Tight end Devin Funchess is one of Michigan's budding stars. He'll be key in 2013.
Michigan Wolverines football is on the upswing.
The Rich Rodriguez era is a distant memory, and Brady Hoke has done an admirable job making sure those three dreadful years are pushed as far back in fans' psyches as possible by winning 19 games in two seasons and appearing in a pair of bowl games.
Don't forget that Hoke, who enters his third season as head coach in Ann Arbor, has assembled elite recruiting classes the past two years, highlighted by a 2013 haul that is ranked No. 5 in the nation by 247Sports.com.
The effort is there, and the rewards will surely follow.
Hoke and his staff have pieced together a potential-filled backfield, a stout secondary that could be the best Michigan has seen since the late 1990s, a great offensive line in the making and a defensive line that continues to improve by way of development and recruiting.
A Big Ten championship is still a year or so away, but trips to Pasadena and other BCS bowls are on the horizon. Michigan has already been to the Sugar Bowl and won, so the taste of success lingers despite following 2011's 11-win showing with an 8-5 record and Outback Bowl loss in 2012.
Is 2013 a "reality check" year?
Naysayers point out that Michigan hasn't been truly relevant since 1997, the year that it shared a national championship with Nebraska. Losing four of the past five matches against Michigan State and failing to get a firm hold in their rivalry with Ohio State are also nagging issues that the Wolverines face.
Supporters counter all of that with a wait-and-see philosophy—and they're justified in doing so.
However, Michigan can't afford another subpar fall in 2013. The 2012 season was respectable, but far from what Hoke expects out of his program.
Hoke expressed his disappointment to several hundred Michigan high school football coaches in January (via MLive.com's Kyle Meinke).
We had a s****y season, to be honest with you. Bad year, to be honest. Proud of the kids, how they kept moving forward, but it wasn't the year Michigan deserves.
I mean, it was, for the expectations (we have). It was probably an improper word to use. I loved how the kids worked, and they helped grow us. But it's not the expectation. I like how they prepared weekly.
At times we didn't execute as well as we'd like, but I like how they came and they prepared, I like how they played in the bowl game.
Hoke shouldn't be satisfied with what he's done in Ann Arbor thus far because he's capable of so much more—and so is Michigan, a team that boasts tradition, pride and excellence, but hasn't won a league championship since 2004.
View Michigan's historical records via the Bentley Library here.
If the Wolverines are to be truly recognized as one of the elite programs in the country, anything less than a 10-win season and a BCS bowl appearance this year would be unacceptable. Another eight-win fall and invitation to a middle-of-the-road bowl contest just wouldn't cut it—and that's due to the standard that Hoke says he wants to reach, not the viewpoint of an entitled Wolverines fanbase that eagerly awaits the return of the "real" Michigan.
The Wolverines' 2013 schedule most certainly will help in the quest for a banner year. Other than hosting Notre Dame and Ohio State this fall, Michigan looks to have a rather easy road ahead.
However, an early loss to the likes of UConn or Akron would create doubt and reinforce the notion that the Wolverines aren't anywhere near the level that most spectators feel they're on track to reach.
Michigan doesn't have to go unbeaten in 2013 to have a successful year, but it wouldn't hurt. No, the focus should be on taking care of business against the perceived lesser opponents, getting a back-to-back victory over the Spartans and finally handling Ohio State.
This fall isn't just Hoke's third year; it's a measuring point for the progress of Wolverines football. This fall will be a reality check, an accurate gauge of just how many strides forward Michigan has made despite being constantly criticized for living in the past.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81