Celebrating to the tune of ‘We Are the Champions’, Jim Harbaugh was enveloped by a blizzard of gold and white confetti with the championship trophy held high. It has taken him nearly a decade after he assumed his role at Michigan, but Harbaugh finally met the high standards that he initially set as he returned to his cherished alma mater. Blake Corum, tearing through the field for 134 yards and two crucial touchdowns in the fourth quarter, helped Harbaugh and his top-performing Wolverines achieve a dramatic rise to national acclaim, overpowering the second ranked Washington with a 34-13 victory in the College Football Playoff on Monday night.
Michigan’s triumphant claim to their first national title since 1997 was sealed when Corum, the hero of the overtime clash against Alabama in the Rose Bowl, powered through from the 1-yard line with only 3:37 remaining. This helped Michigan extend their lead by 21, triggering yet another passionate performance of ‘The Victors’ by the band. For Harbaugh, this championship victory marked a much-anticipated achievement since he took over the struggling giant of a team back in 2015, even in the face of two suspensions that caused him to miss six games in the regular season.
Michigan, in an impressive offensive display, racked up 303 yards against Washington, while their stout defense hindered the Huskies’ usually powerful passing game to a lonely touchdown and intercepted Michael Penix Jr., the Heisman Trophy runner-up, twice. Penix ended the game with 27 completions in 51 attempts for a total 255 yards and a touchdown, as the Huskies’ 21-game winning streak came to a sudden halt. McCarthy, though only managing 140 yards through the air and rushing for 31 yards, had just enough in the tank for him to improve to 27-1 as a Wolverine starter.
Michigan gave their opponents a hint of what to expect in the Big Ten, a future destination for the Pac-12 champions come next season. Initially, the Huskies managed to keep pace with the demanding grind of the game. The Wolverines had an explosive start, leading 17-3 early in the 2nd quarter courtesy of two lengthy touchdown runs by Donovan Edwards and 229 yards of rushing in the first quarter alone. This prompted flashbacks of the previous year’s historic Georgia rout of TCU.
However, Washington managed to stabilize their defense and prevented the Wolverines from scoring another point before halftime. Following a successful defensive stand by the Huskies which halted Michigan on a fourth-and-2 at the UW 38 only 4:46 before the end of the second quarter, Penix orchestrated a comeback. He connected with Jalen McMillan for a 3-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-goal, narrowing the score with just 42 seconds remaining in the half.
Michigan held onto a slender touchdown lead until the midpoint of the final quarter. It was then they launched a 71-yard drive, culminating in Corum’s 12-yard touchdown – a testament to his ability to break tackles. This extended the Wolverines lead to 27-13 with just over seven minutes left in the final quarter. Corum, the primary force behind the stellar running offense and an integral part of a squad outfitted with tenured fourth-, fifth-, and even sixth-year players, missed the previous year’s CFP with a knee injury.
As the beating heart of the team, Corum was named Offensive Player of the Football Playoffs. This occurred right before the College Football Playoff expands from featuring four teams to 12 in the coming season. Michigan appeared to be sailing towards their third consecutive Big Ten championship when word got out in October about an NCAA investigation into potential violations within the program – rules regarding in-person scouting and decoding opponent play signals allegedly being breached.
The controversy compelled Connor Stalions – a relatively unknown Michigan recruitment staff member accused of being behind the scheme – into the public spotlight. This threatened to derail Michigan’s otherwise outstanding season in the midst of the mounting NCAA process that will prolong into 2024. The verdict remains unknown about which penalties Michigan might encounter.
The Big Ten, however, took swift action by sidelining Harbaugh for the last three matches of the regular season, which included all-important confrontations with Penn State and rivals Ohio State. Harbaugh returned for the playoffs, saw the task through and ended up basking in the victory, celebrating with his 84-year-old father, Jack (a former coach himself) who joined him in the trophy presentation.
Yet, not everything basked in the glow of this victory. Speculations lingered as to whether Harbaugh had coached his last game with the team that he once led as a quarterback, considering the persistent call of the NFL. But for now, Harbaugh savors the relief of no longer being the only family member without a national championship title. His father took home a Division I-AA title with Western Kentucky, and his brother John triumphed in the Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens after overcoming Jim’s 49ers 11 years prior.
In response to the approaching future, Harbaugh expressed a desire to simply relish in the moment, saying, ‘I just want to enjoy this, I hope you give me that. Can I have that? Does it always have to be what’s next, what’s the future?’ As the dust settles, it seems he might have more than earned that moment.
What remains now is not only a sweet echo of victory, but also a lingering question. What will the future of Michigan’s illustrious football program – and indeed, the future of Harbaugh within it – look like? While celebratory music fades and confetti settles, the real story is only just beginning.