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Ranking Jim Harbaugh’s 10 biggest wins as Michigan football coach

Wolverines coming off 31-point win against No. 8 Notre Dame

Donovan Peoples-Jones #9 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates his second half touchdown catch with head coach Jim Harbaugh while playing the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Michigan Stadium on October 26, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 45-14. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Jim Harbaugh added another impressive win to his resume this weekend as Michigan stomped No. 8 Notre Dame by 31 points at the Big House.

The narrative that Harbaugh can't win big games took another big hit, as he beat his 10th ranked team and third rival in five years.

Here are the 10 biggest wins of the Jim Harbaugh era, so far.

10. Colorado, 2016

Final score: Michigan 45, Colorado 28

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When Michigan stormed back from a 21-7 deficit to beat Colorado in September 2016, it looked like the Wolverines had simply avoided a huge upset.

But in reality, Michigan had just beaten the eventual Pac-12 South champions. Colorado went on to win eight of its final nine regular season games before losing to Washington in the Pac-12 title game and Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.

The Buffaloes finished No. 17 in the AP poll.

9. Iowa, 2019

Final score: Michigan 10, Iowa 3

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We won't know how good Iowa actually is until the end of the season, but at the very least, this was a win that kept Michigan from spiraling into disaster.

The Wolverines got crushed by Wisconsin two weeks earlier and desperately needed a win over a ranked team. Luckily, the defense stepped up and held No. 14 Iowa to just three points.

Iowa is 6-2 with losses to Michigan and Penn State by a combined 12 points. This will likely still be a ranked team by the end of the season.

8. Northwestern, 2018

Final score: Michigan 20, Northwestern 17

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Like that 2016 Colorado game, nobody knew how good Northwestern was at the time of this game, and like that game, Michigan got off to a really slow start.

Northwestern sprinted out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter, and only with 4:06 remaining in the game was Michigan able to finally take the lead.

This loss dropped Northwestern to 1-3 on the season, but it went on to win seven of eight games to capture the Big Ten West Division crown. It lost to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game before beating No. 17 Utah in the Holiday Bowl.

Northwestern beat No. 20 Michigan State, No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 21 Iowa and No. 17 Utah and won the West by three games.

Michigan's comeback allowed it to continue on an eventual 10-game winning streak before its playoff hopes died in Columbus.

7. Florida, 2015

Final score: Michigan 41, Florida 7

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Harbaugh enjoyed a successful first season in Ann Arbor, and the 34-point dismantling of Florida in the Citrus Bowl put a perfect cap on the season.

Florida came into the matchup with 10 wins and was ranked No. 19 in the country. The first quarter ended in a 7-7 tie, but the rest of the game was all Michigan.

The difference between nine and 10 wins isn't overly significant in college football, but this blowout allowed Harbaugh to end 2015 on a high note.

6. Wisconsin, 2018

Final score: Michigan 38, Wisconsin 13

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When Wisconsin came to Ann Arbor last season, it was ranked No. 15 in the nation. By the end of the year, the Badgers had five losses.

Michigan didn't beat a great Wisconsin team, but it avenged a 2017 loss and got the "Revenge Tour" off to a strong start. The win vaulted the Wolverines to three straight victories against top 25 teams and kept their playoff hopes alive.

It's hard to envision Michigan crushing Wisconsin after what happened in this year's game, but it was just over a year ago that the Wolverines were the ones celebrating a 25-point win.

Wisconsin fans couldn't even resist joining in when the Big House played "Jump Around" late in the blowout.

5. Penn State, 2018

Final score: Michigan: 42, Penn State 7

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Unlike Wisconsin, Penn State was actually a pretty good team last year. The Nittany Lions lost to Ohio State by a point, Michigan State by four points and Kentucky by three points. Other than those games, Penn State went 9-1.

The one loss was by 35 points in Ann Arbor.

Michigan has a bi-yearly tradition of blowing out Penn State at the Big House, and 2018 was no different. Trace McSorley looked lost, Tommy Stevens threw one of the worst passes in Penn State history and the Nittany Lions had no answer on defense.

Michigan avenged an embarrassing loss in 2017 and capped off its undefeated stretch against three ranked teams.

4. Wisconsin, 2016

Final score: Michigan 14, Wisconsin 7

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The Michigan-Wisconsin matchup has been dominated by the home team recently, but 2016 was by far the most competitive matchup of the Harbaugh era.

Both teams were ranked in the top 10, and the game was deadlocked at seven heading into the final eight minutes.

A 46-yard touchdown from Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh broke the tie, and a one-handed interception from Jourdan Lewis sealed the win.

The 2016 Michigan team came an inch away from playing in the Big Ten Championship Game, and that was possible because Michigan survived this test against a Wisconsin team that went on to win 11 games.

3. Michigan State, 2018

Final score: Michigan 21, Michigan State 7

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So far during the Harbaugh era, Michigan has lost to good MSU teams and beaten the not-so-good MSU teams. Last year's Michigan State team was a mess offensively, but the two teams were ranked when they met in East Lansing.

This was the first win against a ranked team on the road for Harbaugh at Michigan, and it was hard-fought. Michigan dominated throughout in terms of yardage and time of possession, but the game was tied nearing the end of the third quarter.

Shea Patterson's 79-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to Donovan Peoples-Jones might be the most significant play of the Harbaugh era, as it came when a familiar feeling of doubt was starting to creep in for the Wolverines.

Instead, Michigan won a heated rivalry game and stayed alive in the playoff race.

2. Penn State, 2016

Final score: Michigan 49, Penn State 10

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This might be a controversial pick because at the time, Penn State was a struggling Big Ten program and James Franklin might have even been on the hot seat.

But this might be the best team Michigan has beaten under Harbaugh in terms of end-of-season results. Penn State ripped off nine straight wins to take home a Big Ten title and nearly knocked off Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl.

Penn State has been a conference title contender ever since.

1. Notre Dame, 2019

Final score: Michigan 45, Notre Dame 14

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Saturday felt like the biggest win of the Harbaugh era because Michigan dominated a top 10 team, earned bragging rights in a rivalry and avoided what could have turned into a season that spiraled out of control.

Despite going into the game as a slight favorite, Notre Dame never really had a chance. Michigan jumped out to a 17-point lead in the first half and increased that lead to 38 points after Notre Dame clawed to within 10.

These two teams aren't scheduled to meet again until 2033, so Notre Dame will have to deal with this bitter taste whenever the rivalry is brought up for 14 years. Michigan won't make the College Football Playoff this season, but that's at least something to build on.

Michigan fans also got a glimpse of the old Harbaugh, as he was still throwing touchdown passes in the fourth quarter with a 31-point lead.


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