With back-to-back 10-win campaigns in coach Jim Harbaugh’s first two seasons, it’s more than safe to welcome back Michigan to college football’s upper echelon.
The Wolverines likely will be hanging around for a while.
ESPN unveiled its final installment of its future power rankings (pay site) on Monday, taking a look at what it says will be college football’s strongest programs over the next three years, through the 2019 season.
Michigan landed sixth on the list, based on input from Power 5 coaches and coordinators and ESPN reporters, according to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN. The rankings take into account ESPN’s past future rankings of quarterbacks, offenses and defenses (Michigan ranked Nos. 6, 9 and 9, respectively), as well as recruiting performance.
The Wolverines, however, are tough to figure out, Rittenberg writes. Part of it is Michigan’s heavy losses to the NFL last season. Part of it is Harbaugh’s top-flight recruiting classes.
And, part of it is Harbaugh.
“Few teams’ forecasts are tougher to peg than Michigan’s, for several reasons,” Rittenberg writes. “The Wolverines lose so much from the 2016 team ... and a slight backslide this fall would be understandable, if not expected. They should contend nationally in 2018, as excellent recruiting classes should blossom under Jim Harbaugh and a top coaching staff.
“Harbaugh undoubtedly has raised Michigan’s profile, but his own future remains a point of debate.”
Rittenberg quotes a “Power 5 coach,” who calls Michigan, “a wild card, man. Is he going to be there in three years? He typically hasn’t stayed real long. Are the Indianapolis Colts going to pay Jim Harbaugh $10 million?”
Michigan appears set at quarterback with the emergence of Brandon Peters, according to Rittenberg, and the defense appears in good hands under coordinator Don Brown.
“Michigan was an old team, and most people realize that,” a Big Ten coordinator tells Rittenberg. “We’ll see what was behind those guys.”
Alabama is No. 1 in ESPN’s future rankings, followed by Ohio State. Penn State (11) and Wisconsin (12) also are in the top 25 from the Big Ten. Michigan State is unranked.