At a football program like Michigan, glory can be equated with nothing short of championships. Since 1879, the Wolverines have captured 42 Big Ten titles and 11 national championships—to say that Michigan teams of the past have set the bar high would be quite the understatement.
While reminiscing about Bo Schembechler's success or recounting one of the Tom Brady-led comebacks during his Michigan career is pleasant, it's the immediate future that weighs heaviest on fans' minds.
Michigan hasn't won a Big Ten Championship since 2004, and it suffered its first losing season since 1967 in 2008 in Rich Rodriguez's first year at the helm.
There's no doubt they've lost a step nationally, but current head coach Brady Hoke has sparked a modest resurgence, and the future looks a little brighter in Ann Arbor. Notre Dame's unlikely run to the title game in 2012 should give them hope; the Irish had won just 51 percent of their games in the five-year period leading up to that season.
We know the national landscape can shift in a hurry. The question is, what has to happen for the Wolverines to get back to the upper echelon of college football?
Recruit, Recruit, Recruit
It's no secret that effective recruiting is the lifeblood of a program's continued success. That doesn't necessarily mean that Michigan has to have a top-five recruiting class every year, although that wouldn't hurt. It means Hoke and Co. have to address specific needs and ensure that they're building a well-rounded football team.
According to ESPN.com's rankings, Michigan finished with the seventh-best class in 2012 and the sixth-best in 2013, both great signs for the program. Coach Hoke and his staff have proven to be solid recruiters, and their 2014 class led by No. 2 overall recruit Jabrill Peppers is shaping up to be a good one as well.
Michigan still has some direct needs to address in this current class, however. Adding strength on the defensive line is a must after losing Da'Shawn Hand to Alabama and Jibreel Black to graduation.
Recruiting well is imperative to Michigan's return to glory.
Continuity of the Coaching Staff
Athletic director Dave Brandon is smart to stand behind his third-year coach and not overreact to a few bad losses.
Firing Hoke now would mark the second consecutive time the university ousted its head coach after three years, and that lack of consistency would wreak havoc on its recruiting efforts as well as current players' ability to get comfortable with each coaches' base sets as well as their idiosyncrasies.
While defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who is the highest-paid assistant in the Big Ten, has done a good job with the defense, many people have called for offensive coordinator Al Borges to be relieved of his duties.
His play-calling has been admittedly predictable at times, but he called a great game against Ohio State, and he's more than capable of orchestrating the pro-style offense Hoke wants to stick with. Borges, who helped guide the 2004 Auburn Tigers to a perfect season and worked well with Hoke at San Diego State, deserves at least another year to get the offense rolling more consistently.
Build an Elite Defense
For the Wolverines to contend for championships every year, they'll need to commit to building a defense that is consistently dominant. I mentioned that Mattison has done a respectable job thus far, but finishing the regular season ranked 38th in the country in 2013 isn't going to cut it. They need to get better penetration from their front seven, and they have to be a lot better in pass coverage.
Hoke, of all people, knows what a championship defense looks like up close. He was the defensive line coach of the 1997 national championship team that allowed just 9.5 points per game and allowed 222.8 yards per game.
To put that yards-allowed-per-game statistic in perspective, Michigan State leads the country this year at 248.2 yards allowed per game.
Speaking of Michigan State, the Spartans have exactly the kind of defense the Wolverines will need to build to win titles. It's fierce up front and has shutdown corners on both sides led by Darqueze Dennard, who will likely be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Can the Peppers/Blake Countess corner tandem be effective enough to enable Mattison to leave them in man-to-man coverage and get creative with blitz packages?
With great recruiting as its foundation, Michigan has all the resources necessary to hoist its fair share of trophies in the coming years.
Unfortunately for Michigan fans, they've been asked to be patient for a healthy number of years now. It's been a frustrating stretch for the program and heading into the offseason, the Wolverines and their fans must once again cling to hope.
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