Shirtless Thoughts: Realistic Expectations for Michigan in Jim Harbaugh's First Season

By Eric Seger on June 7, 2015 at 9:15 am
Via @SamWebb77

You might not know this, but Michigan hired a new football coach this winter and his name is Jim Harbaugh.

In case you were wondering, yes, Harbaugh played quarterback for Bo Schembechler at the University of Michigan from 1983-86. He was also born in the same Toledo hospital as Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, the man he's set to lead the Wolverines against in 175 days at Michigan Stadium.

Meyer and the Buckeyes are coming off the program's eighth national title, the first ever in the College Football Playoff era and one the head coach felt had a better chance of happening in 2015 than in 2014.

Ohio State is the early favorite to win it all again, with a stable of talent returning from the title team in addition to the boatload of momentum spewing from a 14-1 season.

Harbaugh doesn't seem to mind, though, going about his business and everyday life as only he knows how.

In April, he "cordially" invited every football coach in America to Michigan next weekend for camp.

He spent Thursday in Indianapolis for the first leg of his "Summer Swarm" tour, nine wide-ranging satellite camps across seven states. Friday, he visited Alabama, firmly planting himself in Nick Saban's backyard — a move that has the Crimson Tide head coach a little worked up because he sees it as an unfair advantage for schools not in the SEC.

He did the latter shirtless, probably because he's a bit of a nut but mostly because summer in Alabama is stupid hot and wickedly humid.

Saturday, he turned his focus to the University of South Florida and sported some apparel that didn't really go with Michigan Blue. He didn't care — he's got friends all over and is probably just trying to have a good time. It made a Twitter search for his name glorious all weekend.

Either way, he really connected with those kids down at Prattville High School when they played "Peru Ball," a game he learned on his South American expedition in May.

"You don't see Nick Saban do that," a parent of a Prattville camper told the Wall Street Journal.

No, it's hard to imagine Saban willing to take off his shirt, scrape his knees, get some grass stains and teach high schoolers a game invented on the streets of Peru. It's difficult to see Meyer doing anything like that in Columbus, either.

So what exactly does all this mean? What can we take from Harbaugh's antics, and how exactly are they going to translate to check marks in the win column this fall?

The Wolverines play seven opponents who finished 2014 with a winning record before even hosting the Buckeyes, with four (Utah, Maryland, Minnesota and Penn State) on the road.

Harbaugh does get the luxury of leading his team to the field against its two biggest rivals — Ohio State and Michigan State — on his home turf, but the Spartans have won the Paul Bunyan Trophy six out of the last seven times it was up for grabs and Meyer's never lost to Michigan. With so much riding in Big Ten East Division games, expect those to be war.

2015 Michigan Football Schedule
Date Opponent Time
Sept. 3 @ Utah 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 12 Oregon State  
Sept. 19 UNLV


Sept. 26 BYU  
Oct. 3 @ Maryland  
Oct. 10 Northwestern 3:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 Michigan State  
Oct. 31 @ Minnesota 8 p.m.
Nov. 7 Rutgers  
Nov. 14 @ Indiana  
Nov. 21 @ Penn State  
Nov. 28 Ohio State  

Utah beat the Wolverines in Michigan Stadium last fall, when Michigan had more turnovers (four) than scoring drives (two). That game's a Thursday night kickoff Sept. 3, slotted in a national television window and more than 1,600 miles from Ann Arbor, Mich.

Harbaugh takes on Gary Andersen and Oregon State after facing the Utes, another head coach in the first year at a program. UNLV is next, a team that won two games by a total of four points last season. Then comes BYU to close out the non-conference, a team which likes to score but doesn't like to stop people from doing the same.

Maryland and Northwestern serve as formidable combatants for Harbaugh's crew before the Spartans come to town, followed by a visit to Minneapolis after a bye week Halloween night. Rutgers, Indiana and Penn State push Harbaugh into his first Big Ten November before the defending national champs come to town a few days after Thanksgiving.

Realistically, I think Michigan gets eight wins in Harbaugh's first regular season. Losses to Utah, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State prevent it from notching double digit victories, and Penn State could even join that list. We all know how tough it is to tame the Nittany Lions at home under the lights.

Harbaugh — and his dadbod — will provide excitement and entertainment in different ways throughout the 2015 season. If his first five-plus months on the job are any indication, he'll constantly be in the news whether he wins games or not.

The jury is still out on whether he fights the good fight with or without a shirt, though.

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