Just days before college football’s most storied rivalry game kicks off for the 110th time, the condition of the Ohio State and Michigan programs couldn’t be much more different.
Led by two-time national-championship-winning coach Urban Meyer, the undefeated, third-ranked Buckeyes have won a school-record 23 consecutive games and are fighting for a spot in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.
On the other side of the field, the Michigan Wolverines have lost four of six games and turned a promising 5-0 start into a disappointing 7-4 mark entering Saturday’s showdown. The Wolverines’ season goal has been reduced from winning the Big Ten Championship to winning 10 games to winning for the team’s seniors in the span of four weeks.
It now seems realistic that a loss, especially a lopsided one, could put Michigan head coach Brady Hoke squarely on the hot seat.
Hoke’s record in The Game stands at a respectable 1-1 since he took over as Michigan head coach in 2011. The win, in 2011 against a lowly 6-5 Ohio State team coached by interim head coach Luke Fickell, was the Wolverines’ first in seven years against the Buckeyes and the capping of a statement regular season that led to a berth and victory in the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
The season was so impressive it prompted the question, is Michigan back?
24 games and nine losses later, the answer to that question seems to be an emphatic “No.” But just how irrelevant are the Wolverines in the national picture and for how much longer should Michigan tolerate being a middle-of-the-pack team in a struggling Big Ten Conference?
Though Hoke’s roster still includes redshirt juniors and seniors from Rich Rodriguez’s tenure at Michigan, Hoke’s recruiting classes since taking over as head coach ranked 21st nationally in 2011, seventh in 2012 and third in 2013 according to Rivals.com.
From an offensive standpoint, the argument can be made that Hoke’s pro-style skill player recruits are still being forced into a spread offense with remaining Rodriguez recruits like Devin Gardner, Jeremy Gallon, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Drew Dileo—and that the unit will be better once Rodriguez’s players have graduated.
Even if that’s the case, though, why has the program continued to spiral downward instead of improving each year as it moves closer to being 100 percent Brady Hoke’s?
According to Vegas Insider, Michigan enters Saturday’s game as a 14.5-point underdog to the undefeated Buckeyes.
A beating at the hands of Ohio State and second consecutive five-loss season might just be what it takes to start a fire under Hoke’s already-warming head coaching seat.