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Michigan is fine with Jim Harbaugh, but that's not good enough now

Michigan suffered another loss in a big game, but the long-term forecast is favorable for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Michigan is fine.

That seems impossible to believe at a time like this, but we're serious. Not in the short term, of course. The short-term outlook comes with several easily-accessible assessments found on a social media platform near you, and that's all going to be directed at third-year coach Jim Harbaugh, who has made himself a little too accessible on those same platforms.

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No. 2 Penn State eliminated almost all hope of No. 19 Michigan winning the Big Ten East championship or earning a College Football Playoff berth with a 42-13 blowout at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

"White Out." Wipeout. Blowout. The truth is out. This game eliminates the illusion that what's happening in Ann Arbor is good enough for Michigan right now. At least Harbaugh knows that.

"Nobody can help us but us," Harbaugh said after his team's loss. "We put our best people on it. Our players and coaches."

Twitter is roasting Harbaugh in more creative ways to say Michigan's 5-2 record isn't good enough and that the Wolverines can't win the big games. It's simple. Michigan looks like an 8-4 team that's probably going to go 8-4 after being projected to go 8-4 in the preseason.

Yet 8-4 is not good enough at Michigan. The Wolverines are flawed and won't win the Big Ten. The offense sees too many third-and-longs that lead to too many three-and-outs. Penn State made the big plays, and Michigan didn't. That was easy to see.

"I thought they were really executing well and we had our difficulties scoring and moving the ball and getting enough stops," Harbaugh said.

That's fine for the rest of the season, and this team could use some time out of the spotlight to build something better for 2018. Maybe that means turning to Brandon Peters at quarterback at some point to see what he can do — all the while grooming Dylan McCaffrey in the future. Michigan's quarterback plan over the last three seasons has relied on two transfers in Jake Rudock and John O'Korn and a game manager in Wilton Speight. The Wolverines need to have a better quarterback plan for the future, but that's not the only issue.

The offensive line needs work. The running game needs to be better. Young receivers need to grow into their roles.

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Michigan can't always lean on the defense, which it found out about the time Penn State threw a 14-0 punch with two Saquon Barkley touchdowns five minutes into the game. The Nittany Lions have difference-makers all over the field on offense. College football is a high-tempo, up-speed game, which Penn State proved by taking back any Michigan momentum with a less-than-a-minute touchdown drive before the half.

Despite all that, Michigan is fine. Seriously.

This isn't comparable to the last days of the Brady Hoke or Rich Rodriguez eras. It's not the same as what's going on at Tennessee with Butch Jones, or any other false equivalency Harbaugh critics are forming and will cite all the way into the 2018 season.

If it were, a full-scale Michigan meltdown would have happened in the first half. That didn't happen until the fourth quarter when it was clear the Wolverines wouldn't be able to keep up with Nittany Lions. It would felt like the end.

This doesn't feel like that at all. This feels like Michigan needs more time, and Harbaugh still has a few years before full-fledged panic sets in. You won't hear from the Wolverines again this season unless it loses before the season-ending stretch against Wisconsin and Ohio State. It's on pace for that 8-4 season. This is a time to improve and build something better for the next big game. Otherwise 8-4 will keep happening.

Penn State and Ohio State will play the biggest game in the Big Ten East next week, and Michigan State will get a swing at both. That's going to determine who goes to Indianapolis. That's going to sting for this the rest of this season, too.

"We're going to regroup, refit, retool," Harbaugh said. "More opportunities ahead for us."

MORE: What we learned in Penn State win

That long-term outlook under Harbaugh won't change, but Michigan is fine for now. We'll keep saying that. Harbaugh is building through top-10 recruiting classes, and this team can compete against the other Big Ten East powerhouses.

The Wolverines proved that the last two years with back-to-back 10-win seasons. Now, they have to beat those schools. Harbaugh's 3-5 against the Buckeyes, the Spartans and the Nittany Lions. Saturday's loss was his first to the Nittany Lions, but he has to start beating other schools or this endless cycle will continue, and the critics will get louder. Ask Lloyd Carr how that feels.

It's Harbaugh job to solve that.

"We solve it with our team," Harbaugh said. "Nobody can help us but us. We put on our best people on it. Our players and our coaches."

Harbaugh was then asked if it can be fixed this season. He left with one word.

"Yes."

He believes Michigan is fine, too. There isn't much left to say at that point — at least what hasn't already been said on social media.

We'll believe Michigan's something more when it proves it on the field.