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Five Reasons Why Last Week's Win Was Much Bigger Than One Game

Michigan's win over Ohio State was the most-watched college football game this year, and that's powerful.

Michigan is playing for a Big Ten title tomorrow. That in itself is amazing and a long overdue development for Jim Harbaugh and the program in general. Obviously in order to get there, the Wolverines had to unseat the Ohio State Buckeyes, and boy did they ever.

Last weekend's performance was as impressive as any performance by any program in the country this season. For Michigan to beat up on Ohio State the way that they did and come away with a 15-point victory that wasn't actually that close was a special effort. The win in The Game was obviously huge on that particular Saturday and for Michigan's seat at the Big Ten Championship table, but it was so much more than that. Here are five things beating Ohio State could and should do for Michigan's program moving forward.

1. Recruiting Impact

We've already seen the recruiting impact of the win over Ohio State. Michigan has landed three players and flipped another since beating the Buckeyes. Defensive end Ethan Burke from the 2022 class, defensive tackle Joel Starlings from the 2023 class and defensive back Zeke Berry from the 2022 class all dropped for U-M over the last three days. Throw in a PWO flip from 2022 quarterback Brandon Mann, who was committed to Kent State, and you can see that recruits are paying attention. There hasn't been a huge splash yet, but momentum is momentum.

The win and said momentum is also about the attention Michigan should get moving forward, particularly at a few key positions. If you're a big time offensive lineman, running back or edge rusher, Michigan is where it's at. After watching all of U-M's offensive linemen bludgeon teams to death, while Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins put up massive numbers, what road graders or ball carriers wouldn't want to sport the winged helmet? On the other side of the ball, Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo showed that hybrid pass rushers can be extremely productive and fly up draft boards. Those real-world success stories resonate with incoming recruits.

2. Staff Validation/Continuity

When Jim Harbaugh hired six new assistants, there were certainly some question marks. Mike Macdonald was coming from the NFL, which is obviously the highest level of coaching, but he had never called a defense before. Bringing Matt Weiss on as a quarterbacks coach was a little puzzling given he didn't have a QB background, but he's been good based on what we've seen on the field. Ron Bellamy seems like a future star in the profession in college, but this was year No. 1 for him at this level. His safeties — Brad Hawkins, RJ Moten and freshman Rod Moore — have been phenomenal. Sherrone Moore wasn't new to Michigan, but as a first-year offensive line coach, he might as well have been and he's arguably been the best assistant on the staff given the way the O-line has performed. 

Then there were guys who were a bit more proven, but still new to U-M — cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale, running backs coach Mike Hart and linebackers coach George Helow. The corners and running backs have been really, really strong, while the linebackers have been good enough within Macdonald's scheme. Throw in some holdovers like defensive line coach Shaun Nua, tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and you had a lot of new, moving parts that had to get used to each other.

And they all came together swimmingly. The chemistry, culture and actual coaching at Michigan is as good as it's been under Harbaugh, and it's materialized on the field. Now, it's about keeping the band together. 

Moore, Gattis, Hart and Clinkscale seem like they could get the most attention, but Macdonald has been really, really good as well. 

With the co-offensive coordinator tag attached to Moore's name, maybe he gets a look as a full-time OC somewhere. Gattis hasn't been great at Michigan but 2021 is certainly his best job. Perhaps a team would at least give him a look at head coach. Hart was an associate head coach at Indiana and was absolutely terrific coaching the running backs this year at U-M. He's obviously well known in the world of college football so maybe an OC job or a head coaching gig is in his future. Clinkscale is sort of in the same boat. He's a little older and has been around a while. He's in line for a co-defensive coordinator role at U-M, so maybe a different school would give him the post outright. It's only been a year for Macdonald in college, and he's just 34 years old, but could a lower-level team take a flier on him and give him a shot at head coach? Could an NFL team reach back out and tempt him with a DC position in the league?

These are all things that seem possible, but it also wouldn't surprise me if the whole staffs wants to ride again in 2022 given their level of success and stage of career for each guy. It's going to be really interesting to watch over the next couple of months.  

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3. Narrative From The Outside

Known Spartan alum and slappy Rico Beard covers Michigan State recruiting for Rivals and cohosts a very popular radio show in Detroit with another staunch Sparty in Mike Valenti. I consider Rico a personal friend and, while he does take shots at Michigan every time he gets the chance, he's a very smart dude and definitely knows what he's talking about. As soon as U-M beat Ohio State last Saturday he texted me the following:

"Congrats to Michigan! They dominated. Go and enjoy Indy. I hate that I can't use that joke anymore lol."

That's what that win did. It put an end to a ton of jokes, negative storylines and overall shortcomings. The Mike Valenti Show is going to need some new material, as are Paul Finebaum, other SEC talking heads, Big Ten coaches and hell, me, myself and I. It's never been anything personal for me when it came to Jim Harbaugh, I just thought he had come up woefully short as U-M's head coach. But that's over now. He beat Ohio State, will play for a Big Ten title in Indy as an 11-point favorite and is on the cusp of playing in the College Football Playoff. Those are three MASSIVE boxes that, until this season, were unchecked during Harbaugh's 7-year run in Ann Arbor. 

The narrative has officially been rewritten.

4. Transfers - In And Out

At one point in time there was a transfer issue at Michigan and it was reflected in the number of players leaving the program. As of April earlier this year, Michigan was third in the Big Ten in transfers behind only Maryland and Penn State since Jim Harbaugh took over. Penn State had been dealing with its own issues coming out of 2020 and Maryland went through a coaching change during Harbaugh's tenure. It was clear up until that point, that there were some culture issues at U-M. Now, the culture is as healthy as its been under Harbaugh and I fully expect transfers in and out to reflect that. Harbaugh cleaned house, hired six new assistants, fixed the culture and started winning. Now, the only Wolverines that would ever want to leave are guys who simply don't have a path to playing time.

In some cases, the players that left U-M were in line to play quite a bit, but that didn't matter. Something was off until Harbaugh recognized it and rectified it. The departures, which will still happen, will likely be mostly positive and without any messiness.

5. Jim Harbaugh's Mentality

Finally, there's Jim Harbaugh's own personal, mental well-being and motivation. Over the course of the last seven seasons, I have seen a discouraged, deflated and defeated Jim Harbaugh at times — last year and this year against Michigan State perhaps most notably because of where Mel Tucker and his program is compared to Harbaugh and his Wolverines in terms of years in and progress made.

But now, Harbaugh has been rejuvenated. He was smiling ear to ear on the field after beating Ohio State, he fired off a few zingers during the post-game press conference and he got a couple huge monkeys off his back with a couple more still ripe for the tossing. He knows he's finally done some of the things he was brought to Ann Arbor to do, and he seems to have a formula that he should be able to replicate. 

The only problem now, if you want to call it a problem, is that the bar has been raised and there are ZERO excuses. The academic requirements at Michigan aren't holding them back, Ohio State isn't cheating in order to win every year, the recruiting grounds in and around the state of Michigan aren't too dry and Harbaugh's brand of football can win at the highest level.

Now, go do it again. And again, and again, and again.