Over the last few years I have been somewhat critical of Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. I feel my criticisms have been justified based on the results the Wolverines have been putting together on the field since his arrival, and I feel this is a very important season for Hoke in Ann Arbor.
Hoke replaced Rich Rodriguez in 2011 with nowhere to go but up. The Rodriguez era was a disaster, but Hoke managed to lead a team built by Rodriguez and his staff to the Sugar Bowl in his first year on the job. He coached Michigan to a win over Virginia Tech, a team that I still say did not deserve to be there over Boise State or Kansas State, but that is another issue altogether. In the two seasons since going to the Sugar Bowl, Michigan has seen the win total drop from 11 wins to eight to seven last season. Each of the past two years has ended with a loss in the Outback Bowl and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Michigan did not finish last season ranked in the top 25, just the second time the Wolverines had a winning record and failed to end the year in the AP top 25. And this is now Hoke’s team. There are now just five players on Michigan’s team that were brought in by Rodriguez, with quarterback Devin Gardner being the most high-profile player. That means it is time for Hoke’s players to reach their potential.
According to Rivals, Michigan has had one of the top three recruiting classes in the Big Ten in 2011 (No. 3), 2012 (No. 2), 2013 (No. 2). The Wolverines had the fourth-ranked class in the Big Ten this past recruiting season, behind Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State. The Buckeyes have had the top-ranked recruiting class each of those seasons, and the difference between the two border rivals has been clear as day. Hoke has proven he can recruit some of the highly rated prospects out there, but what does he do with it once he get a chance to work with it? This has been my biggest question about Hoke since he got going in Ann Arbor.
That is what makes this season such a crucial one for Hoke. In a new division in the realigned and expanded Big Ten, Hoke now faces Ohio State, Michigan State and what could be a sleeping giant at Penn State once James Franklin gets kicking. Most expect Michigan to finish in the top three of the Big Ten’s East division, but is that good enough? For this season, it may be, but the pressure really is on for Hoke to start turning things around.
Asked about facing this pressure this season at Big Ten media day in Chicago on Monday, Hoke sort of avoided the question while suggesting his role has a greater purpose off the field. He has a point, and it is nice to hear, but he did not really ask the question.