Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Unsatisfied with last year’s 11-2 season, Michigan head coach sets eyes on Big Ten championship

When Brady Hoke was announced as the 19th head coach of the University of Michigan football team, everyone knew he’d have a lot to deal with in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Hoke was taking over for recently-departed Rich Rodriguez, whose fast-paced spread offense, which had worked so well for him at West Virginia, brought in a dismal 15-22 record in his three-year tenure at Michigan.

He was taking over a floundering program that was unaccustomed to its recent woes, a program that hadn’t won a bowl game since the 2007 season, a team that experienced the embarrassment of a 3-9 season, a team that had never beaten their cross-state rivals — the Ohio State Buckeyes. He was also taking over for a team that was ready to start winning like Michigan was supposed to win.

So when Hoke took that same program and turned in an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl victory in 2011, his first year as head coach for the Wolverines, nobody inside the program was surprised, least of all Hoke.

“I’ll be honest with you, I think it’s funny that everybody says that [the expectations are higher now] because this is Michigan,” Hoke said. “Those expectations are to win Big Ten championships every year … It’s why you’re at Michigan. It’s why these guys chose to come play at Michigan.”

In fact, Hoke said he didn’t even consider last season a success for his team because they weren’t able to win the Big Ten Championship.

“Correct,” Hoke said. “We didn’t win a Big Ten championship, and at Michigan, that’s an expectation.”

Still, not everyone involved with the Wolverines expected the type of success Hoke had. Adam Rittenberg, ESPN’s Big Ten Blogger, said Hoke’s success wouldn’t be so immediate.

“Well I don’t think to the extent to go off and win the Sugar Bowl championship,” Rittenberg said. “That was above my expectations for Michigan, after what they dealt with.”

Regardless, Rittenberg said the root of Michigan’s success in 2011 stemmed from Hoke’s ties to the program and the support it garnered from fans. From 1995 to 2002, Hoke held numerous distinctions at Michigan as an assistant coach, even holding the title of associate head coach in 2002.

“His familiarity with the program has been important,” Rittenberg said. “This is his dream job. There was always a question with Rodriguez, because he was an outsider, [that] he didn’t fully embrace the Michigan tradition, he didn’t play up the Ohio State game … But they don’t have to raise those questions with Brady Hoke.”

Another key to Hoke’s success was his insistence on improving the defense, which was mediocre at best under the Rodriguez era. Hoke brought in Greg Mattison to help improve the Michigan defense and achieved monumental success. The defense helped improve almost every category from 2010, including points per game (33.8 to 17.2), rushing yards per game (187.7 to 129.1) and passing yards per game (260.2 to 188.5).

Indeed, for Nick Baumgardner, a Michigan sports reporter for, the improvement on the defensive side of the ball was one of the biggest reasons Hoke’s first season was so successful.

“They spent so much more time working with the previous staff,” Baumgardner said. “So much more time on the defensive front, the front seven, which just hadn’t happened in previous years. Greg Mattison, obviously, [had] a lot to do with that as defensive coordinator.”

Both Baumgardner and Rittenberg said one of Michigan’s biggest obstacle this year could prove to be a better team its difficult schedule, which includes road trips to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State, as well as a home visit from Michigan State.

And then there’s that season opener in Dallas.

“They’ve got Alabama, right off the bat. That’s your measuring stick,” Rittenberg said. “It’s all going to be about the line of scrimmage. With Alabama, you know it’s going to be very good. That’s where they do there damage … That’s big, are they able to match Alabama’s physical play at the line of scrimmage? To me, if they can’t match Alabama at the line of scrimmage, they’re not going to win this game.”

Still, Rittenberg said if somehow Michigan did find a way to pull out a victory over the Tide on Sept. 1, Michigan could prove to be not only a force in the college football world, but a legitimate contender for the national title.

“Right now, Michigan is a team that will likely be a little better than they were last year but will almost certainly have a worse record than last year,” Rittenberg said. “But if you beat Alabama, that changes everything.”

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