Brady Hoke may not have been the ideal hire for the Michigan Wolverines. But since becoming head coach in 2011, he’s more than proven his worth.
Some Wolverines supporters wanted LSU’s Les Miles. Others thought that former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano would be a good fit..
Now in his third season, it's time for Hoke to prove that last fall's 8-5 finish was the exception and that his 11-win 2011 season is the new norm in his dream job.
Thus far, Hoke has been a great ambassador for the program. He’s already secured 12 commitments to his 2014 class, and he cleaned up on national signing day in February by welcoming an incredible 2013 catch.
Realistically, Michigan is still two years from being considered a true juggernaut in the Big Ten. A couple of wins over Ohio State and a pair of old-fashioned thrashings of Michigan State would be a good start.
By 2015, fours years into the Hoke regime, Michigan should be a national-title contender.
Real Contenders Have Real Quarterbacks
Michigan was in the race for a national championship in 1997 and 2006, and great quarterback play was one of the reasons why.
Brian Griese was the hero under center in 1997. Chad Henne filled that same role in 2006. Both were fortunate to succeed successful QBs who served as their mentors. Griese followed Todd Collins and Scott Dreisbach. Henne followed John Navarre.
Devin Gardner doesn't have that luxury. Denard Robinson—although an incredible athlete—wasn’t a prototype national champion quarterback. Other than leadership, he’s not leaving much for Gardner to follow.
Gardner had 33 pass attempts before taking control of the Wolverines' offense. He wasn’t overly impressive as Robinson’s understudy, casting doubt on his future as the successor.
But after Robinson was injured against Nebraska in Michigan's eighth game last season and Russell Bellomy didn’t work out during a relief effort, it was all Gardner, starting the next week against Minnesota.
Gardner handled his new role well, throwing for 11 touchdowns and 1,219 yards.
Though just 3-2 as a starter (3-1 in the regular season), Gardner is Michigan’s quarterback bridge to a national championship run. He may not be the starter when the Wolverines get there, but he’ll set a standard for future signal-callers.
The next phase of development will involve 2013 commit Shane Morris and 2014 commit Wilton Speight. Should Michigan play its cards correctly, Morris and Speight will pave the way for a player such as 5-star standout Josh Rosen, the No. 2 pro-style QB of 2015 who was recently offered by the Wolverines.
Michigan’s biggest disadvantage is not having a viable No. 2. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Al Borges has to work on that.
Verdict: Hoke and the Wolverines are about a year behind in quarterback development. But Gardner learns rapidly, and that’s a plus.
Real Contenders Have Real Defenses
In 1997, Michigan had linebacker Sam Sword, defensive end Glen Steele and some guy named Charles Woodson—now that’s a real defense.
In 2006, the Wolverines had corners Morgan Trent and Leon Hall, defensive end LaMarr Woodley and linebacker Shawn Crable—not a bad lineup.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is watching something like those past arsenals develop right now. Linebacker Jake Ryan, although injured, is among the best in the country. Blake Countess heads a secondary that’s ready to welcome talents Jordan Lewis, Dymonte Thomas and the No. 2 athlete of 2014, Jabrill Peppers
The Michigan defense, once again, seeks only the elite.
Da’Shawn Hand, the No. 1 prospect of 2014, would serve as the gold standard of future Hoke era Michigan defensive ends. Michigan can get Hand, just as long as no one promises a visit with Michael Jackson—or Tito.
Janet, maybe. Not Tito or Michael.
Verdict: Hoke and Michigan are slightly ahead in building a defense.
Overall, Hoke isn’t ahead or behind schedule—he’s on time. He may be a year ahead in recruiting, maybe a year behind at quarterback, but he’s reached the heights that most thought he would after just two years.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81