2012 Michigan Wolverines Football Preview
The first season for a new head coach is almost always a choppy, uneven journey full of rough edges, false starts, and assorted hiccups. For the Michigan Wolverines, all of those things existed in Brady Hoke's maiden voyage as the Maize and Blue's head coach, and yet, the program where Hoke served as an assistant coach for eight seasons managed to reclaim many of its past glories.
Michigan fell off the college football map for three seasons from 2008 through 2010. Head coach Rich Rodriguez tried to apply his speed-based spread option offense to the smashmouth world of the Big Ten and a school that embraced the traditional style of football established by program icon Bo Schembechler. The effort fell on its face, however, as Michigan made only one bowl game in three seasons and the Wolverines never won more than seven games in any one season. Rodriguez was fired after the 2010 season, and Michigan had to go back to its roots.
Hoke was part of the old-world Michigan way, having served as an assistant under former UM head coaches Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr from 1995 through 2002. Hoke finally gained head coaching jobs at Ball State in 2003 and San Diego State in 2009. He promptly turned both programs from losers into winners, and when Rodriguez left Ann Arbor, Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon asked Hoke to return to the Big House. In his first season on the job, the enormity of the challenge facing Hoke was evident. Rodriguez had left behind a smaller, thinner, finesse-oriented team that could not hammer the ball between the tackles on offense or hold its weight in the trenches on defense. Hoke and his new coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Al Borges (brought with Hoke from San Diego State), had to make concessions to the personnel they were inheriting. They couldn't impose a traditional pro-set offense on shifty quarterback Denard Robinson, who was a far better runner than a passer. They couldn't instantly fix a secondary that became a train-wreck in the Rodriguez era. Hoke and his assistants had to allow their players to perform to their strengths while emphasizing the need to be physical to the fullest extent possible.
As a testament to Hoke's coaching skill, Michigan found a way to win 11 games, including a Sugar Bowl triumph over Virginia Tech. The Wolverines returned to the prime-time spotlight, defeated Ohio State – something they hadn't been able to do under Rodriguez – and restored so much of the prestige they had squandered the previous three seasons. As 2012 beckons, the task facing Hoke – who has brought in a top-tier recruiting class – should be easier, but with Robinson as his quarterback, Hoke will still have to work with a trigger man who does not fit the pocket-passing mold that Michigan prefers. Robinson threw 15 interceptions last season and forced dozens of additional passes into traffic. He is a senior, but that's no guarantee that he will display markedly increased ball security. As much as Michigan achieved last year, it must make substantial improvements just to maintain its place in the college football world. With Ohio State being ineligible for the postseason this year, Michigan needs to take advantage. If it doesn't, the feel-good vibe surrounding the 2011 season could fade away 12 months later.
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