His family has proof.
The Stanford coach’s father, Jack Harbaugh, was coaching Western Kentucky in 2002, a season where the Hilltoppers got off to a 2-3 start. Any team that loses three of its first five games at college’s highest level would have nary a chance of playing for a national title. But that Western Kentucky team closed with five straight regular-season wins, got into the 16-team bracket and won the championship.
Of course, when No. 5 Stanford (11-1) faces No. 12 Virginia Tech (11-2) on Monday night in the Orange Bowl, the season will end for both, win or lose, no opportunity to move on to play for an even bigger prize.
Naturally, that leaves Jim Harbaugh clamoring for more.
In this Bowl Championship Series era, that question is nothing more than rhetorical.
Still, it becomes an annual debate, something that has been argued by not just those inside the game. Of late, everyone from congressional officials to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has weighed in on the topic.
And it all makes for an interesting subplot to the Orange Bowl. Not only will Harbaugh and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer be on opposite sidelines Monday night, they’re on opposite ends of the playoff-or-no-playoff debate as well.
“As far as I’m concerned, I want to keep it the way it is and keep on working with it and keep on getting it better and make sure we keep our bowls in place,” Beamer said. “That’s the way I see it.”
Oddly, a playoff could have helped Virginia Tech maybe more than any other team in the nation this year.
The Hokies opened the season with a loss to Boise State, then followed that five days later with a surprising loss against lower-division James Madison. Going 0-2 within a week essentially ended any opportunity for Virginia Tech to win this season’s national championship.
Since that James Madison loss, Virginia Tech is 11-0. Only Auburn, Oregon and TCU have longer current winning streaks.
“The bowls are a special deal,” Beamer said. “I think we’re closer to it. The only thing that I’d like to see is, I’d like to see a two-plus-one (format) at the end, to have the top four teams that have a legitimate shot at being the best in the country. Maybe there’s a fifth one. But a lot of times, there is a third one.”
Beamer’s thinking on the issue has evolved _ a little.