Rivalry Games: Brady Hoke Faces the Tipping Point at Michigan

Phil CallihanContributor IOctober 31, 2013

Brady Hoke
Brady HokeLeon Halip/Getty Images

After being embraced by fans eager to forget the Rich Rodriguez years, Brady Hoke now faces the tipping point as Michigan head football coach.

Hoke found great success in his first season when Michigan finished 11-2, defeating both Notre Dame and Ohio State on the way to a BCS bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

But the results since then have been mixed.

A crushing defeat at the hands of Alabama in the following season’s opener was followed by losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State with a narrow last-second victory over Michigan State sandwiched in between.

This season, victories over the likes of Akron and UConn, no matter how dramatic, are insignificant compared to Hoke’s overall record against Michigan’s traditional rivals—Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. 

With Hoke now in his third season, Michigan is a single game above .500 against those three teams.

Brady Hoke' Rivalry Record (First 3 Seasons) 4-3
SeasonNotre DameMichigan StateOhio State
2011W, 35-31 HomeL, 28-14 AwayW, 40-34 Home
2012L, 13-6 AwayW, 12-10 HomeL, 26-21 Away
2013W, 41-30 HomeTBDTBD
Wikipedia

Michigan fans always have high expectations. Every Wolverines coach, including Bo Schembechler, has had great success in their first three seasons against Michigan's three big rivals. The only exception was Rodriguez, who failed in spectacular fashion and was fired, leading to the Hoke era.

Bo Schembechler's Rivalry Record (First 3 Seasons) 4-2
SeasonMichigan StateOhio State
1969L, 23-12 AwayW, 24-12 Home
1970W, 34-20 HomeL, 20-9 Away
1971W, 24-13 AwayW, 10-7 Home
Wikipedia

Playing the Spartans on the road this weekend, Michigan will face the most hostile environment that it will experience this season.

Michigan State plays a tough, nasty defense and dominated the Wolverines the last time the teams played in East Lansing during Hoke’s first season.

Gary Moeller's Rivalry Record (First 3 Seasons) 5-2-2
SeasonNotre DameMichigan StateOhio State
1990L, 28-24 AwayL, 24-23 HomeW, 16-13 Away
1991W, 24-14 HomeW, 45-28 AwayW, 31-3 Away
1992T, 17-17 AwayW, 35-10 HomeT, 13-13 Home
Wikipedia

Michigan has been the center of attention in the state, despite Spartans coach Mark Dantonio’s 4-2 record against Michigan. Years of “little brother” comments have the Spartans itching to drop the hammer on the Wolverines.

A Michigan victory on Saturday in a game that Michigan is widely expected to lose—and possibly lose badly, would be Hoke’s most significant victory to date. It would put the Wolverines in position to win the Legends Division, smack down their traditional instate rival and put them on a collision course with Ohio State for the Big Ten championship.

Lloyd Carr's Rivalry Record (First 3 Seasons) 6-1
SeasonNotre DameMichigan StateOhio State
1995XL, 35-28 AwayW, 31-23 Home
1996XW, 45-29 HomeW, 13-9 Away
1997W, 21-14 HomeW, 23-7 HomeW, 20-14 Home
Wikipedia

With Notre Dame fleeing from the schedule after next season, Hoke’s overall record against Michigan State and Ohio State will determine his fate.

It’s critical that Michigan split these next two meetings for Hoke to show progress. A sweep and a possible additional game versus the Buckeyes for the Big Ten Championship would be an added bonus.

A loss to Michigan State, with a game against dominant Ohio State on tap later this month, would make it unlikely that Hoke will finish this season above .500 against Michigan’s major rivals.

The last coach who shared that distinction was run out of town on a rail.

Rich Rodriguez's Rivalry Record (3 Seasons) 2-7
SeasonNotre DameMichigan StateOhio State
2008L, 35-17 AwayL, 35-21 HomeL, 42-7 Away
2009W, 38-34 HomeL, 26-20 (OT) AwayL, 21-10 Home
2010W, 28-24 HomeL, 34-17 HomeL, 34-17 Away
Wikipedia