One of the big reasons I was excited about Michigan hiring Jim Harbaugh is I saw the deficiencies this team would have come year three. I figured that like other elite coaches, he would be able to conjure up a decent season in a year where the team wasn't expected to do much. Something like 9-3 with a victory over a rival.
Instead, for the third straight regime after Lloyd Carr's retirement, Michigan football's year three was abysmal after a promising start:
2010: Michigan starts 5-0, loses at home to Michigan State, ends up 7-6. Rodriguez fired. While the offense and record improved, the defense is the worst in the program's history. Losses to both Michigan State and Ohio State. Recruiting ends up 30th in the country.
2013: Michigan starts 5-0, loses a blunderfest on the road to a mediocre Penn State team, gets blown out by Michigan State, finishes 7-6 with losses to both Michigan State and Ohio State. Hoke is retained, recruiting ends up 20th. TBH, its crazy to me how this season matches the beats of 2017-18, from the inexplicable first loss, to the road blowout loss to a rival, to the 0-3 finish with a closer than expected game against OSU and a disappointing bowl performance. Yeah, the circumstances were different, but the highs and lows were almost identical.
2017: Michigan starts 4-0, loses a blunderfest at home to Michigan State. Gets to 8-2 before losing three straight to finish out the season 8-5. Losses to both MSU and OSU. Bowl loss to a mediocre South Carolina team following a shocking collapse. Recruiting finishes up 19th (at the moment).
The difference? Unlike the previous 2 regimes, I believe that Michigan is well set for success following this disappointment. A very good defense returns everyone. It would not be at all surprising for them to compete at a 2016 level.
On offense...all I can say is look at the 2011 defense. That unit went from the worst in the country to good in a single year. While Greg Mattison deserves credit, undoubtedly one of the biggest factors in this turnaround was the fact that Michigan was no longer starting converted wideouts and true freshmen 2 stars in the secondary. With a little luck (aka Shea Patterson's eligibility coming through), next year should be a very good year*. And if that is the case, then I think we will look at 2017 as a blip on a very successful tenure.
(*The flip side, of course, is that Patterson is ineligible, neither other QB pans out, Drevno really does suck and the OL remains as bad as it was last year and the defense is more 2017 than 2016. Another bad year (8-4 with losses to OSU, MSU and ND) results in more recruiting misery setting up Harbaugh for a make or break year 5. Hopefully it does not come to that.)