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Is there any hope for Michigan football this year and beyond?

Wolverines drop another big game in embarrassing fashion

Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines watches action prior to a game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on September 21, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – By now you've seen all the numbers -- Michigan football's record as an underdog, against ranked teams, in rivalry games and on the road.

There have been plenty of bright moments during the Jim Harbaugh era, but the crushing losses have been much more prominent and numerous.

Saturday's outcome was predictable for anyone who watched Michigan and Wisconsin the first two weeks, but the way Michigan got to that outcome is the biggest concern.

The Wolverines were thoroughly dominated by a team that supposedly has less talent, less speed and fewer stars on the recruiting trail. But not only did Wisconsin look like the much better, stronger and well-coached team, it also broke Michigan's resolve.

Jonathan Taylor #23 of the Wisconsin Badgers rushes for a touchdown during the first half against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium on September 21, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The players in white jerseys quit early in the second half. By the time they showed any signs of life, it was only because Wisconsin was already celebrating an easy win that would eventually vault it into the top 10 nationally.

Michigan lost in a way that not only dropped it to No. 20 in the polls, but in a way that had a player liking a tweet with "#FireHarbaugh" in it. This is the type of loss that affects recruiting and makes players on the team question its direction.

It's the kind of performance that can derail an entire season, and if that happens, who knows what Michigan's future holds?

With what appears to be a clear loss to Ohio State later this season, Michigan is already safely out of the College Football Playoff picture. That's not the worst of Harbaugh's problems, though.

In a season when Michigan was picked to win the Big Ten title and perhaps compete for a national championship, it now looks like this team could be heading for at least four, and possibly as many as six, losses.

Shea Patterson #2 of the Michigan Wolverines looks to pass during the first half against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on September 21, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Considering what Michigan has shown through three games, is there any doubt Ohio State and Notre Dame are better teams? Would it be shocking to see Michigan lose to Iowa, Michigan State and Penn State? What about tricky road trips to Maryland and Indiana?

Other than Rutgers and Illinois, nothing looks easy for this Michigan team. This season appears to be teetering on the brink of disaster.

There's still plenty of time to get back on track, but Michigan's offense is a complete mess and the defense couldn't even put up a fight against Wisconsin.

If things go south, the bigger question facing the program is this: What's next?

Harbaugh was as qualified as anyone to take over and turn the Michigan football program around. He's done so, to an extent, winning 10 games in three of his first four seasons and twice coming one play away from Big Ten championship game appearances.

But if this year, of all years, comes up well short of a conference title, then it's fair to wonder when it will ever happen for the Michigan football program.

Harbaugh revived a terrible Stanford football program and took a previously awful San Francisco 49ers franchise to a Super Bowl. There aren't many coaches available with those credentials, and the ones who are probably aren't looking to move from their current job to Michigan.

After another embarrassing loss in a big game, Michigan fans are left wondering, "Is this just what we are now?"

Garrett Groshek #37 of the Wisconsin Badgers is brought down by J'Marick Woods #26 of the Michigan Wolverines during the first half at Camp Randall Stadium on September 21, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The optimists will say Michigan's goals are still alive. The Wolverines could win the next 12 games, win a Big Ten championship and go to the playoff. But anyone who's watched college football this season knows that isn't happening.

The biggest concern for Michigan isn't that 2019 looks primed to be a major disappointment, but that the long-term reality for the program might as a second-tier team. There's no evidence that Michigan is ready to join the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Georgia. If anything, Michigan appears to be heading in the opposite direction.

That's a sobering realization for a fan base that was just weeks ago hoping 2019 would be the breakthrough year they've so long been waiting for.

Saturday was just one loss, but it felt like so much more. Michigan doesn't have long to get the season back on track, and if it doesn't, it will mean much more than just another disappointing year.

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