Jim Harbaugh was hired as Michigan's head football coach in December of 2014 and his sole directive was to return the program to national prominence. Aside from creating a ton of hype on the recruiting trail, the 56-year-old head coach has failed in his task so far. A loss to Minnesota on Saturday could derail the Wolverines' entire 2020 season.
The Big Ten returns to football on Saturday and with an eight-game schedule for each team, every game takes on added importance. Harbaugh and Michigan open their season again the No. 21 Golden Gophers in Minneapolis and the temperature will be in the 30s.
Michigan has a talented roster -- as they always have under Harbaugh -- but they'll be breaking in a new quarterback in Joe Milton and Minnesota is pretty talented too. The Wolverines will likely have to get great games out of Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins in the running game if they want to win. It's a tough task to start the campaign but one the Wolverines must accomplish, because things won't get easier.
After dealing with the Gophers, Michigan hosts rival Michigan State next week, then has No. 14 Wisconsin on November 14 and No. 8 Penn State on November 28. The Wolverines finish the season against No. 5 Ohio State at the Horseshoe on December 12. That's a hell of a schedule in what will be an extremely competitive Big Ten East.
That's what makes beating the Gophers so important. A loss on Saturday would put Michigan in the position of having to win-out to even reach the Big Ten Championship Game. Ohio State has a much easier schedule, with the only big game coming on October 31 against Penn State. The Buckeyes should have, at most, one loss when they face the Wolverines.
Harbaugh is 47-18 during his five seasons at Michigan and he's 32-12 in conference. He's never had a season with fewer than three losses. That has to change at some point if he wants to live up to the hype he's built up for himself and the promise of national relevance.
Minnesota will be a tough nut to crack and Harbaugh's road record against ranked opponents at Michigan is 1-7. If he doesn't reverse that trend on Saturday, the Wolverines' 2020 season could be over before it starts.