Wolverines served notice in Harbaugh's first season
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) If the hoopla surrounding Jim Harbaugh's return to Michigan seemed like a bit much at times, just wait until next season.
Harbaugh's first year at the helm did nothing to dispel the hype. Michigan went 10-3 under its new coach, reaching double-digit victories for only the second time in nine seasons. The biggest blip on the resume was a blowout loss at home against Ohio State, but the 17th-ranked Wolverines bounced back with a 41-7 win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl.
''Coached a great group of guys - really enjoyed to coach,'' Harbaugh said. ''The coaching staff that was so good, and I give them the credit in terms of coaching, but the way the staff came together, the trust that everybody had, we were real allies for each other.''
Now the Wolverines can aim even higher in 2016.
Although there was plenty of excitement after Harbaugh's arrival, expectations were reasonably modest for his season, especially after Michigan lost its opener at Utah. Then the Wolverines announced their presence with a five-game winning streak that included three consecutive shutouts. By the time Michigan State came to town Oct. 17, Michigan was actually favored over the senior-laden Spartans.
All Michigan needed to do to win that game was execute a punt in the final seconds, but punter Blake O'Neill lost the ball and the Spartans ran it back for a touchdown and a 27-23 victory. While the Wolverines stewed, Michigan State went on to win the Big Ten and advance to college football's playoff.
Perhaps more disconcerting for Michigan was a 42-13 loss to Ohio State in late November that gave some indication of how far the Wolverines still have to go to catch up to their biggest rival.
Harbaugh still has work to do, but Michigan is certainly on the right track after going 5-7 in Brady Hoke's last season as coach. The win over Florida was strong validation of that progress.
''We're not saying this is the greatest year in the history of Michigan football. Michigan football now has been around for a long, long time,'' Harbaugh said. ''But this team, this team acquitted themselves very well.''
Now the focus turns to the future. Although nothing becomes official until signing day, Scout.com puts Michigan's 2016 recruiting class at No. 2 in the country to this point.
The Wolverines will lose quarterback Jake Rudock, a senior who threw for 3,017 yards with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The 2016 team may rely even more on defensive back Jabrill Peppers, who earned Big Ten newcomer of the year honors from the AP after emerging as an all-around threat this season.
If Michigan is going to take another step under Harbaugh, the Wolverines need to start beating their top Big Ten rivals with more regularity. The Wolverines have lost 11 of 12 to Ohio State and seven of eight to Michigan State. Michigan will have to play both those teams on the road next season.
The Wolverines didn't accomplish everything they wanted to in 2015, but their 10-win season felt like the start of something bigger.
''It set a foundation for us, I think,'' running back De'Veon Smith said. ''We're going to carry this over into next year in 2016. . I'm pretty sure Coach Harbaugh will push us until we do that.''
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister
AP College Football website: collegefootball.ap.org