INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh talked about mountain climbing on the first day of the Big Ten football media days on Thursday.
That mountain climbing was a family activity but it also could have been the steep climb Michigan has faced in trying to get to Ohio State’s level.
Ohio State, the Big Ten champion the last four years, has won eight games in a row against its rival, 15 of the last 16 and 17 of the last 19.
Last year’s game was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the last two times the two teams played it wasn’t even close, with OSU winning 56-29 in 2019 and 62-39 in 2018.
Michigan has not won a Big Ten championship or even a division championship in Harbaugh’s seven seasons as coach.
Despite those numbers Harbaugh said, “I’m as enthusiastic and excited as I’ve ever been, as I’ve always been and even more to have at it, to win the championship to beat Ohio and beat our home state rival, Michigan State, and everybody else. That’s what we want to do. And we’re going to do it or die trying.”
That’s where the climbing story fit in. “This summer, Sarah (his wife), Addie (his daughter) and I were going up this mountain. It was pretty high. We were getting close and Addie said, ‘We’re getting close, Dad. We’ve got to get to the top. I said, ‘You’re darn right we do.’ She said, ‘We have to get to the apex, we’ve got to get to the top.’ She’s got that gene in her. I’ve got that gene in my. We’ve got to get to the top.’ “
Michigan defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson, one of three Michigan players at media day, said Ohio State has become even more of a focus for the Wolverines this season.
“We’re putting just more of an emphasis on them. We’re not afraid to talk about them. We all just really believe we can get the job done,” he said.
“Obviously, O-State has that win streak on us and we want to be the team to break it. That’s just the truth. We want to be the team to break it, win the Big Ten championship and flip the script for Michigan these last couple years.
Then, apparently forgetting former teammate Chase Winovich calling the 2018 OSU-Michigan game part of The Revenge Tour, he said,
“In the past years we didn’t emphasize them too much. We talked about them but not to the degree we are doing it now. That’s what I think has changed about this year, that’s what I think is what makes this team different is the emphasis on Ohio State.
“Clearly in 2018 and 2019 something wasn’t right about the culture. Obviously, we shouldn’t be getting blown out by Ohio State. It just didn’t make sense. I think Coach Harbaugh has been doing a great job of adapting and seeing what our team needs and changing what needs to be changed. There were things that needed to be improved and I think we have changed the culture,” Hutchinson said.
Whether a culture change will change the trajectory of the rivalry remains to be seen.
No regrets for Warren: Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren was heavily criticized for the the way he handled the Big Ten canceling its football season last August and its reinstatement.
Thursday, he said he didn’t regret how he approached that issue.
“I don’t any have any regrets. We all look back on our lives and have things maybe we could have done a little differently. But If I had the chance to do it all over last year I would make the same decisions that we made,” Warren said.
Name, image, likeness popular: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck and Nebraska coach Scott Frost all spoke positively about college athletes being able to make money with their name, image and likeness.
“I’m fired up about name, image and likeness. I think it’s tremendous. To be in an urban area with all the major corporations we have is only going to benefit our student athletes,” Fleck said.
Frost said, “I’m excited for name, image and likeness. Anything that benefits our student athletes, I’m in favor of.”
Fitzgerald, an All-American linebacker at Northwestern said, “I’m not going to lie, I’m a little jealous.”
Times change: Illinois coach Bret Bielema has an Iowa Hawkeyes tattoo on his leg from when he played at Iowa. “It was a good idea when I was 19. It’s not now,” he said on Thursday.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.