Iowa Football

Iowa football: 5 things to know about Michigan

Hawkeyes host Wolverines for Big Ten's champions week Saturday

The future of Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh, standing on the sideline during a game against Wisconsin on Nov. 14, is a hot
The future of Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh, standing on the sideline during a game against Wisconsin on Nov. 14, is a hot topic these days. (Associated Press)

Another week, another blue-blood opponent struggling in 2020.

Another week, another team that has battled COVID-19 issues in this pandemic-shortened season.

Another week that’s unlike any before 2020.

This week will include Big Ten Conference football games Friday and Saturday, matchups set after last Saturday’s games and cancellations, as well all-conference teams announced on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. To top it off, Wednesday is signing day.

Welcome to “Championship Week.”

Here are 5 Things about Michigan (2-4), which Iowa (6-2) will host Saturday night inside Kinnick Stadium (6 p.m., ESPN).

1. Jim Harbaugh’s future

There’s a lot of chatter in Ann Arbor, Mich., and across the country about the status of Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh.

The “prodigal son” was brought in to put the Wolverines back in the national-title conversation and, among other things, to beat Ohio State. Although he has a very good 49-22 record in his sixth season at his alma mater — including three 10-win seasons — that hasn’t happened.

He has one year left on his contract and, reportedly, discussions have begun on an extension with a possible pay cut. With signing day Wednesday, this is not good for the program.

“ ... I’m stunned they will now force their recruits to decide on Michigan before Michigan decides who’s going to coach them ...” wrote John U. Bacon on MichiganRadio.org. “Michigan’s coaches often tell recruits, ‘These four years will determine your next 40.’ So how can they expect recruits to decide on their all-important next four years without knowing who their coach will be?”

Harbaugh said Monday he’s having conversations with recruits right now and he tells them he is “committed to Michigan. I have been and remain.”

Even former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer weighed in on the situation, saying it was time to “blow things up.”

“Is Jim Harbaugh a good coach? He’s a heck of a coach,” Meyer, who was 7-0 against Michigan, said during a Fox telecast on Saturday, explaining his “blow things up” comment. “He’s won 70 percent of his games in the NFL. I made a comment, ‘You blow it up.’ I didn’t say change coaches. Blow it up. Evaluate your recruiting strategies, evaluate your player development and get that right. Do not lower your standards. I’m telling you, don’t do that, because that’s a tremendous history in that organization, in that university. Get it right.”

2. Game on: Michigan returns to practice

After two weeks off because of positive COVID-19 tests, Harbaugh said Monday everything is on schedule for Saturday’s game in Iowa City.

The Wolverines returned to practice Sunday and were planning on practicing Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before leaving for Iowa City on Friday afternoon.

Tuesday is a “heavy day for finals,” Harbaugh said, so that will be a day off.

“That’s the plan,” he said when asked if everything was good this week.

3. Michigan’s 2020 season

To say the Wolverines are struggling on the field would be an understatement.

They come into Iowa City with 2-4 record. The only wins were a season-opening, 49-24, decision at Minnesota and a 48-42 triple-overtime conquest at Rutgers. Between those two games were losses to Michigan State (at home), Indiana and Wisconsin (also at home). In their last game, the Wolverines fell to Penn State, 27-17, in Ann Arbor. That was on Nov. 28, the last time the Wolverines were on the field.

Michigan is allowing a whopping 434.3 yards and 34.5 points per game. They allow 178.8 rushing yards and 255.5 passing a game. Offensively, they are scoring 28.3 points and gaining 381.8 yards per game.

4. Michigan quarterback battle

Harbaugh would not name a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game.

Joe Milton, a 6-foot-5, 243-pound junior from Pahokee, Fla., started the first four games and has completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 1,077 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. A sophomore from Reno, Nev., Cade McNamara, 6-1 and 205, started the last two games and has completed 43 of 71 passes for 425 yards and four TDs, including a 27-of-36, 260-yard performance in the win over Rutgers. In the loss to Penn State, however, he was 12 of 25 for 91 yards.

He has yet to throw an interception.

“Saturday we’ll have the opportunity to answer that question,” Harbaugh said Monday when asked who would start.

5. Michigan football history lesson

As mentioned above, the Wolverines are one of the true blue bloods of college football.

This program has won 964 games, 42 conference and 11 national titles, the first in 1901 and the last in 1997.

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It’s the program former Iowa athletics director Bump Elliott coached and where Bo Schembechler became a household name. He coached the Wolverines to a 194-48-5 record and 13 Big Ten titles.

It’s the program of Fritz Crisler. Yes, the guy the basketball arena is named after.

Crisler coached the Wolverines from 1938 to ’47, winning two conference and one national title and compiling a 116-32-9 record. He also was the man behind the “winged” helmets and the first to use “platoon” football. According to published reports, Michigan was set to play a very talented Army team in 1945 and, wanting to give his team an advantage, Crisler used a rule allowing players to enter or leave at any point in the game. He developed defensive and offensive specialist, becoming “the father of two-platoon football.”

Comments: (319) 398-8416; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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