With Harbaugh on Hot Seat, Michigan Has Toughest 2018 Schedule

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, February 1, 2018 7:03 PM UTC

Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018 7:03 PM UTC

Strength of schedule is a very important part of college football and a team’s playoff chances. So, it’s both good and bad news that it appears Michigan has the nation’s toughest 2018 slate.

Let’s start this story off by saying that every school in the country but maybe a few (Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson would be three) would fire their head football coach immediately if it had the chance to hire Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh. No one is disputing Harbaugh’s coaching ability.

What’s also not in dispute is that Harbaugh’s tenure at his alma mater hasn’t gone quite as planned thus far. Most schools would be thrilled with a 28-11 record over three seasons (Harbaugh predecessor Brady Hoke was 26-13 in his first three) and three New Year’s Day bowls. However, most schools aren’t Michigan and most coaches don’t make north of $7 million per season – much less bring attention upon themselves almost daily.

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Harbaugh is the most overrated coach in football. No creativity after a month of practice.

— Cris Carter (@criscarter80) January 1, 2018
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This past season, Michigan lost yet again to its two biggest rivals, Michigan State and Ohio State. Harbaugh is now 1-5 against the Spartans and Buckeyes. His team was outscored 37-0 in the fourth quarters of its five losses in 2017. That includes inexplicably blowing a 19-3 third-quarter lead to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, which the Gamecocks won 26-19. Since 2016, Michigan is 4-6 in November and bowl season combined, and in all six of those losses it held a second-half lead.

That has to be on the head coach.

U-M alums are starting to get antsy, and while it’s hard to imagine that Michigan would fire its favorite son, Harbaugh is on a hot seat entering 2018. A total of 15 starters are expected back from 2017, but the quarterback situation has to be fixed. Michigan had just nine TD passes last year, the school’s fewest since 1975 when it ran the ball 90 percent of the time under Bo Schembechler.

Former Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson has transferred to Michigan and is enrolled in classes. Patterson was the No. 1 QB recruit in the Class of 2016 and played very well at Mississippi, but left because that programs is going through major NCAA issues. Normally, Patterson would have to sit out a season at his new school, but he has applied for a special waiver. The NCAA did grant immediate eligibility to rising seniors who transferred from Ole Miss following the sanctions, but Patterson is a junior. In addition, an NCAA committee is working on a proposed rule change that would remove the requirement for players to sit out a season after transferring if said player was leaving due to a coaching change. So, we’ll have to wait and see on Patterson, who is given +1900 odds at 5Dimes to win the Heisman.

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Regardless of the quarterback, Harbaugh has his work cut out in 2018 with the toughest schedule in the country largely -- because of the Big Ten East Division that Michigan plays in. The Wolverines open Sept. 1 at what should be a very good Notre Dame team, then get Western Michigan and SMU, two solid mid-major programs, at home. Per usual, U-M plays every Big Ten East school and gets Penn State at home but must go to Michigan State and Ohio State. The Wolverines also play what should be the three best teams from the West: Sept. 22 vs. Nebraska, Sept. 29 at Northwestern and Oct. 13 vs. Wisconsin. That dynamic pushes this schedule into different territory.

The Spartans have the most returning starters in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions are back among the elite, the Badgers are clear West Division favorites again and have a top Heisman candidate in running back Jonathan Taylor, and the Buckeyes are perennial national title contenders. My guess is that Michigan opens with a college football betting win total of 9.5. I would project 9-3 as of now, which won’t be enough to make the Big Ten title game, but it does depend on Patterson.

To make the College Football Playoff for the first time, U-M is +250 at 5Dimes and -350 to miss out. The Wolverines are +1500 to win the national title on the college football futures. Here’s the full schedule, and the only teams that finished with losing records last year were Nebraska (has hugely upgraded at coach), Maryland, Rutgers and Indiana. Those are the only sure wins for Michigan.

Sept. 1 at Notre Dame

Sept. 8 WESTERN MICHIGAN

Sept. 15 SMU

Sept. 22 NEBRASKA

Sept. 29 at Northwestern

Oct. 6 MARYLAND

Oct. 13 WISCONSIN

Oct. 20 at Michigan State

Oct. 27 Bye Week

Nov. 3 PENN STATE

Nov. 10 at Rutgers

Nov. 17 INDIANA

Nov. 24 at Ohio State

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