On Friday, the Big Ten took decisive action in response to an ongoing investigation into in-person scouting and sign-stealing, suspending Jim Harbaugh for the final three regular-season games against No. 10 Penn State, Maryland, and No. 1 Ohio State. The suspension permits Harbaugh to coach during the week but bars him from the sideline during these critical matchups, creating a potential hurdle for Michigan’s quest for a third consecutive Big Ten championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The suspension arises from a sign-stealing scandal that prompted the resignation of Michigan staffer Connor Stalions on November 3. The timing of the announcement, while the Wolverines were en route to face Penn State, adds further complexity to their championship aspirations. Michigan, currently boasting a perfect 9-0 record, faces an average point differential of 34 points per game, with only No. 6 Oregon coming close at 26.1 points per game.
The impact on Michigan’s playoff chances remains uncertain, given their strong performance and Harbaugh’s suspension. The Wolverines, ranked No. 3 in the initial two sets of College Football Playoff rankings, have been impressive on the field. The CFP committee, emphasizing evaluation based on eligibility, may let Michigan determine its fate on the field, even with Harbaugh potentially sidelined.
Michigan has experience playing without Harbaugh, as he served a school-imposed three-game suspension at the start of the 2023 season for a separate NCAA case. During this period, the coaching staff, led by defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, demonstrated resilience, outscoring opponents 96-16 in victories against East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green.
The eligibility of Michigan for the Big Ten championship remains uncertain, contingent on their performance in the remaining games. Tied for the Big Ten East lead with Ohio State, a victorious finish would position them for a potential championship game appearance on December 2.
The question of whether Harbaugh will coach against Ohio State looms large. Legal action could be pursued to challenge the Big Ten’s ruling, making this a significant storyline leading up to the anticipated matchup. Harbaugh seeks a third consecutive victory against the Buckeyes, a feat not achieved by Michigan since 1995-97, adding further intrigue to a game with substantial Big Ten and College Football Playoff implications, regardless of Harbaugh’s sideline presence.