There's a growing narrative within the Michigan fan base that is as concerning as it is disappointing: expect less.
Quite often, these folks will point to just one shared national championship in the modern era (1997), just three wins against Ohio State and one outright conference championship since 2000, and reaching the 11-win mark only twice over the last two decades (2006 and 2011) as evidence that the Michigan is no longer able to compete at the highest level. These numbers, they say, prove that the college game has passed Michigan by and that the lofty expectations of the football program are generally unrealistic.
While it's true that Michigan is not Alabama, Clemson or Ohio State, it's also true that Michigan should be able to compete with them. Regardless of it's struggles over the last two decades, this is a football program that has everything it needs to compete with the college football elite.
Though Jim Harbaugh is winless against Ohio State and hasn't brought a conference championship back to Ann Arbor through six seasons, he is still regarded by most as a top ten college football coach. Throughout his entire coaching career, Harbaugh has proven he is fully capable of producing championship contenders - both at the collegiate and professional level. The expectation was that, given his track record of success, Harbaugh would be able to recreate that same success in Ann Arbor - an expectation that was reflected in his seven-year, $35 million agreement back in 2015.
In addition to his own capabilities as a head coach, Harbaugh has routinely assembled some of the best assistant coaches and recruiters in the country during his tenure. Though the 2021 staff will be relatively new to Ann Arbor, it is far from inexperienced.
Michigan's new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald spent seven seasons with the Baltimore Ravens in various roles, most recently as linebackers coach. Mike Hart arrives back home after spending four years as part of the Indiana Hoosiers coaching staff - serving as both running backs coach and associate head coach. Maurice Linguist, another new arrival to Harbaugh's staff, arrives in Ann Arbor after serving several years with various college football programs and the 2020 season with the Dallas Cowboys as defensive backs coach.
Given the level of talent and experience on Michigan's sideline, it's perfectly reasonable for fans to expect Big Ten championships from a program - and a coaching staff - that is fully capable of delivering.
Many Michigan fans have convinced themselves that academic standards are somehow serving as a barrier to success for the football program. In their minds, the lofty academic standards at the University of Michigan are the only thing holding the Wolverines back from competing with the likes of Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State. However, the reality is that Michigan has had no problem signing some of the top recruiting classes in the country year after year.
In fact, Michigan has signed a top-five recruiting class seven times since the year 2000, with an average recruiting ranking of No. 12 during that same span. Michigan has also cemented itself as one of the top recruiting programs in the Big Ten, signing the No. 1 ranked class six times and the No. 2 ranked class 12 times since the year 2000.
Put simply, academics are not a barrier to success for the Michigan Football program - and the recruiting numbers prove it.
More often than not, the Wolverines field a far more talented roster than their opponent on any given fall Saturday. Michigan might not be Alabama, Clemson, or even Ohio State - but that isn't the point. The fact of the matter is that there's more than enough talent coming through Ann Arbor on a yearly basis for Michigan to be a legitimate championship threat - or, at the very least, a legitimate threat to those who are competing for them.
Resources and Facilities
Very few Power 5 programs in America can match the resources that are available at the University of Michigan.
Following a near $15 million renovation to the Michigan Football performance center, Michigan now boasts the largest single-sport weight room in the country. The state-of-the-art renovations also include an additional 8,000 square feet for athletic medicine, rehabilitation, wellness and nutrition for the football program.
More from the University of Michigan:
"34,000 square feet. $1.2 million worth of equipment. State-of-the-art recovery technology. 48 total strength racks. 250 pairs of dumbbells. Leaders and Best in athletic facilities. These are a few phrases that only begin to describe the new Football Performance Center (FPC) at the University of Michigan. As The Team (The Team, The Team) enters a new football season with high expectations, our football program is on the forefront of sports medicine and player recovery in college athletics."
"Aside from being home to the largest weight room for a single sport in the country, the FPC is also on the cutting edge of player recovery. With a one-of-a-kind mud room - affectionately nicknamed the "car wash" - that leads to a 100-foot recovery pool, our players are able to leave the practice field, hang up their cleats, and immediately begin their recovery process. To take a tour of of the car wash and football facilities, watch fullback Ben Mason's walkthrough video. In an effort to replicate the famous stadium tunnel, we have also connected the sports medicine space and the weight room with a hallway that pays homage to the iconic history of Michigan Football."
From the Big House to big donors, private jets to cutting edge sports medicine, there's no shortage of phenomenal resources made available to the Michigan Football program, its players and its coaches.
With all of that said, what is a realistic expectation for this football program? What should fans expect from a premier Power 5 program that has one of the top coaching staffs in the nation, one of the highest-rated recruiting classes year after year, and some of the best resources and facilities found anywhere in America?
The only acceptable answer is this: championships.