I have seen a ton of panic and negativity on this board since Saturday, but I think that if everyone can take a step back, there is a larger picture that explans so much of our struggles this season, and which and might provide a ray of hope.
It is fairly common after a coaching change for a coach to take a step back in year 3 because the exiting coach almost always recruited poorly during his last year or so (by virtue of being on the hot seat). As a result, while a new coach often comes into a situation in which he has talented upper classmen on the roster, by year 3, most of those players are gone and there is a gaping hole where the senior and junior talen should be.
That is precisely what we are going through right now. For Harbaugh's first two seasons, he was able to somewhat benefit from the upperclassmen that were on the roster from Hoke's first few successful recruiting classes. Those guys are gone, and in their place, our upperclassmen are made up of Hoke's much weaker last two classes. Those classes were followed by the disaster of a transition class that resulted from Michigan hiring Harbaugh almost on the eve of National Signing Day.
Harbaugh is not the first coach to experience initial success, followed by a tough 3rd year. The same thing happened to Hoke based upon RR's last few classes. While that may not be comforting, perhaps the following few examples will make everyone feel better:
Dabo Swinney - went 6-7 in his 3rd year, following a 9-5 2nd year. From year 4 forward, he hasn't won less than 10 games.
Urban Meyer (Florida edition) - following a 13 win national championship season in 2006, the program took a step back in 2007 and only won 9 games. That 3rd season was an outlier as it was followed by consecutive 13-win seasons in years 4 and 5.
Nick Saban (LSU edition) - followed a 10-win second season with an 8-5 3rd season, only to win 13 games (and a national championship) in year 4.
Nick Saban (Bama edition) - Hist first two full seaons were 12 and 14 wins (with a National Championship in year 2). In year 3, he took a relative step back to 10 wins, only to follow that with 12 and 13 win season (and 2 more national championships).
Mark Dantonio - after taking MSU to a 9 win second season (which, historically, is a great season for them), Mork went 6-7 in year 3, only to rebound to an 11-2 conference title season in year 4.
A few observations:
1. Each of those guys is a massive douchebag. Not necessarily relevant, but it jumps off the page.
2. Harbaugh may not recover as quickkly in year 4 as these guys because his transition class was really small and weak (not on him), and moreover, his first few classes really whiffed on OL).
3. Look at some of the young players on our roster. Aside from OL, which we need to fix ASAP (and which should resolve itself as our young line matures over the next 2 years), we are STOCKED with young talent. Unfortunately, this season, that talent is playing against older, stronger, more experienced players who are more fundamentally sound just from being older, stronger and more experienced. As these guys get older, stronger and more experienced, I think that the sky is the limit for our team.
tl;dr version - everyone chill out; we are really young; coaches struggle in year 3, even great coaches. history is a guide, will be rebound nicely over the next year or so.