Michigan beats everybody: College football couldn’t stop Jim Harbaugh’s national title team

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HOUSTON – Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wore Cartier sunglasses. He hoisted the College Football Playoff championship trophy. He later held court at another press conference where he dodged questions about his future with the Wolverines. 

No. 1 Michigan beat No. 2 Washington 34-13 in the CFP championship game at NRG Stadium on Monday, which ensured that the Wolverines will be first and last in 2023-24. First Big Ten team to finish 15-0 and win the national championship. Last team to win the College Football Playoff in the four-team era. 

The Huskies (14-1) could not stop the rest of the college football world’s nightmare – quite literally – in 2023. Harbaugh served a school-imposed suspension to start the regular season for an NCAA investigation into Level 1 recruiting violations. He served a Big Ten-imposed three-game suspension as part of an investigation into an in-person sign-stealing scandal. None of that stopped the Wolverines. 

Michigan vs. Everybody became the mantra. Michigan beat Everybody in the process. Jack Harbaugh screamed as his son Jim met him near midfield under the maize-and-blue-confetti rain in the aftermath. Jim picked up his mother Jackie. A few minutes later on the podium, Jim let his father ask everybody that question that made Michigan the ultimate heel: “Who’s got it better than us?”

What does this national championship mean within the Harbaugh family?

“That’ll check the biggest box,” Harbaugh said. “For me, personally, just to be part of the family. With my dad, who won a national championship with Western Kentucky in 2002, and John Harbaugh, who won the Super Bowl 2012 season, 2013 Super Bowl. I get to sit at the big person’s table now. That feels really good.” 

Corny and combative, Jim Harbaugh played the role of villain to perfection. Yet when a reporter asked quarterback J.J. McCarthy and running back Blake Corum about the distractions from this season, Harbaugh interrupted and spoke out of turn in defense of his players. 

“It went exactly how we wanted it to go to win every game,” Harbaugh said. “The off-the-field issues, we’re innocent and we stood strong and tall because we knew we were innocent. I’d like to point that out, and these guys are innocent. And to overcome that, it wasn’t that hard because we knew we were innocent.” 

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Harbaugh then repeated that twice when pressed by a follow-up. 

“It went exactly how we wanted it to go. It went exactly how we wanted it to go.” 

Michigan, party of one. Nobody could stop where this was going. Not the NCAA. Not the Big Ten. Not Penn State, Maryland, Ohio State, Iowa, Alabama or Washington – the late-season schedule the Wolverines dominated en route to its first national championship since 1997. 

The Wolverines rushed for 303 yards on eight yards per carry – double the four-yards–and–a-cloud-of-dust toughness typical of Big Ten country. 

Donovan Edwards – the fourth-quarter hero from the 2022 matchup at Ohio State – resurfaced. 

On the game’s first possession, Edwards bounced off the line of scrimmage on a second-and-14. He found an opening with the help of a block from LaDarius Henderson and sprinted untouched for a 41-yard touchdown with 10:14 left in the first quarter. After a Washington field goal, Edwards offered an encore with a 46-yard touchdown run on the next possession — again untouched. He finished with six carries for 104 yards. 

Donovan Edwards

(Getty Images)

Blake Corum – the Offensive Player of the Game – added 21 carries for 134 yards and two TDs. Yet the senior running back was more excited for his teammate. Corum closed out the Huskies with two fourth-quarter TDs, and his season-long team-first mantra surfaced again.  

“That’s something Donovan, he was praying for,” Corum said. “He talked to the media the other day. I listened to the interview. He said he’s working on growing. He said he went to a therapist and just talking and talking. He puts in the work.” 

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy improved to 27-1 as a starter. He finished 10 of 18 for 140 yards – including a clutch 41-yard pass to Colston Loveland that helped Michigan extend its lead to 27-13 in the fourth quarter. The refs might have missed a hold on that play. Seriously, that’s how much the narrative turned. Were ACC officials helping the Wolverines? 

Just stop. That’s exactly what Michigan did to Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. The Heisman Trophy winner was limited to 27 of 51 passing for 251 yards, a TD and two interceptions. Michigan corneback Will Johnson had an interception on the first play of the second half. All-American safety Mike Sainristil had the game-sealing interception with 4:29 remaining. The Wolverines never let the Huskies get comfortable, and Harbaugh went into roll-call mode when mentioning which players made the big plays. 

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The Wolverines allowed 10.4 points per game this season. Michigan played complimentary football at the highest level, and McCarthy – who has a decision to make about the 2024 NFL Draft – knows why. 

“I would just say Coach Harbaugh hit on it last night,” McCarthy said. “It takes a lot more than just being a football player to be a Michigan Man. Everything that – the rigorous school schedule, the rigorous football schedule, it just forges us into these Michigan Men. Couldn’t be in a better spot.” 

For now, anyway. Harbaugh’s future was a popular topic in the aftermath. Harbaugh deflected as he had all weekend. The future is uncertain at Michigan. The NCAA investigations will continue, and Harbaugh has not signed a contract extension.

MORE: Michigan president, AD unsure of Harbaugh’s future

Black Monday has passed in the NFL, and the chase for the Super Bowl will always be there. Will Harbaugh take that route this time?  

“I just want to enjoy this,” Harbaugh said in response. “I just want to enjoy this. I hope you give me that. Can a guy have that? Does it always have to be what’s next, what’s the future?” 

The Big Ten will have 18 teams. The College Football Playoff will have 12 teams. The transfer portal and NIL are a bottomless Pandora’s box, and that unstable environment might make it more difficult to win another national championship. 

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Yet there is no asterisk on this one. Harbaugh promised to get a “15-0” tattoo with a Block-M. Harbaugh turned to Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel and his family to calculate the program’s win total, which stands at 1,004. 

“Four,” Harbaugh said. “One of my favorite numbers.” 

Harbaugh might not return to college football, and the sport will miss that off-beat behavior if he chooses the NFL. Yet Monday was a reminder that behind all of that – and it’s a lot to deal with – there is one hell of a football coach. He spelled out exactly what Michigan did in college football’s face this season. 

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“To reach a thousand wins and win the national championship in the same year, man, doesn’t get much better than that,” Harbaugh said. “I would really ask you that. Who could possibly have it better than us? Nobody.”

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