Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Will Jim Harbaugh buzz equal wins for Michigan in 2015?


Big Ten preview: Will Jim Harbaugh buzz equal wins for Michigan in 2015?

Jim Harbaugh has already failed miserably at one of his stated objectives.

“Not striving to be creating any buzz. Just striving to coach the football team,” Harbaugh said at last month’s Big Ten Media Days. “Not trying to be popular or anything. Anyone who is popular is bound to be disliked. So just coaching football.”

Not striving to create any buzz? Consider that mission unaccomplished, as Harbaugh has done nothing but create buzz since taking the Michigan head coaching job this past winter. He's played the piccolo. He's played football shirtless. He's thrown out the first pitch at a Tigers game. He's visited a French McDonald's.

Returning to his alma mater has put all eyes on him, a coach who turned Stanford into a perennial contender and took the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl. Throw in his unique personality that’s produced a must-follow Twitter account, and Harbaugh is making headlines seemingly every time he blinks his eyes this offseason.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Does Wes Lunt still have something to prove for Illini?]

Harbaugh’s return to college football has made him the sport’s biggest celebrity.

"When he first took the job and was here in January, I didn't know how much of a celebrity he really was, as far as like he was on 'Saved by the Bell' and things like that,” linebacker James Ross III said. “Once I got used to it, I knew that he does that but he's not a guy who thrives on it, he doesn't have to have that. But he's a funny guy, so people want to talk to him, and I understand that.”

Yeah, if you weren’t aware of that fact, Jim Harbaugh was on “Saved by the Bell.” Now you know why he’s creating so much buzz.

But that buzz is just as much based in football as it is in all of Harbaugh’s off-the-field shenanigans. Michigan is in dire need of a savior after seven mostly mediocre seasons under Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. Last year’s stumble to a 5-7 finish was excruciating to watch from afar, with a new public relations screw up or serious student-athlete health concern cropping up each and every week. Fans were so fed up with athletics director Dave Brandon that they picketed the university president’s house. Both Hoke and Brandon were gone by season’s end.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Will experience lead to success for Illini defense?]

Just once in the past seven seasons have the Wolverines won more than eight games. Three of the past seven seasons have ended without bowl appearances. That’s not the kind of thing people are used to at Michigan.

Enter Harbaugh, who has the task of turning things around. And the reason there’s so much buzz is because many are convinced he’ll have little trouble doing it. He’s been mighty successful at past coaching stops, and he has the brand power of Michigan to attract top recruits.

The question, though, is how fast Harbaugh can make this fix.

Handed a roster full of players who were around for a combined 20-18 record in the past three seasons, is Harbaugh’s presence alone enough to turn mediocre Michigan back into conference-power Michigan?

There are position battles at quarterback and running back, meaning we don’t know what to expect. And even though last season’s defense was among the best in the country, it was pretty easy to see that that alone was not enough to win football games.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Illini trying to move past offseason of allegations]

Even if Michigan avoids the public relations snafus and packs the Big House each and every Saturday, will the end result be much different than last season?

That remains to be seen. But what is clear is that Michigan’s players don’t want 2014 to happen again. And they appear to be very serious — just as serious as Harbaugh — about turning things around in a hurry.

“We have a great team … and this chip that we’ve got on our shoulder, this attitude because people forget, man: This is Michigan. And it’s always going to be Michigan. You can’t dwell in the past, whether you win or you lose. The past is the past. What you do going forward is what says a lot about you and your team,” cornerback Jabrill Peppers said last week at the team’s media day.

“Just doing what we’ve got to do to ensure that we don’t let another season go by where we say, ‘Oh, we could’ve done that better or we should’ve worked harder on this or I should’ve blocked a little longer on this play.’ Making sure all doubts are eliminated and giving max effort each and every play.”

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?