. Harbaugh and his team absorbed a couple of serious shots to the chin the past two years. They're yet to complete the pass. Morris insists it's time. "There's only one red-letter game now," he offered. "Yes, it's important to win each and every game. But the most important red- letter game to win is Ohio State. "He's got to show his emotion, his hatred, for Ohio State. They hate us. I run into Ohio fans all the time. When I get recognized, it's, 'I hated you.' That's what they said. 'I hated you, because of what you did to my team.' "It made you feel good inside. That's what Jim Harbaugh's got to do." ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH JOHN BORTON The Last Steps Loom As Michigan's Toughest Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine. If the Wolverines are going to accomplish all the goals they have, they must first break through against Ohio State. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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