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Heat Rises on Harbaugh; 49ers Shine; World Series Entertains; Just for Kicks

In December of 2014, former Stanford and 49ers' head coach Jim Harbaugh arrived at his alma mater, the University of Michigan, with great fanfare and stratospheric expectations.

Harbaugh was going to be the Messiah who brought the Wolverines Big Ten Championships, regular victories over hated rival Ohio State, and occasional trips to the College Football Playoff.

Well, almost six years later, Wolverine fans are still waiting for him to deliver the goods.

Harbaugh's 48-18 record is certainly respectable, but he has never beaten Ohio State. Never played in the Big Ten Conference championship game. Never finished higher than 10th nationally, much less participated in the playoff. He's just 1-4 in post-season games, the only win coming in the Citrus Bowl in 2015. Since then, four straight bowl losses.

I met Jim when he was playing at Palo Alto HS and his father, Jack, was the defensive coordinator at Stanford under Paul Wiggin. He used to hang around Stanford a lot, and he loved my dad, who ran the "gym store" next to the football locker room in the old Encina Gym.

We've spent a good bit of time together over the years at banquets and meetings, and have met for lunch and dinner on a few occasions. Jim can be a very charming and engaging guy, particularly when he's away from the media and the pressures of his job, or when he needs something. He also can be difficult, petulant, immature, and downright strange at times.

Around the NFL and college football, people will frequently say that Harbaugh's a very good coach, but that he has a short shelf life. He'll wear out his welcome in three or four years. That's certainly what happened at Stanford and with the 49ers.

Jim's now in year six at Ann Arbor, and the signs are ominous. Over the last three seasons, 38 players have transferred from his program, including 15 during the past year. The pressure is on, the natives are restless, and his seat is getting warm.

Last Saturday, Michigan opened the 2020 Big Ten season by clobbering a good Minnesota team 49-24. An exciting new quarterback has breathed some life into the program. Maybe this will finally be the year.

But Ohio State looks awfully good.

Niners Overcome Injuries: The 49ers have been hit harder by the injury bug this year than any other NFL team, with a league-leading 14 players on injured reserve, including several of their best--Nick Bosa, Raheem Mostert, and Richard Sherman, to name a few.

After an embarrassing loss to Miami two weeks ago, many pundits gave the 49ers up for dead and, pointing to a difficult stretch of opponents coming up on the schedule, forecast a long losing streak.

But instead of cratering, the 49ers upended the heavily favored Los Angeles Rams last week and yesterday pounded New England 33-6 in a near perfect performance.

Kudos to head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, both of whom have taken more than their fair share of criticism, for leading the 49ers' charge. Not to mention a host of no-names and fill-ins signed by GM John Lynch.

Seattle, Green Bay and New Orleans are just ahead, so they’ll have to continue their magic until the injured studs return.

World Series: I must confess I only watched a few Giants' telecasts during major league baseball's truncated 60-game regular season. But I've been thoroughly enjoying the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers, with one of MLB's highest payrolls, and the Cinderella Tampa Bay Rays, with one of the lowest.

Going into the Series, I probably couldn't have named a single Rays' position player, but Randy Arozarena has been something to behold. On the other side of the ledger, the two-out clutch hitting of Dodgers Corey Seager and Justin Turner has been other-worldly. And it’s been nice to see Clayton Kershaw shine in the post-season this year.

Cross Bar Nightmare: Stanford placekickers have shown a penchant for hitting the goal posts over the years, including record-setting kickers like Conrad Ukropina and Jet Toner in recent seasons


But former Stanford kicker Collin Riccitelli, now at Rice, did them one better Saturday, hitting the goal posts and cross bar four times on one kick in the Owls’ double overtime loss to Middle Tennessee.

Riccitelli attempted a 45-yarder in the first overtime that would’ve won the game, but watched helplessly as his kick caromed off the right upright, hit the crossbar, bounced up to hit the left upright, and then down to hit the crossbar again, only to fall short in the end zone. No good.

Rice would go on to lose the game in the second overtime, 40-34, as Middle Tennessee scored a touchdown after Riccitelli had a 40-yard attempt blocked.

I’ve always maintained that kickers should get hazard pay.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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