There are plenty of reasons to warrant an optimistic outlook about the University of Michigan football program, but there are just as many lingering issues that suggest significant—and positive—progress is immediately needed.
Wolverines football coach Brady Hoke yet again has one of the country's elite crops of recruits, evident by his prospects being rated No. 1 by Scout.com (class of 2013).
Although the Wolverines fell short of a Big Ten title this season, their 8-4 regular-season record affords a New Year's Day meeting in the 2013 Outback Bowl with the 10th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in Tampa, Fla.
A stout class only increases the likelihood of Michigan being a big boy in the Big Ten and BCS bowl contender in 2013 and beyond.
However, as Michigan looks to test an SEC power, it has its share of internal issues to deal with if the football program is to be restored to its previous luster—a gleaming luster that shined because of tradition, pride and legendary players who wore the Maize and Blue like a badge of honor.
Recent suspensions were excellent moves on the part of Hoke, but punter Will Hagerup already had two strikes, one of which was drug-related. It's possible that the Big Ten's punter of the year may never kick another ball for Michigan due to his pattern of misbehavior.
Seniors J.T. Floyd and Brandin Hawthorne will also sit out New Year's Day; their careers ending on a sour note after violation of team rules and regulations.
Hoke gave Darryl Stonum, a formerly troubled Wolverines receiver, more than a few shots at redemption. However, Stonum's "me-first" mentality led to run-ins with the law and legal predicaments stemming from alcohol use.
And while it's common for players to do so elsewhere, they hardly ever transfer from or leave the Michigan football program. But three left after this season: fullback Stephen Hopkins, receiver Jerald Robinson and defensive lineman Nathan Brink.
It happens from time to time, but trios of players seldom depart from Ann Arbor on their accord.
It's not panic-button time in Ann Arbor. Not by a long stretch. Hoke just has to tie up loose ends. The constant conduct mishaps need to be taken care of so Hoke can fulfill his duties as the "Michigan Man" that's going to lead the Wolverines out of the rubble.
He can ill afford negative headlines that only highlight some sort of lack of institutional control—not that all programs don't have to deal with that, but Michigan tends to keep an eye on such issues and appropriately adjust with counteractive measures.
It's far from spinning out of control. But chaos starts somewhere. With nothing but his "own" to look forward to, Hoke's personnel gaffes should be a thing of the past. He'll have the guys he wanted, not those he inherited.
Will it be "Michigan football," or just Hoke coaching the Wolverines? Only Hoke can make that choice. Will his coaching staff make changes, or will Hoke be forced to bring on others who can better move forward the Wolverines?
Yes, tough choices to make, choices that may or may not be popular among one of the toughest crowds around—Michigan fans.
But the future of the program depends on Hoke taking action. And he needs to start now.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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