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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

John U. Bacon on football and more: Wolverines and Lions flying high while Spartans face a test

Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh raises his arms to signal a touchdown during the Wolverines win over Minnesota in Minneapolis on Oct. 7.
Abbie Parr/AP
Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh and his team stayed unbeaten with a win against Minnesota in Minneapolis on Oct. 7. The Wolverines are ranked second in the country ahead of their home game against Indiana on Saturday.

It's football season. It's Friday. That means it's time to check in with Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon.

He joined Michigan Radio Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about college football, the Detroit Lions, and more sports news.

Saturday's games: Indiana at Michigan - Noon
Michigan State at Rutgers - Noon

Doug Tribou: The Michigan Wolverines are 6-0, ranked second in the country. Saturday they'll host Indiana in Ann Arbor. Michigan's a heavy favorite again in this one. What will you be watching for from Jim Harbaugh's team?

John U. Bacon: Probably more of the same. They put a pretty good licking on Minnesota last week. Almost a perfect game on offense and defense. And right now they're hitting on all cylinders. Indiana's got a very good coach in Tom Allen, who has not got a very good team.

DT: John, there are some things you can count on every fall in Ann Arbor, where you and I both live: tailgate parties, planes hauling banners as they fly circles above the Big House, and, of course, discussions and maybe a little hand-wringing about Jim Harbaugh's contract.

Harbaugh's about a year and a half into his current five-year deal. It's heavy on incentives tied to the team's success. He made about $10 million last year. Why does this topic keep bubbling up and what's next there?

"This is the endless sport, off the field, for Michigan fans."
John U. Bacon on talk of possible revisions to Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh's contract

JUB: Well, it's on Michigan, to be honest, because they promised him a new contract. He went 2-4 [in 2020] — obviously abysmal. When they cut his pay in half that year, they were very quick with that one, by the way. [Laughs] That was done very efficiently, I noticed.

But it's been a year and a half [and] he's won two Big Ten titles and they've talked about renewing it and now they're finally going to do so, it sounds like. This is the endless sport off the field for Michigan fans.

DT: In a season overshadowed by the firing of Mel Tucker, Michigan State has lost three straight games. On Saturday, the Spartans will be in New Jersey to face Rutgers. MSU is coming off a bye week and a week from Saturday is the annual rivalry game with Michigan. What could we learn about MSU in this game against Rutgers?

JUB: How much fight they've got left. Look, no fault to the players, but the [former] head coach, of course, made some very bad decisions and he's now gone. So, Harlon Barnett, the interim head coach, is doing his best. Everyone likes him. But the question is, can you keep the wheels on long enough to put up a good fight against Michigan the following week?

DT: In the NFL, the Lions are 4-1 and still in first place in the NFC North. They'll be on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon. What's been fueling their success so far this year?

Their success. That's a new concept. Look, they have been the Charlie Brown to the NFL's Lucy for five decades.
John U. Bacon on the Detroit Lions. The team is 4-1 and ranked first in the NFC North.

JUB: Back it up... their success! That's a new concept. Look, they have been the Charlie Brown to the NFL's Lucy for five decades. [Laughs] They have won one playoff game in my lifetime. Doug, I am not a kid. So just the whole paragraph you just delivered should be put in a time capsule. And remember the fall of 2023.

They're playing extremely good football on both sides of the ball. They've got a great culture from Dan Campbell, their head coach, and they're buying into it. Those guys are having fun. All of this is new.

DT: In hockey, the Red Wings opened their season on Thursday night. The Wings have not been to the NHL playoffs since 2016. It used to be a sure shot that they'd be in the playoffs. But their win total has been creeping up for the past few seasons. Are they on the verge of breaking through?

JUB: I'm not sure about breaking through. They are on the verge of making the playoffs. What they have is Steve Yzerman, the former longtime captain for those glory years. He's now, [in his role as Detroit's general manager], making the decisions on personnel, and he's making very good decisions, but he's making long-term decisions. So they may or may not get the playoffs this year. But you watch — in two, three, four years, that will be a very serious team.

Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Radio staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Radio during the summer of 2023.
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