Sept. 1, 2012vs. No. 2 AlabamaL 41-14 Nov. 24, 2012at No. 4 Ohio StateL 26-21Nov. 30, 2013vs. No. 3 Ohio StateL 42-41Nov. 26, 2016at No. 2 Ohio StateL 30-27Oct. 21, 2017at No. 2 Penn StateL 42-13Nov. 18, 2017at No. 5 WisconsinL 24-10Michigan has lost five more games against top-five teams since facing Alabama, and Harbaugh has yet to break through with that signature victory that lifts the program. This will continue to haunt the program, especially on the road. Michigan does face Penn State and Wisconsin away this year, but neither team will be ranked in the top five.Can Michigan break up Alabama-Clemson? The Wolverines have not beaten a top-five team since a road win at Notre Dame in 2006. Those are the type of victories Michigan needs to accumulate before we can say it’s ready for Clemson and Alabama, who have quarterbacks who are every bit as good as Dwayne Haskins at the college level.Michigan has an opportunity with Harbaugh in the post-Urban Meyer Big Ten, but it can’t be distracted by the Ohio State shadow against a tough schedule. A potential Playoff matchup with Michigan against Clemson or Alabama would be great for the sport — especially with the prospect of Harbaugh trading barbs with Dabo Swinney or Nick Saban — but we need to see the Wolverines beat Ohio State for the first time since 2011 and win a Big Ten championship for the first time since 2004 before we entertain that thought. Sporting News recently released its 2019 College Football Playoff predictions, and it comes as no surprise that we picked another Alabama-Clemson matchup in the CFP championship game on Jan. 13 in New Orleans. Can anybody break up the Alabama-Clemson monopoly at the top of college football? Sporting News will take a closer look at some of the top contenders that can do just that. We have already looked at Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma — schools that have combined for six CFP appearances. MORE: Sporting News’ post-spring top 25Today, we’ll take a closer look at the team still looking to break through for that first appearance. Michigan is ranked No. 9 in Sporting News’ post-spring top 25 for 2019. The Wolverines are in their fifth season under Jim Harbaugh and have the eighth-best winning percentage (.731) among Power 5 schools since he arrived in 2015.But none of those wins has come against rival Ohio State, and four losses that are part of a seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes have added to the consternation in Ann Arbor.Can the Wolverines break through and make a run at the Tigers or the Tide? If they can, they’ll likely have to go through Ohio State first. A closer look: Why Michigan can break up Alabama-ClemsonNew-look offenseMichigan hired new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who helped Alabama unleash a new kind of offense around Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa in 2018. The belief now is that Harbaugh — who has been criticized for being too conservative — will open it up around second-year starter Shea Patterson and a talented group of receivers that includes Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black and Nico Collins. That is Michigan’s best position group, perhaps on the entire roster, and it’s time for Harbaugh to turn Patterson loose. If that happens (we need to see it to believe it), then the Wolverines could emerge as true contenders.Same aggressive defenseDefensive coordinator Don Brown is still bristling about last year’s finish in which the Wolverines gave up 62 points to Ohio State and 41 points to Florida. Those losses dropped Michigan to No. 16 in scoring defense, its lowest ranking under Brown. Rashan Gary, Devin Bush and Chase Winovich are gone for the NFL, but Brown has been able to get results despite heavy turnover before. Khaleke Hudson, Josh Metellus and Lavert Hill are among the key players who return to a unit that should be more than motivated by last season’s late-season failures.A Big Ten breakthroughIt’s psychological at this point. Michigan had 10-1 teams that were good enough to win the Big Ten championship entering the Ohio State game in 2016 and ’18. Those losses and corresponding New Year’s Day Six fallouts ended otherwise solid seasons on a sour note. The Wolverines are 3-1 against Penn State and 2-2 against Michigan State under Harbaugh. Ohio State is the next hurdle, and this team could finally realize its potential with a victory there. Then we can see if they are ready for the big time.MORE: Michigan 2019 lookaheadReasons Michigan won’t break up Alabama-ClemsonMichigan hasn’t proven it can beat Ohio State, so it’s hard to say the Wolverines have enough talent to match up with Alabama and Clemson, who have developed depth through top-10 recruiting for the better part of a decade.The Wolverines have enhanced their talent level under Harbaugh, but the bowl losses to Florida State and Florida — teams Alabama and Clemson have manhandled in recent seasons — have exposed that lack of blue-chip depth.That would be the biggest question if the Wolverines broke through and won the Big Ten championship. It would be the same problem Notre Dame encountered last season.Coach factorHarbaugh is not an overrated coach. He is 8-10 against top 25 teams, but he’s also 30-4 against unranked teams. Michigan avoids the major upsets that dogged Lloyd Carr late and Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.That said, he’s not an underrated coach, either. He has Michigan back in the same position it was in for most of the back half of the Carr era. The Wolverines are good enough to win 10 games almost every season, but it’s those road hiccups that have got tenin the way before Ohio State. That has to be a point of emphasis this season.Still, Harbaugh has to take the next step at some point, and most of that revolves around the Ohio State game. It’s inescapable at this point, especially after the 62-39 loss in Columbus last season.MORE: Ohio State reminds Michigan of its Playoff potentialStat that matters Michigan thought it was ready for the big stage on Sept. 1, 2012. The Wolverines were coming off an 11-2 campaign in Brady Hoke’s first season and faced Alabama in the season opener. The Crimson Tide offered a reality check in a beatdown Hoke never recovered from.