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Brady Hoke And Michigan Are At a Crossroads, Which Means Things Could Still Turn Out Well

Image (1) Brady-Hoke-Michigan.jpg for post 213531

Michigan crumbled in 2013. If this Reddit map is to be believed, many enjoyed it. The fallout saw offensive coordinator Al Borges fired and left Brady Hoke in a precarious position heading into 2014. While that is all fair, eight months of off-season hamster wheel spinning has propelled that narrative beyond reason. A couple recurring misconceptions should be clarified.

Michigan Fans Don’t Wish They Had Rich Rodriguez Back

Brady Hoke has been much better than Rich Rodriguez was at Michigan. That should not need much clarification, since Hoke won as many B1G games his first year (six) as Rodriguez did over three seasons. But, since that talking point still exists, let’s dive further.

Here are their respective records over three seasons.

Rodriguez

2008: 3-9 (2-6), -4.66 SRS
2009: 5-7 (1-7), -1.51 SRS
2010: 7-6 (3-5), 1.41 SRS

Hoke

2011: 11-2 (6-2), 16.57 SRS
2012: 8-5 (6-2), 10.01 SRS
2013: 7-6 (3-5), 5.53 SRS

Hoke was much better overall. The team finished with the same record in the third-year. But, while it is comparing the relative vibrancy of rotten fruit, Michigan performed better in 2013 than 2010. The 2010 team lost by double digits to Michigan State (-17), Iowa (-10), Penn State (-10), Wisconsin (-20) and Ohio State (-30). The 2013 team lost by double digits once.  The Wolverines lost three games, against decent opponents, by a combined eight points in November.

Here are their respective performances in the one game that matters.

Rodriguez

2008: OSU 42-7 Michigan (-35)
2009: OSU 21-10 Michigan (-11)
2010: OSU 37-7 Michigan (-30)

Hoke

2011: Michigan 40-34 OSU (+6)
2012: OSU 26-21 Michigan (-5)
2013: OSU 42-41 Michigan (-1)

Things have improved markedly under Hoke. Rodriguez faced a tough task switching Michigan from a pro-style to a spread. Hoke also faced a tough task switching Michigan from a spread back to a pro-style. Hoke inherited a team that went 6-18 in the B1G the previous three years. Rodriguez: 18-6. Hoke inherited a team that finished 101st nationally in yards/play defense the year before. Rodriguez: 28th.

Brady Hoke angry during Penn State overtime

Brady Hoke is Trending Downward

Yes, but it’s not clear what that means. The 2011 team was good, but fortunate against a softer schedule. The 2012 team was good, but unfortunate against a tougher schedule. Michigan’s five losses came against teams that went 55-5 combined during the regular season. All five were away from home. Three were by one score. In another, they had their starting quarterback go down. Those teams were better than anticipated. Many expected another painful, 3-4 year transition when Hoke took over. The 2013 team took a tumble, though not one that was unanticipated given the roster demographics, particularly on the offensive line.

Does this mean Hoke is careening off a cliff? Not at all. For comparison, here are two other Big Ten coaches who were “trending downward” after their first three seasons, farther downward, one could argue, than Michigan under Brady Hoke.

Coach A

Season 1: 7-6 (3-5), 6.69 SRS
Season 2: 9-4 (6-2), 7.94 SRS
Season 3: 6-7 (4-4), 2.52 SRS

Coach B

Season 1: 12-1 (7-1), 11.97 SRS
Season 2: 9-4 (5-3), 5.31 SRS
Season 3: 7-6 (3-5), 1.82 SRS

Coach A is Mark Dantonio at Michigan State. He won 11-plus games in three of the next four seasons. You may have noticed him win the Rose Bowl last year. Coach B is Bret Bielema at Wisconsin. He won 40 games over the next four years and three conference titles. “Trending downward” was having a few, more or less, justifiable hiccups while laying a foundation.

That is the extreme successful end of the possibility range for Brady Hoke. However, given what Hoke has done (and is continuing to do) recruiting, he may be much closer to there than the extreme fail end.

***

Hoke’s touted recruits must step forward as touted players in 2014. Michigan’s base run can’t be “get stuffed in the backfield for a two-yard loss.” Change is needed. Failure to implement it should spell the end for Hoke and his staff

But, despite how ugly it looked (and how close they were to having things get much uglier), the Wolverines were still not that far away from competing in the B1G. Their 2014 schedule is not that onerous. On paper, the team has more depth and system-appropriate talent than at any point since the high-Carr era. The 2013 season could be the beginning of the end for Hoke. It could also be a blip before his rousing course correction. The only thing certain is people will think it was self-evident five months from now.

[USA Today Sports]

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