As the Big Ten season moves well into November, some conference truths as old as Red Grange emerge--for all the evolution we've seen in the passing game, if you want to win football games up here, in November, you better know how to run the ball. If you can, you can win. If you can't, well...you've got problems.
And so it goes in Ann Arbor.
When Michigan fired Rich Rodriguez, AD Dave Brandon wanted to find a 'Michigan Man', and get back to what Michigan football had been--powerful running game, suffocating defense, and championships.
After a fairly comical coaching search that may or may not have included offers to Jim Harbaugh, Les Miles, and Pat Fitzgerald, Brandon selected Brady Hoke. For all the fallout potential of the coaching search that took too long and had too many rumors, Brandon selected the right guy, or so it seemed.
Hoke won over the masses at his introductory press conference with terms like 'Manball', and 'this is Michigan, fergodsakes', and whatever trepidation some fans had were washed away. True, Hoke had an overall coaching record that was under .500, but he turned around some historically bad programs.
Michigan wasn't historically bad, but at the end of the RichRod era, Michigan had a lot of problems. They were starting to see some dividends in the spread offense, but the defense was awful, they hadn't beaten OSU since 2003, and had gotten blown out in their only bowl appearance under Rodriguez.
In year one, Hoke brought Michigan almost all the way back. They beat two of their three biggest rivals, to include OSU, won the Sugar Bowl, and ended up 11-2. On the recruiting trail, Hoke brought Michigan back to an elite level, and once again brought in some of the top Ohio high school recruits, the traditional life blood of the Michigan program.
Michigan slumped a bit in 2012, as injuries and a tough schedule conspired for a lower than expected record. But once again, Hoke pulled in another great class, and as Michigan got farther away from the RichRod era and Hoke got more of the players he needed to run some serious Manball, most folks felt that Michigan would be a serious player for the Big Ten championship in 2013.
In many ways, Michigan feels farther away from a championship than ever.
The Wolverines have struggled mightily in recent weeks, and have problems in coaching, talent, and execution. The staff is coming under fire for being unable or unwilling to change their run-centric game plan, because it is the most ineffective strategy in major college football today.
Michigan cannot run the ball, at all. In the last two weeks, as a team, they have rushed for negative 69 yards. Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green have no room to run, and they cannot get in favorable down and distance situations. That forces Devin Gardner to throw the ball, and he cannot do that consistently.
The message board mafia wants changes, and they want it now, but there's little that can be done this season. You can't install a new offense two thirds in, and the coaching staff seems to think it's not the gameplan, it's the execution of the gameplan. From afar, it doesn't seem the execution will get any better next year. Their top receivers are leaving, their top offensive linemen are leaving, and Fitz Toussaint is leaving.
I think it's too early to put Brady Hoke on the hot seat, but this has been a disappointing season for Michigan, and how it ends will determine the temperature for Hoke's chair entering next season.. A strong finish and a win against OSU will bring back some good vibes to the program, and take a lot of this heat off.
Right now, they're underdogs to Northwestern...Northwestern has lost five straight. They'll also be on the road against Iowa, who has been better than advertised, and you can make an argument that they'll be underdogs on the road there, too. They finish up at home against Ohio State, and they'll be underdogs for that game.
The bottom line in all of this is that come 2014, Brady Hoke's stated goal for success, a Big Ten Championship, will be more difficult. The re-shuffling of divisions will put him in the same one as Ohio State, and there seems to be a gap growing between the two programs once again. Although Hoke's shtick of not using a head set, wearing short sleeves in any weather to be tough, and calling his primary rival 'Ohio' played well early, it's an act that's grown old as the play on the field has been sub par.
After the hope of 2011, disappointment has set in. Disappointment leads to anger, and anger can lead to another coaching change.