Remember when the Michigan Wolverines were finishing off the season at 11-2 with a win in a BCS Bowl? Remember when that same team opened up the year ranked in the top 10 of both the AP and coaches polls? Ah, those were good times.
Right now, though? Not good times. Bad times. Michigan is 2-2, and although just about every team would be 2-2 with the Wolverines' non-conference schedule (there is a chasm big enough to hold the conference between the levels of quality of Notre Dame and Air Force), the fact is that Michigan has not looked like a Top 25 team in at best three of the four games it has played this year.
How many games will Michigan win in the 2012 regular season?
When that happens—when a team is nowhere near its preseason expectations—you've got to look at the man in charge as the reason why. And Brady Hoke, the Michigan Man ever so lauded for the 2011 resurgence, is squarely in the crosshairs for the Wolverines' lousy September.
Nobody's putting it on Hoke for Michigan's loss to Alabama. That Alabama team is probably the best in the nation, and certainly miles ahead of anyone in the Big Ten. But if Michigan had a game plan that played to its strengths in that game, it'd be news to us.
Denard Robinson stood still on far too many passing plays in the first half, taking away his greatest threat as a football player (his running ability) while still playing to his biggest weakness as a passer: throwing out of the shotgun formation. And those throws were consistently deep fades and go routes, which require much more confidence in Robinson's accuracy than has ever been merited.
Hoke's team looked utterly unprepared for the Air Force option attack, and the Falcons had the ball with a chance to take the lead twice late in the game. Yes, Michigan got the stop on both of those drives. Yes, Michigan beat Air Force.
You know who else just beat Air Force? Lowly UNLV, 38-35.
Both the offensive and defensive lines are a mess, with constant shuffling of personnel and back-and-forth player moves. Patrick Barnum and Elliot Mealer have vacillated as Denard Robinson's center, while the starting role at left guard was given to walk-on Joey Burzynski out of nowhere for the spring game. Burzynski has not since played a major role on the line.
The defensive line has also seen its share of upheaval, with Craig Roh moving inside and back out, Quentin Washington being named a de facto starter at nose tackle one week before the Alabama game and then not actually starting, and Jibreel Black appearing and disappearing randomly in Michigan's starting lineup.
And yet Hoke clings to this veneer of control, one that speaks more to secrecy bordering on a clinical level of paranoia than actual program discipline. He refused to admit that Devin Gardner was a wide receiver during the entire offseason. His personnel changes have all been game-time surprises, since Hoke effectively shuts out the media covering him. Ask a Michigan beat writer about catching a summer practice some time.
You know who doesn't treat the media like enemy spies? Nick Saban. Saban lets reporters attend portions of every practice and is up front about his injuries. Remind us: How did Alabama do against Michigan this year?
Hoke punted on formally disciplining starting RB Fitz Toussaint for about a month before deciding a few days before the Alabama game that Toussaint wouldn't play. And while one might just shrug and chalk that up more to stonewalling the press (and everyone who reads the press, a.k.a. Michigan's own fan base), Al Borges said the team prepared both for Toussaint playing and Toussaint sitting for the Alabama game.
At what point does this even begin to make sense? What purpose could it possibly serve to delay making a decision on Toussaint's fate for the biggest game of the year that even the offense doesn't know whether to prepare for having him in the lineup? On what planet is that proper team management?
Michigan now comes into a Big Ten season with three more devilish road games on the docket—trips to Nebraska and Ohio State loom large, and Purdue and Minnesota hardly look like slouches this year. And we know how badly Denard Robinson struggles on the road.
So if Michigan goes 7-5 this year, which is now completely within reason, what does it say about last season? More importantly, what does it say about Brady Hoke? For someone bringing back so much talent from the 2011 team, Hoke looks an awful lot like someone who can't manage a successful team for very long.
And if that's the case, congratulations Michigan: You have Ron Zook crossed with a bear as your head coach.