First year H.C Brady Hoke with Denard Robinson.
Michigan at a glance...
First Season: 1879
Head Coach: Brady Hoke (1st Year, 0-0)
All-Time Record: 884–308–36 (.735)*
2010 Record: 7-6 (3-5 Conference)
I'd prefer not to linger on last season. I'm about to head off to medical school in Ann Arbor in the fall, and after having graduated from undergrad at Meech in 2007, I conveniently skipped the entire Rich Rod era in Ann Arbor. I'm just going to pretend like it never happened. But for the purposes of this blog, I'll indulge my masochistic tendencies one more time. Early on, it looked like all the pieces were finally falling into place for Rich Rodriguez when his secret weapon was unveiled against season opener UConn: Denard Robinson. Morale was high amongst Michigan fans as the team beat a lackluster Notre Dame squad in thrilling fashion for the second year in a row. But one thing was apparent as the Wolverines lit up a bunch of cupcakes (UMass and Bowling Green) on their out of conference schedule: the cupcakes were lighting up our defense. So when the Wolverines actually began to play legit Big Ten defenses, all the early Heisman talk for Denard Robinson began to die out. After an early win over IU, the Wolverines were absolutely demolished at home by MSU (to make RR 0-3 against Little Brother, which thrilled them beating the worst three teams in Michigan history) and Iowa. After the Wolverines eked out a 67-65 3 OT win against a terrible Illinois team and beat Purdue on the road, the Wolverines got shellacked on the road at PSU against their walk-on QB. They finished the season nicely by the annual pummeling at the hands of Wisconsin and Ohio State. There appeared to be a silver lining when Meech made their first bowl game under Rodriguez only to get beaten severely by SEC doormat Mississippi State. RR was fired shortly thereafter, and Brady Hoke, who coached the defensive line under Lloyd Carr at Michigan from 1995-2002, was hired to be the 19th head coach of the Michigan football program.
*(Most all-time wins in college football history, highest winning percentage in college football history, friends)
And thus begins the Brady Hoke era in Ann Arbor. After enduring three of the worst Michigan football teams of all time under Rich Rodriguez, I think it is safe to say that most Michigan fans are now excited at the direction of the program under new head coach Brady Hoke. So what has Hoke done to change the grumblings from the fans that athletic director Dave Brandon hired a coach with a 47-50 career record after "whiffing" on several other bigger names (a view that I challenged, by the way, right after the hire)? Well, hiring Ravens Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison (U of M D-Line coach/D Coordinator from 1992-1996) was a good start. Many fans also like seeing the Michigan football they recognize, with the infusion of old school Michigan-ness and tradition that Brady Hoke has brought. For example, Hoke starts every meeting as follows (H/T MGoBlog)
Hoke: "Good Morning" or "Good Afternoon" or "Good evening"
Players: "Good Morning" or "Good Afternoon" or "Good evening"
Hoke does not refer to Michigan's rivals by name, but simply as East Lansing, South Bend and Ohio. If you were in the camp that thought Rodriguez didn't "get" what Michigan football is all about, then you will have no such fears with Brady Hoke. With a return to traditional Michigan pillars of playing defense and running the football (or MANBALL as Hoke refers to it), hopefully Michigan will start to look like Michigan once again.
Hoke has also made inroads on the recruiting trail, locking up most of top instate talent and going deep into Buckeye country. The coaches have already filled half of the 2012 class (so far all from either Michigan or Ohio), especially attracting the interest of top defensive players left and right who want to play for the guy who coached Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata. It's a good selling point.
Needless to say, there is much anticipation and excitement building in Ann Arbor before players have even suited up for fall practice. The enthusiasm is obviously tempered, but it feels good to get excited about Michigan football again.
Former Ravens DC Greg Mattison coaching up Cam Gordon (now a linebacker!)
In the cupboard...
Total returning starters: 19 (8 offense, 9 defense, 2 special teams)
So the question is, is Michigan going to be any good next year? Well, maybe. But I wouldn't count on it.
It's hard not to improve from near rock-bottom 110th in total defense; literally there's nowhere we can go but up. With Mattison at the helm, though, at least schematically the Wolverines can finally feel confident that the defense is in good hands. The problem, though, is talent: the Wolverines just don't have the elite playmakers on D that they need to be a great defense. Sure, Mike Martin is an almost guaranteed first team All Big Ten and first round draft pick (hey, maybe the Lions will draft him! I hear they like defensive linemen), but outside of him there is a noticeable dropoff. After a promising freshman season, DE Craig Roh took a step back in production last year (as former D-Coordinator Greg Robinson had the brilliant idea of having M's best pass rusher not rush the passer), and the Wolverines are probably going to be starting two walk-ons in the defensive backfield (Tony Anderson and Jordan Kovacs). There don't appear to be any "instant impact" type freshmen on the way either, so expectations are low. I'd expect an average to slightly above average defense.
The situation that Hoke inherits from Rodriguez is actually strikingly similar to Rodriguez's first year at Michigan--ill-suited personnel, new system, no defensive depth--except that this staff is flexible enough to (gasp) adapt their scheme to their personnel. Read: no Nick Sheriden running the zone-read option. The offensive personnel is all left over from the Rodriguez days of skinny (but quick!) offensive linemen and small (but quick!) slot receiver types. But unlike Rodriguez's first year at Michigan, the cupboard isn't completely empty. One thing Rodriguez did manage to do is stock this team with some good offensive talent. For starters, Hoke inherits one of the most exciting players in college football under center in Denard Robinson. He also inherits a sturdy offensive line (Rodriguez's best developed position group, IMO), as well as a bunch of very fast skill players. It will be interesting to see what offensive coordinator Al Borges cooks up this season, but you can bet the QB draw is still going to be in the playbook.
Meech starts off this season with five (!!!) home games, including your annual directional Michigan (this year Eastern and Western) creampuffs along with Brady Hoke's former team San Diego State. This season will also feature Michigan's first ever night game on September 10th against Notre Dame under the new lights of the refurbished and greatly improved Big House. Michigan's Big Ten schedule is nicely backloaded, with a game against new B1G member Nebraska before the annual Rivalry game with a hopefully Tressel-less Buckeye squad.