The Michigan Wolverines were a trendy preseason pick to reach the College Football Playoff, and they certainly look the part three games into the season. Indeed, No. 4 Michigan (3-0) has beaten Hawaii, UCF and Colorado by a combined score of 159-45.
While conventional wisdom says Michigan is still a year away from winning a national championship, there’s no reason the Wolverines can’t do that this season.
That’s what Jim Harbaugh is telling his players, anyway.
“You want to dream big – so big that people should be laughing at what your goals are,” Harbaugh said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “If people aren’t laughing at you for what you’re dreaming off, then you haven’t made your dreams big enough. But we also looked at our schedule and know the teams that we’re playing against, and we have to treat each with the utmost respect. Our preparation has got to be at the highest level to give us a chance to win every single game that is on our schedule, including this (weekend) opening league play with Penn State. We got to treat every game like it’s a big game. Every game has to have a championship mentality. You got to treat every game like it’s a championship game, and that’s how we’re approaching it.”
Harbaugh, who is 13-3 at Michigan, has taken a storied program that was on the way down – the Wolverines went 20-18 from 2012-14 – and rebuilt it into a national power almost overnight. Michigan’s recruiting classes, while still solid, dipped a bit under Brady Hoke, but Harbaugh has the Wolverines back where they’re accustomed to: front and center in the college football landscape.
“(Recruiting is) the lifeblood of college football, no question about that,” Harbaugh said. “We don’t even look at it like recruiting; we look at it like you’re out there mining for gold. You’re looking for the best of the best, both student in the classroom and on the football field. It’s one of the best parts of the job. I love it, getting to go around the country and meet families and see how strong football is in communities across the country. So yeah, we really enjoy it. I can tell you this: Football is getting stronger and it’s getting better. People love the game of football across the country.”
While Harbaugh will always be a defense-first coach, he has been extremely impressed with quarterback Wilton Speight, who has completely 63.8 percent of his passes for 686 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception.
“He’s done what you want the quarterback to do,” Harbaugh said. “(He’s) 3-0. He’s made strides every single week seeing the field, making improvements every week. This past week, he took a big shot in the game (against Colorado). He was completely the victim. We screwed up the protecting scheme and he gets blind-sided, fumble returned for a touchdown. I just knew it was his opportunity to show everybody on the team that he didn’t have a glass jaw, that he was tough, he could get up, walk it off, shake it off – and he did it just the way you’d want somebody to do it. He wasn’t crying foul or acting like he was the victim and grabbing body parts to make sure that everybody knew he had gotten hit. That hit took its effects the rest of the game – his hand was sore – but he toughed it out, and therefore you climb another rung in the eyes of your teammates in terms of their esteem for you. I thought that was a good, big moment for him.”
Michigan hosts Penn State (2-1) this Saturday and No. 11 Wisconsin (3-0) on Oct. 1. Both games kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET.
The Wolverines should be favored in their next four games, but they’ll be tested mightily in trips to No. 8 Michigan State (Oct. 29), Iowa (Nov. 12), and No. 2 Ohio State (Nov. 26) later this season.