Standing in Schembechler Hall, with the artifacts of the Towsley Museum surrounding him, Jim Harbaugh addressed the media with renewed energy. It was a far cry from the dejected, reticent Harbaugh who, less than 48 hours earlier, slumped over the podium at Spartan Stadium after the Michigan football team’s rivalry loss on Saturday.
Harbaugh has been here before. He’s posted a combined 3-9 record against Michigan’s two biggest rivals — Michigan State and Ohio State — and has not beaten a top-15 team on the road. He had an opportunity to check both boxes in East Lansing this past weekend, up 30-14 in the third quarter, but the Wolverines gave up their lead en route to a season-altering collapse.
The loss to the Spartans put a dent in Michigan’s goals of winning Big Ten and national titles this season. And in an era of college football with little to no margin for error, it shifted the Wolverines’ season outlook.
“The resolve is to get back to work and get prepared for this next opponent,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the way I woke up today. Determined, attack, with the resolve that it’s a new season. A new day, a new week, a new four-game season. Let’s get at it.”
Michigan debuted at No. 7 in Tuesday’s initial College Football Playoff rankings, behind the likes of No. 3 Michigan State and No. 5 Ohio State. There’s room for upward mobility, but a spot in the four-team field will almost certainly require victories over the Buckeyes and Penn State this month.
With just four games left on the schedule, the Wolverines are ready for the uphill battle.
“We’re moving on. It didn’t ruin our season,” sophomore offensive lineman Zak Zinter said Tuesday. “We’ve still got everything we want in front of us. We’re going to win out and kind of let (Michigan State) be in the past. Tough loss, but we’re moving on. Can’t do anything about it.”
A loss to the Spartans may not have ended Michigan’s season, but it killed a lot of the program’s positive momentum built during its 7-0 start. The Wolverines went to East Lansing with a chance to nab a statement top-10 road win, but left without the Paul Bunyan trophy. In the process, Harbaugh fell to 0-2 against Michigan State coach Mel Tucker, despite having entered both matchups as a Vegas favorite.
Even with an eye toward the future, the rivalry loss is anything but forgettable.
“The Michigan football team, the 2021 team, is going to be defined by what’s already taken place and what they do this Saturday, and what they do the Saturday after that, the Saturday after that, and the Saturday after that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what’s going to define us.”
The Wolverines have faced in-game adversity against Nebraska and Rutgers, but this is the first time this year they’ve had to respond to a loss. They seem to be focused on moving forward, and the team reported to Schembechler Hall on its own accord for a players-only meeting on Monday. The spontaneous gathering helped players use the Michigan State loss as motivation to “pick each other up,” according to junior edge David Ojabo.
Zinter, meanwhile, left with a newfound sense of confidence.
“We’ve been saying from the beginning this team is special,” Zinter said. “It’s been all sunshine and rainbows since the beginning. I think everyone will see what makes this team special as far as something didn’t go right, we had a tough loss. (We have) the ability to turn around and finish out the season strong.”