ANN ARBOR — The answer to a college football program’s woes can sometimes be simple.
Is the team losing solely because of the performance on one side of the ball? Fire the coordinator and hire a new one.
Is the team altogether struggling despite having the same or more talent than a majority of the opponents on the schedule? Typically, that leads to firing the head coach.
But when your team wins every game it’s supposed to — usually ending in 9-to-10 wins on a 12-game schedule — has a winning record against two of its three rivals and ends each season ranked, typically change isn’t necessary.
In the curious case of Michigan football, it’s found success against every team in the conference and defeated each rival by more than three possessions — except Ohio State.
It’s been eight years since the Wolverines have claimed a victory over its arch rival.
For Jim Harbaugh, he’s been in Ann Arbor for five years and the only thing he’s done that each U-M coach before him hasn’t is lose his first five games against Ohio State.
And the last two haven’t been close, losing by a combined 52 points and allowing over 550 yards in each.
Apart from Ohio State, Harbaugh has found resounding success at Michigan.
He has a winning record against Michigan State (3-2), which dominated the series before his arrival.
Michigan hasn’t had a losing season under his tutelage, he recruits at a national level and has a chance to win 10 games for the fourth time in five years in its bowl game.
The scab that Harbaugh’s Michigan keeps scratching at but cannot remove is Scarlet & Gray.
The argument that Harbaugh can’t win a divisional championship or visit a College Football Playoff is solved if his team wins the final game on the schedule.
U-M goes to a Big Ten Championship in 2016 and 2018 if it wins The Game.
It likely goes to the Rose Bowl if it won this year’s installment.
But that Scarlet & Gray scab is still there and it’s only getting bigger.
Most programs have a logical solution to their woes.
However, most programs don’t have the championship aspirations and expectations that Michigan does, either.
In the curious case of Michigan football, firing a coordinator like Don Brown — who dominates every opponent, only to get embarrassed by the Buckeyes — or firing the head coach — who claims a 47-17 record in five years that most programs would die for — isn’t the unequivocal solution.
Maybe the Buckeyes’ insane run of recruiting has done its number on the rivalry.
But Michigan State, Iowa and Purdue have all found ways to beat Ohio State during Harbaugh’s tenure.
Perhaps Ohio State cares more, as its quarterback Justin Fields said following Saturday’s game.
But game-planning since spring ball signals, this year, Michigan cared just as much.
There is no simple answer, or solution, to the evergreen question of why Michigan can’t win The Game and reach its championship aspirations.
And there’s no guarantee this will be the offseason it figures that out.
If the past eight years have taught us anything, it’s that the answer is far away.
Regardless, there will be changes of some sort to attempt to resolve the never-ending question.
U-M Athletic Director Warde Manuel will be tasked with asking himself, how important is it to beat Ohio State? And how the hell do we do it?
The answer to those questions will determine what’s next, if anything, for Michigan in its quest to live up to its own expectations.