ANN ARBOR MI - JANUARY 12: New University of Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke speaks during his introductory press confrence at the Junge Family Champions Center on January 12 2011 in Ann Arbor Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Michigan doesn't open its season until Saturday night, but the program registered its first win Friday with the announcement that Fitzgerald Toussaint and Frank Clark were suspended for the season opener against Alabama. In an age where most coaches seem to do just about anything possible to give themselves the best chance to win - some all but sending limousines to pick up players released from jail to make sure they make it to the next game in time for kick-off - it's refreshing to see Hoke and Michigan take the road less traveled.
That Hoke suspended Toussaint and Clark not against an overwhelmed, non-conference foe, but rather against the defending national champion speaks to his commitment to running the Michigan program differently. With apologies to Ohio State and Michigan State, it could be said that Alabama is Michigan's most important game this year. Despite their 11-2 record last year, many argued that Michigan wasn't as good as they were lucky. Matching up well against Alabama would put those arguments to rest.
And make no mistake about it, losing Toussaint and Clark is a huge blow to the Wolverines. Toussaint is not only Michigan's best option at running back, but he's also the Wolverine most capable of taking some of the heat off Denard Robinson against Alabama's punishing defense. Thomas Rawls, Vincent Smith and Justice Hayes are talented runners, but Toussaint proved last season that's he's clearly the Wolverines' best option at running back. Without Toussaint in the line-up, virtually the entire offensive load falls on the shoulders of Robinson.
Clark, too, will be missed. The biggest question mark for Michigan this year is its defensive line, and Clark was one of those expected to contribute. Losing Toussaint and Clark clearly hurts Michigan's chances not only to win, but to compete with Alabama. By suspending them, Hoke has handicapped the Wolverines - and for that he should be applauded.
Critics of Michigan cringe at the term "Michigan Man" and are apt to roll their eyes when Michigan alumni assert that things are different at Michigan. Eyes were undoubtedly rolled during Hoke's introductory press conference, when he said that there was a responsibility that came with playing for the University of Michigan. With this move, Hoke showed that those were more than just empty words.