Brady Hoke has experienced a good deal of success in his first two years with the Wolverines, but he’s not done yet. He has his eyes on a championship in 2013.
Hoke’s tenure at Michigan has been a welcomed turn-around for a team that flailed under Rich Rodriguez. A victory over Ohio State in 2011 and an 8-5 2012 season were signs of life. Michigan is a team on the rise.
The Wolverines secured the No. 5 recruiting class in the nation this offseason (per 247Sports), adding to a group of young players primed to take big strides in 2013. Even with a lot of youth on both sides of the ball, Michigan has a legitimate chance to make a run at the Big Ten title—and perhaps more than that.
Every team sets out with a championship in its sights, but reaching that goal is easier said than done. Let’s take a look at the biggest obstacles on Michigan’s schedule in its hunt for glory in 2013.
September 7: Notre Dame
With all due respect to Central Michigan, the road to the championship starts with the Fighting Irish.
Not many teams face off with an out-of-conference foe fresh off a title appearance to start the season, but that’s what the Wolverines will face in Week 2. Hoke and Brian Kelly have breathed new life into their programs, and this game should prove to be one of the best of the young season.
Michigan dropped a 13-6 contest to the Irish last season, and this year’s bout should prove to be another defensive affair. With two young offenses and a couple well-established defenses, don’t expect a lot of scoring.
A win for either team will go a long way toward a title campaign in 2013. For Michigan, taking on a 2012 national title contender will be the ultimate litmus test for the 2013 season.
November 9: Nebraska
Denard Robinson left last year’s game with an elbow injury and Michigan’s offense never recovered.
The Wolverines will once again be without Robinson, but this time it won’t be unexpected. With his departure for the NFL draft this offseason, Michigan will prepare to take the field with Devin Gardner at the helm.
Gardner did a respectable job in relief of Robinson last season, and he proved that he can be the signal-caller to lead the Wolverines to big things in 2013. If Michigan can traverse its way to the Nebraska contest unscathed, he’ll also have a chance to put away the Cornhuskers en route to a potential Big Ten title.
The key to victory for Michigan will once again be stopping Nebraska’s rushing attack. The Cornhuskers rushed for 160 yards on 6.9 yards per carry against Michigan last season, and a repeat performance will likely mean a loss for the Wolverines this year.
November 16: Northwestern
Northwestern was a pleasant surprise in the Big Ten last year. The Wildcats went 10-3 (5-3 in the Big Ten), but one of their conference losses came at the hands of the Wolverines.
Michigan eluded a 248-yard rushing performance from the Wildcats in their 38-31 overtime win last season. Like their Nebraska matchup, the Wolverines won’t have a chance if they allow big rushing totals like that this year.
The final four games of the season will be a tough stretch for Michigan. Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State will all present challenging matchups, and finding a way to stay focused and prepared will be paramount in Michigan’s success.
November 30: Ohio State
There isn’t a bigger matchup on any schedule than that of Michigan and Ohio State.
Arguably the best rivalry in all of sports, the Wolverines and Buckeyes will square off in the final week of the regular season—perhaps with a Big Ten title on the line.
While the rest of the conference has taken a hit in recent years, Ohio State and Michigan have gotten stronger. Hoke and Urban Meyer understand the intense rivalry between their programs, and there’s a good chance this game is one of the best of the entire football season.
It’s too early to tell what will be in store for both teams when they face off, but pride is the ultimate motivational factor. Regardless of rankings and records, there isn’t a bigger game on the slate for Michigan this season.