Michigan's ability to contend for repeat national title hinges on decisions by Harbaugh, key players

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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, center, with running back Blake Corum, left, and defensive back Will Johnson, right, speaks during an NCAA college football news conference Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, in Houston. Harbaugh and No. 1 Michigan completed a three-year climb to a national championship by beating No. 2 Washington 34-13 Monday night in the College Football Playoff title game.(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

HOUSTON – After winning its first national championship in 26 years, Michigan heads into an uncertain future.

Who stays, who goes and is a repeat possible in an expanded and loaded Big Ten that will include the Washington team the Wolverines beat 34-13 in the national championship game?

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The biggest question after Michigan wrapped up a 15-0 season is the status of coach Jim Harbaugh. The ninth-year coach has led his alma mater to three straight Big Ten titles and College Football Playoff appearances and is the top target for NFL teams with head coach openings. Harbaugh has not commented about his intentions.

Several players also are considering whether to enter the NFL draft or return to school with NCAA sanctions possibly coming.

Third-year quarterback J.J. McCarthy is widely projected to be a late first-round pick if he decides to declare. Fourth-year running back Blake Corum strongly considered entering the draft a year ago and indicated Tuesday he would move on after being named offensive player of the game Monday night.

Receiver Roman Wilson and four of the five starting offensive linemen also have decisions to make.

The Wolverines' defense led the nation in fewest points and yards allowed per game and could lose as many as eight starters depending on how many choose to declare.

One who will return is second-year cornerback Will Johnson, the defensive player of the game Monday. He said there is enough talent waiting in the wings to make Michigan a factor again.

“We had a great group of guys that will be back next year that are super talented in my class, and other guys that will come back, too,” he said. “So I’m just ready to keep enjoying this while I can and get back to work whenever we get started again.”

Oddsmakers aren’t forecasting a repeat for the Wolverines. FanDuel Sportsbook on Tuesday listed them as the fifth betting choice behind Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and Texas.

“I definitely think the guys will run it back,” Corum said. “They know what it takes. They know what it’s like. And something Coach Harbaugh always says is don’t get a big head. And none of the guys on the team will have a big head after this win.”

Harbaugh repeated his postgame comment about why his players didn't become distracted by off-field matters. Harbaugh twice served three-game suspensions, the first imposed by the school for recruiting violations and the second by the Big Ten for the sign-stealing scheme that hung over the program all season. The NCAA continues to investigate both cases.

“We knew we were innocent,” he said. “We stood tall, upright and innocent.”

Going 15-0, he said, was the result of “good old-fashioned, roll-up-your-sleeve hard work and teamwork.”

“It’s been a beautiful thing,” he said. “You’re chasing perfection, and it’s hard to be perfect. And it rarely comes around.”

Harbaugh also used what might have been his final news conference as Michigan's coach to reiterate his belief that college athletes deserve to share in the revenue they help generate.

“We’re all robbing the same train,” he said. “And the ones that are in the position to do the heavy lifting, the ones that risk life and limb out there on the football field are the players. And not just football players, student-athletes. The organizations are fighting hard to keep all the money — the universities, the NCAA, the conferences. It’s long past time to let the student-athletes share in the ever-increasing revenues.”

Harbaugh said he would encourage college athletes to form a union if stakeholders aren't willing to share the wealth voluntarily. He has suggested coaches, conferences and the NCAA take 5% or 10% of the money they make and put it in a pool to pay athletes.

Harbaugh drew laughs from reporters when he expressed his willingness to meet with NCAA officials to discuss the issue.

“I think they know my number,” he said.


AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football

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