ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan is coming off its only College Football Playoff appearance last season, but the team has been on the doorstep heading into the Ohio State game more often than not the last seven years.
The Wolverines and Buckeyes are both a perfect 11-0 heading into Saturday’s matchup in Columbus. The winner will head to the Big Ten Championship Game and almost surely earn a playoff spot, while the loser is likely to land outside the top four.
The narrative surrounding Jim Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan is that he spent years falling short of expectations before finally breaking through in Year 7. But in reality, he had the Wolverines one game away from the playoff twice before 2021.
In 2016, Michigan went into Columbus with a 10-1 record and ranked No. 3 in the nation. Michigan had a 10-point lead in the third quarter, a three-point lead with two seconds left in regulation, and ultimately fell just short in double overtime.
How much differently would the Harbaugh tenure be viewed if the Wolverines had made just one more play in that game?
Two years later, the Wolverines found themselves in almost the same spot. They dropped the opener at Notre Dame and then ripped off 10 straight wins before returning to the Horseshoe.
It was a five-point game at halftime and a one-possession game with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, but Ohio State ultimately blew it open, scoring five touchdowns in the final 20 minutes for a 62-39 win.
The 2018 season is remembered for that blowout loss -- justifiably so -- but once again, Harbaugh had Michigan one step away from the College Football Playoff.
Last season was the first time Michigan got to host Ohio State for one of those proverbial CFP play-in games, and it’s no coincidence that the result was flipped. The Wolverines dominated in the trenches and ran away with a 42-27 win to cement their playoff spot.
Now, almost exactly one year later, the stage is set for the fourth time in seven years, this time back in Columbus, Michigan’s own personal house of horrors.
Since Harbaugh finally exorcized his scarlet and gray demons a year ago, there’s renewed optimism surrounding this rematch. But make no mistake: Trying to replicate that success is a whole different challenge down south.
Harbaugh has done exactly what he was hired to do: Make Michigan a national championship contender on a regular basis. When he got here, the Michigan-Ohio State game was a farce. Now, it’s one of the most impactful matchups in the sport on a yearly basis.