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Ranking the top 10 wins of the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan football

The Jim Harbaugh era lasted nine years in Ann Arbor — far longer than most pundits believed it would at the time of his hiring in December 2014. And it ended just how Michigan football fans hoped it would: culminating in a national championship.

Harbaugh is now gone, off to the NFL as the new head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, and it’s Sherrone Moore’s show now. But with it just a few weeks now since Harbaugh departed the program, now is as good a time as any to look back at what was during his tenure.

With that in mind, here are the top 10 wins for Michigan football under Jim Harbaugh in our view.

2021: Ohio State Buckeyes

Mike Mulholland/Getty Images
Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Score: Michigan 42, Ohio State 27

While many will look at the recent Rose Bowl win over Alabama as the top win of the Harbaugh era, this is the one that started it all. Not many believed that there would be any change when Ohio State came to town, with the thought that the superior-talented Buckeyes would roll in and win as they had become accustomed to doing.

However, in a picturesque setting where The Big House became like a snow globe, Michigan ran, ran again, and ran some more. While OSU made plays through the passing game, Harbaugh forced C.J. Stroud and company to settle for field goals, and that made all the difference. It was the game that changed the entire trajectory of Harbaugh’s tenure and changed the program as a whole.

2024: Rose Bowl Game vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

Photo: Isaiah Hole
Photo: Isaiah Hole

Score: Michigan 27, Alabama 20 (OT)

Though Georgia was on the mind the entire offseason with the implementation of the ‘Beat Georgia’ drill, the Bulldogs succumbed in the SEC Championship game to perennial powerhouse Alabama.

Michigan looked better than its SEC counterpart for most of the game but stalled in the third quarter just as the Crimson Tide gained momentum. However, the Wolverines made a timely touchdown-scoring drive late in the game, down one score, to take the game to overtime. There, Blake Corum willed the Wolverines to the lead before the defense stood tall to end the game on a pivotal fourth-and-goal situation.

This win propelled the maize and blue to the national championship and it also was the final game of Nick Saban’s coaching career.

2023: Ohio State Buckeyes

Photo: Isaiah Hole
Photo: Isaiah Hole

Score: Michigan 30, Ohio State 24

Amid all of the offseason and in-season controversies, Jim Harbaugh’s suspension, and an Ohio State team that demanded victory following two straight losses, the Wolverines prevailed with then-interim head coach Sherrone Moore and without Connor Stalions — taking away any excuses emanating from Columbus about the Wolverines’ dominance the previous two years.

It was a gritty win with a particularly impressive defense throughout, in a game that many say rival the first win in the three-game series.

The biggest moment was Blake Corum’s go-ahead touchdown on the first play after team captain and All-American guard Zak Zinter was lost for the season with a broken leg.

2024: National championship game vs. Washington Huskies

Photo: Isaiah Hole
Photo: Isaiah Hole

Score: Michigan 34, Washington 13

It’s odd that a national championship win isn’t the top of the list, let alone outside of the top three, but given the gravity of some of the games above it, this one felt more like a foregone conclusion than anything else.

The Wolverines dominated Washington up front which led to the Huskies’ worst offensive output — this despite being the best offense that Michigan had faced to this point. It was a defensive gem that held strong even while the offense stalled.

Donovan Edwards got two touchdowns on two carries and even though UW battled back and stayed in the game, the Wolverines got timely plays from Will Johnson, Mike Sainristil, and Blake Corum to secure victory and the first national championship in 26 years.

2022: at Ohio State Buckeyes

Photo: Isaiah Hole
Photo: Isaiah Hole

Score: Michigan 45, Ohio State 23

Ohio State fans and coaches fully believed that 2021 was an aberration, so much so that Brian Hartline, the wide receivers coach at the time, proclaimed boldly at the Skull Session before the game that the Buckeyes worked quietly in the dark while Michigan talked.

