The honeymoon is over for Brady Hoke in Ann Arbor, Mich. The universal adulation he enjoyed after his 11-2 first season waned during the 8-5 campaign which followed and completely evaporated after last year’s 7-6 finish.
What will be Michigan's toughest rivalry game next season?
Michigan’s inconsistent play last season caused fans to grumble and a 1-4 November record which doomed the team’s Big Ten title aspirations ultimately cost offensive coordinator Al Borges his job.
Hoke’s job is safe. He has the support of his boss, Michigan athletic director David Brandon, but this season will be a critical litmus test for the Michigan football program.
Last season was sabotaged by shoddy offensive line play and a defense that was worn down by Big Ten play.
|August 30||Appalachian State|
|September 6||@ Notre Dame|
|September 13||Miami (Ohio)|
|October 4||@ Rutgers|
|October 11||Penn State|
|October 25||@ Michigan State|
|November 8||@ Northwestern|
|November 29||@ Ohio State|
This season, Michigan is retooling its offense, compliments of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, while rebuilding its offensive line and replacing top receiver Jeremy Gallon.
This is all while contending with a new division alignment that places the team in the Big Ten East Division with Ohio State and Michigan State.
|Year||Notre Dame||Michigan State||Ohio State|
|2011||W, 35-31||L, 28-14 @ MSU||W, 40-34|
|2012||L, 13-6 @ ND||W, 12-10||L, 26-21 @ OSU|
|2013||W, 41-30||L, 29-6 2 MSU||L, 42-41|
Hoke enters this season desperately needing to rebound after last season’s disappointment.
Three critical games will determine the success of this season. The challenge for Hoke is that even a 9-3 finish will be considered a failure if his team loses to all three of its traditional rivals.
These games are all tough for different reasons, but here they are listed in order of overall difficulty.
Michigan got spanked 29-6 last season in East Lansing, a loss that marked the beginning of the team’s 1-4 November collapse. Hoke is 1-2 versus Michigan State, and if not for a last-second field goal in 2012, he’d be winless versus the Spartans.
Due to a quirk in scheduling and division realignment, Michigan again heads back to East Lansing this year.
Michigan State is coming off a 13-1 season where the team beat Ohio State for the Big Ten Championship and beat Stanford 24-20 in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan struggles on the road against average teams—to face a rising Michigan State for two consecutive years in East Lansing is almost unfair.
The good news is that Michigan has a bye week before playing the Spartans. The bad news is that it'll need every minute of it.
Notre Dame is the only one of Michigan’s rivals that Hoke has a winning record against. However, both victories came at home while Michigan stumbled in South Bend, Ind.
Michigan heads back on the road to face the Fighting Irish as this series concludes—no future meetings are scheduled. Notre Dame finished last season 8-4 following a campaign where the team lost in the national championship game.
This game has trouble written all over it.
Michigan heads on the road, where the team has struggled under Hoke’s tenure. This will also be its second game of the season, which is a major consideration with the team breaking in a new offensive line while rolling out Doug Nussmeier’s new offense.
Another rival that Hoke has a losing record against and another road trip.
Hoke’s only victory over Ohio State was during his first season, when the Buckeyes were led by interim head coach Luke Fickell. Hoke has not beaten Urban Meyer during his two seasons in Columbus and will face another difficult test this season.
By this time on the schedule, the results of other rivalry games—Notre Dame and Michigan State—will be in the books.
There is always pressure for Michigan to beat Ohio State, but depending the results of those previous games, this matchup with the Buckeyes may signal a turning point for Hoke’s Michigan coaching tenure.
Michigan’s season opener is a ghost from the past. The Wolverines’ 34-32 loss to Appalachian State in 2007 marked the end of the Lloyd Carr era in Ann Arbor. The loss made headlines and shook the landscape of college football.
If history repeats itself, Hoke might find himself following Borges out of town.
The good news is that this Appalachian team is a mere shadow of the 2007 Division I Football Championship Subdivision national champion that shocked Michigan.
First-year coach Scott Satterfield’s Mountaineers finished 4-8 last season and will be hard-pressed to beat Michigan this season, but the Wolverines can’t get caught looking ahead to Notre Dame the following week.
Maryland visits Michigan Stadium for the home finale a week before the Wolverines travel to Columbus to face Ohio State.
Maryland had a disappointing 7-6 finish last season, but should be amped up to make a splash in its first Big Ten season—a win in front of 100,000 fans in Ann Arbor would do it.
This game could be a problem if Michigan is too focused on its rivalry game against Ohio State the following week.