Depending on whom you ask, the Michigan football team faces long odds to winning the national title this season.
The oddsmakers are all somewhat down on the Wolverines, with both Bovada and Sportsbook ranking Michigan 14th nationally with 40-to-1 odds at winning it all. Projection metrics, such as Football Power Index (19th) and SP+ (16th) are similarly cool on the Wolverines’ chances to contend for a title.
But when asked by Brandon Marcello during 247Sports’ Social Distance series how close Michigan is to winning it all, Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh was more optimistic.
“I mean, just look back over the last years that we’ve been here, last five years,” Harbaugh said. “About as close as you can possibly be.”
Likely, Harbaugh is most referring to Michigan’s 2016 and 2018 seasons, when it entered games against Ohio State ranked as top-five teams and likely with a College Football Playoff berth on the line. In both seasons, the Wolverines were 10-1, had beaten the Big Ten West Division champion earlier in the season, boasted several other ranked wins and were widely regarded as in the four-team field if they could improve to 12-1 and clinch a Big Ten title.
In both seasons, however, Michigan fell short. In 2016, it was a blown lead and a controversial double-overtime finish. In 2018, it was a blowout loss.
“You got to put it over the top,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what drives us.”
A major key to that, obviously, comes with beating Ohio State. While Michigan is 32-7 against other Big Ten opponents in five seasons under Jim Harbaugh with wins over all 12 other teams, the Wolverines are 0-5 against the Buckeyes. In fact, over the last five seasons, Michigan has as many losses in its first 11 games of the season (46-9) as it does in the final two (1-9).
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have been operating at full steam. In the last five years, Ohio State is 61-7, has finished in the top six of each year’s postseason AP Poll and has won three straight Big Ten titles. Arguably, only Alabama and Clemson have been more successful over the last five years than Ohio State, and those two teams have each won two national titles during the stretch.
Michigan is not just 0-5 against the Buckeyes, either, but has been outscored by 95 points in the five losses, including by 77 points in the second half.
That draws question to the validity of Michigan being close to a national title, but isn’t withholding Harbaugh and his team from working to change the narrative in 2020.
“It makes makes us mad, you know?” Harbaugh said of Michigan’s drought to the Buckeyes. “I know people are mad about it, it makes us mad, too. I mean, they’re the only team in the Big Ten we have yet to beat. And we got to beat them. That’s what we have to do and that’s that’s what we’re, that’s what motivates us. That’s what gets us into high-drive and that’s the work we’re about and after every day.”