NCAA Football Handicapping: Harbaugh to Coach Michigan Wolverines
by Trevor Whenham - 12/29/2014
You can officially call me excited. Giddy, even. As a lifelong Michigan fan I have endured a decade of football that often hasn't been fun to watch and which has gotten less fun with each passing year lately. It has been a brutal, painful era of general incompetence despite nearly limitless resources. Well, there is finally light through the darkness. A blindingly bright light. Jim Harbaugh, a former Michigan quarterback and proven great coach in both college and the NFL, is no longer the coach of the San Francisco 49ers and will be introduced as coach of the Wolverines on Tuesday. Sunny days are in Ann Arbor again - a happy shift from the hiring of Brady Hoke, which seemed like a lousy idea from the start and turned out worse than ever imagined.
The return of Harbaugh to the college ranks is massive - matched in the last decade only by Nick Saban going to Alabama and Urban Meyer returning to coaching at Ohio State. When something this big happens, it only makes sense to examine what impact it could have on betting going forward, and what to keep an eye on to be best prepared to evaluate Harbaugh and his team out of the gate next season. Here are five factors to consider:
Public interest is high: This has been a very big story surrounding Michigan since Hoke was fired at the end of their season, and it has morphed into a major national story over the last couple of weeks. Over the last couple of days it has gotten ridiculous as everyone has been tripping over each other trying to break the story. When a story is this big and this pumped full of hype, the public is going to be interested and is going to form opinions - opinions that will form their early betting decisions. People are going to be actively interested in betting on Michigan games even more than normal, and they are going to be positive early on about his chances for success. There is an interesting wrinkle to consider here, too. There has been a massive difference here in the coverage of this situation by NFL media and those who cover college football and a further big difference between national college football media members and the coverage of those focused on Michigan. For example, Michigan media members have been accurately predicting that this would happen for at least a couple of weeks, but national writers only warmed to the idea in the last couple of days, and as recently as Sunday morning some national MFL writers were expressing doubts. Similarly, college-based writers are far more optimistic about Harbaugh's chances in college, and his enthusiasm for returning, than NFL focused writers are. Your perception of this story, then, will be shaped by what the most regular source of your information is.
Quarterback mess to sort out: Harbaugh has done well with quarterbacks in college, but he faces a big challenge finding a workable solution out of the gate next year. Previous starter Devin Gardner has graduated. Russell Bellomy and Shane Morris are the only quarterbacks on the roster who have taken a snap, and the two have combined for nine interceptions without a touchdown - and precious little inspiring play. Redshirt freshman Wilton Speight is the only other QB currently enrolled, and Alex Malzone is committed for next year. There is some potential but no polish and no clear direction. Harbaugh will likely be coaching quarterbacks himself, so responsibility rests on him to identify a starter and have him ready - at a school that has had lousy QB play for two years, and hasn't had a traditional, successful QB since Chad Henne.
Coaching staff will be key: Rumors are flying about who will make up Harbaugh's coaching staff. It will be very important to keep a close eye on what happens and who he ultimately chooses. Who is sticking around from the former staff? The word is that former defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and perhaps one or two others will be back. Do the new key staff members know the college game or are they NFL guys? How effectively will the staff be able to recruit? Perhaps most significantly, how much of a change of style offensively and defensively will players be asked to make between this year and next?
Early recruiting: Harbaugh inherits a team that has just six players committed for next year, and a good deal of need in several positions. Several top-caliber players have already decommitted from this class over the course of the season. There is only room for a smaller class - about 15 players depending on roster attrition - but Harbaugh will only have about a month to assess his needs and find players to fill them. It's a huge challenge, and the effectiveness of the staff on that front will have a lot to do with what the team is able to do early on next year.
Schedule reasonably favorable: Harbaugh faces a fairly manageable schedule in his first year at his alma mater. The first two opponents are Utah and Oregon State. The latter faces a big coaching change, and the former still could as well. The rest of the nonconference schedule is a lousy UNLV who is going through a radical coaching change of their own, and BYU. They play their two biggest rivals and toughest conference opponents - Ohio State and Michigan State, obviously - at home. A trip to Wisconsin is the only real scare on the road in conference play, and with a coaching change there their fate is unknown. Things could certainly set up tougher than they do.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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