A changing of the guard was necessary following another disappointing season in 2014. With the Wolverines still searching for a new athletic director, the administration still managed to pry the No. 1 target away from the NFL in ex-Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh.
Just a bit later it would be Harbaugh teaming up with his old football teammate Warde Manuel, who was hired as his athletic director.
Some questioned if the high-profile hire of Harbaugh was more publicity stunt than actual good news on the field. Well, the results spoke for themselves in year one of the Harbaugh era and those questions quickly went by the wayside.
Not everything was fixed in just one year though, and that means there was plenty of good, bad and ugly to the Wolverines 2015 season. It also means that before we look ahead we understand where Michigan comes from heading in to 2016.
No doubt about it, winning 10 games in ones first season on the job anywhere is a good start. That was especially so following Michigan’s 2014 season that ended with a 5-7 record and no bowl game.
From that dumpster fire rose a team capable of playing on a very high level almost every week, and a solid foundation for the future was put in place. Expectations of individual effort, team effort and coaching were all raised heading in to 2015 and it showed.
Perhaps most encouraging were the results in Big Ten play, where the Wolverines went 6-2 on the season and managed to hold opponents under 20 points in four of those six wins.
For all the talk of Harbaugh’s offensive mind, it was his defense that carried the day in 2015 and set the tone for this team as one of the toughest to score on in the Big Ten. That was the best thing that could happen given the past, as the defense was always a strength but never to the level that was put on the field in 2015.
Winning double-digit games and having six conference wins is good and all, but the bad news is that both of the losses Michigan suffered in conference play were to its bitter rivals. More on the loss to Michigan State in a bit, but there was nothing worse than what took place on the final Saturday of the regular season.
Losing to Ohio State has become commonplace, with just one win in the last 12 games against the Buckeyes. However, the gulf between the two teams was on full display in 2015, as OSU put up 42 points on the Wolverines for the third straight season and won convincingly, 42-13, in Ann Arbor.
One wouldn’t have thought of it as a blowout after watching the first half though, as the two teams went in to the locker rooms with OSU leading just 14-10. Urban Meyer’s team made plenty of adjustments and Michigan mustered up just three points the rest of the way.
The struggles of the running game also creeped up, as Michigan gained just 57 yards on the ground and the defense gave up a whopping 369 yards on the ground to “Ohio.”
No two ways around this one — losing to in-state rival Michigan State once again was bad. Doing so in a dramatic, never before seen way? That was gut-wrenching and downright ugly for Michigan.
Leading 23-21 with 10 seconds on the clock and just having to punt the ball away to secure a much-needed victory over their rivals, the Wolverines saw disaster before their very eyes. Punter Blake O’Neill lost the handle on a punt, and the rest as they say…is history:
In a season of great moments, that was about as unlucky and ugly as it gets.
What It Means For 2016
Winning double-digit games and getting back on the national stage was a huge accomplishment considering where the team was before Harbaugh took over. However, we’ve seen this play out before over the past decade with Michigan.
One need only look at the start of the Brady Hoke era to realize that one year does not a turnaround make. You know, making a Sugar Bowl appearance, winning it and then being a pick for a top 10 position in the following preseason polls.
Sound a bit familiar?
The good news is that this team looks and feels different heading in to the second year of Harbaugh. His players have firmly bought in to what he is speaking of and with everyone pulling in the right direction this may be the team to break the curse at Michigan.
Of course, time will tell, but having been around the program for both the 2012 year and this year, there is a very different vibe being put out there and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team be as competitive as it was last year.