For Jim Harbaugh, life has pretty much been a playground since returning to his boyhood home to coach his alma mater last January. That’s the case now more than ever as his 8-2 Wolverines prep for their final two games of the season with a chance to compete for a championship still within the realm of possibility.
Harbaugh told his players last week that the entire month of November would be like a playoff atmosphere for the team. He could have called on his experience as an NFL head coach or a former All-Pro quarterback to help explain his point. Instead, he compared the feeling to playing pick-up hoops during his summers in Ann Arbor as a boy.
“When we were young and living over on Anderson Street in the summer we’d all get together in the morning and go play basketball at Pattengill Elementary School,” he said Monday afternoon. “Concrete basketball floor, two rims with the chains as nets, you picked your team and you started playing. The team that won got to play the next game. If you lost you had to go to the side and pick a new team.”
The goal for Harbaugh in those days was to stay on the court until lunch time. To keep playing into December -- and potentially beyond -- the Wolverines will need to keep winning. Harbaugh said “lunch” in this scenario is a “championship game, the playoffs.”
Of course, it’s not quite as simple as the “Winner stays” rules in the crowded court of college football. The Wolverines will need quite a bit of help to reach the College Football Playoff in Harbaugh’s first season as the coach. They are currently the highest-ranked two-loss team in the country at No. 14, but will need many others to drop out of the running if they do win out from here.
“It’s limited,” Harbaugh said. “You know, it’s limited in college football. It’s a four-team playoff in the national championship, which is unlike any other sport in college athletics that I’m aware of. But as least we have one, at least we have one a limited basis. ... I personally love the playoff type of situation and atmosphere. If you win you get to keep playing. If you don’t, you have to watch.”
To even enter the playoff discussion, Michigan could need an assist from rival Ohio State this weekend. The Buckeyes have the best chance to beat No. 9 Michigan State, which needs to lose once more for Harbaugh’s team to play for a Big Ten title no matter how well they do in the final two games of the season.
That situation didn’t come up often in the summer pick-up hoops session. A reporter, carrying the analogy a step further Monday, asked Harbaugh if he’d be pulling for the Buckeyes to win on the other playground this weekend.
“There was only one court at Pattengill,” he said.