This year the question, “Is Michigan really back?” is answered.
While Brady Hoke says Michigan never left, the Maize and Blue Nation begs to differ. The dismal Rich Rod era witnessed an unprepared Michigan-football-culture-misfit coach field the worst teams in recent history. Then along comes Brady Hoke, who like Schemblechler, was a “who?” hire. Then an 11-2 season culminating with a Sugar Bowl victory answered, “That’s who.”
However Hoke’s 8-5 second season left an elephant in the room. Is Michigan football really back? No doubt about it, Hoke can recruit; the future looks bright. However, the future, like the past, is only valid when it’s the present. So what will 2013 bring?
Finally, Michigan has a desperately needed passer in Devin Gardner at the helm. The Wolverines have an untested group of halfbacks; the offensive line has two solid tackles but a young interior that has to prove itself. This is one of the places Hoke and Michigan will do that: if you will bite as dog, you will bite as a puppy. One of the cardinal differences between Hoke and Rich Rod is Hoke doesn’t have that “carpe manana”, let’s find some players with potential and wait years for them to possibly achieve it. Hoke’s excellent recruiting has created a now environment: “grow up or don’t show up” where nobody’s job is safe and performance alone is sacred. That takes play to a higher level making veterans play better and newcomers play harder.
Michigan’s halfbacks also have to prove themselves. Touissant has been mercurial and needs to return with consistency. Thomas Rawls needs better hands. Turnovers told the story in last year’s failures. Hoke has said publicly that has to be corrected. Dileo is solid, and Gallon is good, but don’t look past Derrick Green or Devin Funchess. Early on most Defensive Coordinators will be thinking make Gardner beat you in the air. That tune will change. Borgess has the talent and the skills to use it effectively.
On defense, the loss of OLB Jake Ryan was a crushing blow. He may be back as early as October, but Hoke’s a good man. He won’t risk Ryan’s well being by bringing him back too early and that’s how that should be. Although Ryan’s injury left DC Mattison scrambling to find a way to get pressure in the backfield—rest assured—he will find it. Michigan’s underrated defensive line is solid. Quinton Washington, Jibreel Black will bring it, so will Frank Clark and Cam Gordon, who has replaced Ryan. Joe Bolden, James Ross and Desmond Morgan will also be a force to be reckoned with.
While Ramon Taylor and Blake Countess haven’t gotten their due respect by sports prognosticators, they will by mid season. Thomas Gordon will be excellent this year; count on it.
Michigan hasn’t lost a home game during Hoke’s tenure. Look for that to continue. Michigan’s first three games are at home—Central Michigan, Notre Dame and Akron. Then the Wolverines travel to UConn—an easy business trip. Following the bye week, Michigan takes on the Gophers for homecoming. The Golden Gophers are better, but not good enough to beat Michigan at home.
Then it’s on to Penn State, which will be a test, but one the Wolverines will pass. Back home against a good Indiana team, the Wolverines will prevail again. The remainder of the season is arguably tougher than any schedule in the B1G. But by this time, the young Wolverines will have their big boy pants on. It will be a banner year for Michigan. They could very well go to the title game.
So in answer to the question: Is Michigan really back, Hoke is correct—Michigan never left. Michigan has always been the most storied program in college football. However, while Michigan never left, the coaching mentality that made Michigan the winningest team in college football took a momentary hiatus; that is clearly over.
So hail yes, Michigan, as we know it, is back and 2013 is the year that settles that question.
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