Sonny Dykes and Jim Harbaugh will battle again in the playoffs

The College Football Playoffs semifinal won’t be the first time Sonny Dykes and Jim Harbaugh have faced each other.

Before Dykes landed at TCU and Harbaugh returned to his alma mater Michigan, the two men had their own battles in the Pac-12.

Dykes was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arizona from 2007-09 while Harbaugh was doing the ultimate rebuild job at Stanford. He got an up close view at what a Jim Harbaugh team is really like.

“I remember they were really good,” Dykes said. “They had some really good players, Andrew Luck and some guys that were really, really good football players. They had a really physical football team. I think that’s the one trademark of Jim Harbaugh teams.”

Harbaugh sees similarities between how both TCU and Michigan approach each game.

“I think just guys that are relentless competitors,” Harbaugh said when asked to describe his team. “Every day, they are about taking care of their business on and off the field. They work and compete. What I have been looking at from TCU, I think we’re built a lot the same way, both teams. And I hope that the TCU coaches would say the same about us after watching us play.”

Harbaugh’s approach has only been refined since those early days as his current Michigan team might be the best he’s had since he led Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2012.

“Certainly Stanford, and I would assume Michigan as well, they are going to be tough, physical, hard-nosed football teams,” Dykes said. “I think that’s Jim’s mentality. And I think that’s why he’s been so successful.”

Harbaugh had the edge when he faced the Wildcats and Dykes back in the day, but all the games were close. Stanford won both games in 2007 and 2008 by a single point before a Dykes led offense scored 43 points in a 2009 win in Tuscon.

Just as Harbaugh left a strong impression on Dykes, the opposite was also true as the Michigan coach always was impressed by Dykes’ ability as a tactician.

“There’s decision-making and there’s strategy,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’s outstanding at both. And strategically, just watching his football teams. I think he thinks a lot like a really good chess player, and I respect that.”

Dykes is looking forward to having another crack at Harbaugh and to get to know one of the sport’s best coach on a more personal level.

“I don’t know Jim that well,” Dykes said. “I have been around him a number of occasions, but look forward to getting to know him better through the process and have a lot of respect for him as a coach and what he’s done at Michigan.”

From a talent perspective, Harbaugh is working top-tier ingredients with his current roster. The Wolverines have a top-15 roster according to the 247Sports team talent rankings.

There are three former five-stars on the roster with the two biggest being quarterback J.J. McCarthy and freshman cornerback Will Johnson.

Those were two of the players that caught Dykes’ attention during the Wolverines Big 10 championship win over Purdue Saturday.

“Saw the quarterback make a ton of plays, improvised outside the pocket,” Dykes said. “Was really impressed with the things that he can do, what kind of athlete he was, how accurate he was moving outside of the pocket.”

McCarthy is the reason Harbaugh and Michigan fans think the school’s second straight playoff appearance will be difference. He brings more upside to the offense than former quarterback Cade McNamara, who transferred to Iowa after the regular season.

The Wolverines are averaging almost six more points than they did a season ago and have more juice when it comes to big plays.

Defensively, Johnson is emerging as the next star under Harbaugh.

“Saw (Johnson) had a couple of interceptions. Really looked like he was a very productive player (that) night,” Dykes said. “They look like a very talented football team. We haven’t had a chance to dive in deep yet and look at them. But just on the outside looking in, it looked like a heck of a team.”

As they prepare to face off one more time, each coach probably believes they have their best roster of their career.

It’ll be a chance for Dykes not only to lead TCU a national championship game appearance, but also see how he stacks up against a potential Hall of Fame coach.