The Wolverines were without star running back Blake Corum (save for two snaps) as well as other key players (a severely limited Mike Morris and Luke Schoonmaker). It took awhile, but Michigan dominated up front, yet again, with the backbreaker coming on subsequent Donovan Edwards 75-plus yard touchdown runs. The play of the game, however, likely belonged to Mike Sainristil, who batted away a pass from C.J. Stroud to tight end Cade Stover to force OSU into a field goal — the final Buckeye score of The Game.

2021: Big Ten Championship vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

Photo: Isaiah Hole
Photo: Isaiah Hole

Score: Michigan 42, Iowa 3

While it wasn’t the most competitive game, it was a celebration of everything that Michigan football fans had wanted and hoped for for nearly two decades.

The Wolverines jumped out to a 14-3 lead and then started the scoring frenzy in the second half. Though it didn’t appear that the overmatched Hawkeyes were going to be much of a challenge for a Michigan team that had just overworked Ohio State, there was no telling what would happen once U-M got to the first-ever appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game, but the win secured a spot in the College Football Playoff semifinal in what was an unexpectedly special season.

2023: at Penn State Nittany Lions

Photo: Isaiah Hole
Photo: Isaiah Hole

Score: Michigan 24, Penn State 15

Everyone was picking against Michigan football, and that even before they knew Jim Harbaugh wouldn’t be coaching in the game. Harbaugh was suspended by the Big Ten while on the plane ride to State College, and just an hour before the first top 10 matchup of the season for the maize and blue, it was learned that the injunction had not gone through, allowing Harbaugh to coach in the biggest game of the season to this point.

Sherrone Moore took the helm and was masterful with his in-game coaching. When quarterback J.J. McCarthy was banged up with an offensive line unable to contain edge rusher Chop Robinson, Moore changed strategies, running every single play in the second half to secure victory in a defensive gem. An emotional Moore stole the show after the game and led the way to his hiring as the next Michigan football head coach.

2021: at Penn State Nittany Lions

Photo: Isaiah Hole
Photo: Isaiah Hole

Score: Michigan 21, Penn State 17

Michigan football looked like the better team but the scoreboard did not reflect it, whatsoever. And late, Penn State took advantage, scoring a touchdown to tie the game and then taking advantage of an offensive miscue to get the ball back in plus territory which led to a Nittany Lions field goal for the lead.

But then the Wolverines answered. A shallow crossing route by tight end Erick All resulted in a 47-yard touchdown with 3:29 remaining in the game. Michigan got the ball back and running back Hassan Haskins muscled his way to first down after first down, cementing the game and keeping the maize and blue alive in the College Football Playoff standings.

2016: Wisconsin Badgers

Photo: Isaiah Hole
Photo: Isaiah Hole

Score: Michigan 14, Wisconsin 7

Honorable mention to the 2021 iteration where Michigan finally won in Madison for the first time in 20 years, but this was the game that really showed that the Wolverines might be for real under Jim Harbaugh.

A defensive battle where Michigan looked better for much of the game, missed field goals and stalled drives kept the Badgers in it. A late score by wide receiver Amara Darboh put the Wolverines up, but it was cornerback Jourdan Lewis’ impressive one-handed interception that sealed the game, ensuring that Michigan would stay undefeated in what looked at the time to be a special season.

2018: at Michigan State Spartans

michigan linebacker devin bush jr msu michigan state pregame
Photo: Isaiah Hole

Score: Michigan 21, Michigan State 7

MSU wasn’t exactly a good team in 2018, but entering the season, no one thought that the Wolverines could win any of the ‘three-game gauntlet’ of Wisconsin-MSU-Penn State in the midseason.

While perhaps the least daunting of the three contests on paper, the rivalry with the Spartans always provided uncertainty, regardless of how mediocre MSU may be in any given season. It was a defensive struggle, with points coming at a premium. The weather was unpredictable, as it started with sunny skies and warm air before a thunderstorm delay which led eventually to frigid temperatures and swirling winds.

Two things stand out about this one: MSU was limited to 94 total yards of offense and, more importantly, the pregame situation which saw the Spartans arrive late for their field walk while Devin Bush was caught in the crosshairs.

It was perhaps the most satisfying win in the rivalry in some time.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire