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Big things expected from Jim Harbaugh at Michigan

Big things expected from Jim Harbaugh at Michigan
Michigan tabbed former quarterback Jim Harbaugh as the coach to restore the football program to its former glory. (Tony Ding / Associated Press)

Today marks the start of the Los Angeles Times' annual college football countdown. We'll start at 25 and work our way down each day toward No. 1.

If the math works out, this should add up to a terrific season. Last year's No. 1 pick, Oregon, made it to the first College Football Playoff championship game and took an early 7-0 lead against Ohio State.

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Then television blacked out so we never heard a final score.

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Michigan announced this summer it will retire six jersey numbers associated with the school's long-toothed football lore.

Headed to the rafters will be Gerald Ford's No. 48, Desmond Howard's No. 21 and jerseys worn by Ron Kramer (87), Bennie Oosterbaan (47) and the Wistert brothers' No.11.

Also say farewell to "Old 98" worn by Tom Harmon.

If things work out, in a few years, Michigan will mothball a pair of "Old Khakis" worn by Jim Harbaugh.

The hiring of Harbaugh as Michigan's coach was better than any perfect fit you'd find in the men's department at the Gap.

Harbaugh, a former Michigan quarterback, wears the Big Boy Bo Pants the program has been missing since Schembechler.

"The savior is here," senior guard Kyle Kalis said Thursday at media day in Ann Arbor.

Now, say goodbye for a while, because the Wolverines are going to largely disappear until their Sept. 3 opener at Utah.

"We'll be in a bunker," Harbaugh said.

Forget last year's 5-7 record and the discord within the Michigan athletic department. The Wolverines are back and 2015 has already been a terrific year.

History suggests it will take Harbaugh only minutes to turn Michigan into a national contender. The issue is sustainability. He has an irrefutable track record, but he's also more a sprinter than marathon man.

His strong, quirky personality has not proven conducive to long-term residency. He's a fix-it man who eventually breaks things.

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None of that matters today. Harbaugh is the immediate and indispensable counterweight to Ohio State and Urban Meyer, another coach who runs so hot he quit Florida twice because of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. If you catch Meyer in peak form, though, he'll deliver the hardware.

The difference with Harbaugh is that he never tires — but wears down everyone else. The race at Michigan is to make sure the winning outpaces the blowback.

Harbaugh at some point is likely to lose his pinions and cross a line of no return. How long the good times last — four years, five? — is a risk worth taking at a place reeling from rival Ohio State's insufferable resurgence.

He is the right Michigan man for the job following philosophical misfiring on the last two coaches: Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.

Harbaugh is a borderline miracle worker. What he did at Stanford remains astounding. In 2007, with the Cardinal a 40-point underdog, he led Stanford into the Coliseum and pulled off an epic upset against USC. Within two years, the Cardinal had fleeced USC of its physical-first identity, stealing away recruits and copyrights from the university that popularized "Student Body Left."

You could argue it was Harbaugh, as much as NCAA sanctions, who ended Pete Carroll's USC dynasty.

Harbaugh always has an itch to scratch, though, and he exited Stanford before the big payoff. He left the crowning Rose Bowl triumph to successor David Shaw.

Harbaugh moved up-Bay and resurrected the San Francisco 49ers to the brink of a Super Bowl title. When things soured after four years, it was the perfect time for Harbaugh to go home to Michigan.

The prediction here is that he will win, audaciously and fast. Harbaugh probably won't go 4-8 and 5-7 his first two years, as he did at Stanford, because he inherited in Ann Arbor a much higher caliber collection of players. He doesn't need time to re-wire the circuitry to smash-mouth football — that style is buried in Michigan's DNA.

Harbaugh may need time to find a quarterback, though Jake Rudock, a graduate transfer from Iowa, has arrived to battle Shane Morris.

Michigan returns most of its offensive line and an experienced defense. Harbaugh knows his honeymoon period ended, though, the night Ohio State won it all last January in North Texas.

No one needs to explain to Michigan's new coach the stakes, urgency, history or rivalry.

The smart money is on Harbaugh. A candle has been lit, on both ends, and now comes the exciting part: seeing how long it burns.

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