Michigan Football: Brady Hoke's 3 Biggest Challenges for Wolverines in 2014

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Michigan Football: Brady Hoke's 3 Biggest Challenges for Wolverines in 2014
Tony Ding/Associated Press
Team 135 heads into fall with QB Devin Gardner leading the way on offense.

Generally speaking, Michigan is a good football team with a few expected, and several unexpected, hurdles to clear before it can be viewed as a contender.

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Luckily for the Wolverines, they have Devin Gardner, a somewhat experienced quarterback upon which to rely. A fellow senior, Jake Ryan, leads a deep linebacker corps that’s widely considered the strength of Greg Mattison’s defense. The secondary prompts optimism; and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has a few good running backs to tinker with on Saturdays.

However—there’s always a “however,” isn’t there?—all is not well in Ann Arbor. Yesterday, winning Big Ten titles and Rose Bowls was the priority and the norm. Today, coach Brady Hoke struggles to hold serve within his own league, let alone compete at a national level. 

Hoke's three-going-on-four-year tenure has been marred by gross underachievement, which really stings considering the fact that he's reeled in mega-hyped recruiting classes and further pushed the "this is Michigan" attitude. 

Since going 11-2 in 2011, he's compiled 8-5 and 7-6 seasons (1-2 in bowls). Challenges? More like epic journeys. There is more to fix than an offensive line; more than position-specific issues to solve. If anything, preparation and mentality are equally, if not more, important. 

 

Make Nussmeier Feel at Home

Tony Ding/Associated Press
Thanks to the spring game, there are finally Nussmeier/Michigan photos.

He's coming from a national title factory, so it's fair to assume that Nussmeier is used to having things his way. And why shouldn't he? For two years, he was obviously on his job. Tide running backs were dominant, their offensive line stout and quarterback confident. 

With any luck, he'll do the same with Michigan. Nussmeier has access to a sophomore pro-styler in Shane Morris, and he has a pair of waiting-to-be-unleashed sophomore running backs in Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith. Plus, there's probably a Justice Hayes or Drake Johnson waiting to pop up as a regular in the backfield, too.

Resources are plenty, and Nussmeier is a tactician—just ask Nick Saban, who in January said the following about Nussmeier to Michigan (via al.com's Andrew Gribble): 

I'm sure he will do a great job at the University of Michigan. He is a bright coach who works hard and brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to work each and every day. Our production and balance the last two years has been very good and he also brought a lot to the table in terms of coaching the quarterbacks.

AJ (McCarron) had one of the best seasons and careers of any quarterback here, and that says a lot when you look at the history and tradition of that position at Alabama. We wish Doug and his family the best and appreciate all they did to help us be successful with the program at Alabama.

Sure, Saban took the high road and said all of the right things about his former OC. That much was expected. But for Saban to specifically mention McCarron's stardom bodes well for Nussmeier's reputation for developing quarterbacks. 

Athletically, McCarron isn't heads and shoulders above Gardner. Unless he's a total bust this fall, Gardner should show steady improvement and ultimately become the player he's meant to be. 

In order for a smooth transition to take place, Hoke has to make Nussmeier feel at ease and give him enough control—but not too much—over personnel decisions if there's any hope of real change on offense. From quarterback to running back, tackle to tackle and wideout to wideout, Nussmeier should have a majority vote when it comes to who takes the field. 

Finding a happy balance is always the trick, and a cohesive staff is a happy staff. 

 

Manage Jabrill Hype

It's happening. Peppers is really coming to Ann Arbor. Forget all of that Twitter monitoring and all of those sleepless nights and cast aside those bad memories of the decommitment rumors. He's Hoke's, and he's coming to The Big House in just a few months.

However, let him play before giving him the Heisman. But enjoy the ride; he's going to be a great one. Peppers, a consensus 5-star recruit and the No. 3-ranked prospect of 2014 by 247Sports, is of rare ilk. He's a different breed of athlete: part freak athlete, part natural and part entertainer. Put it this way: He's going to make it look real easy. 

On one hand, writers and analysts say to remain grounded and view the 6'1", 200-pound Paramus Catholic (N.J.) phenom through a cautious lens. If it's too good to be true, it usually is. But Peppers is different. He's Charles Woodson v. 2.0—and that's coming from the same people who say to keep it cool. 

Talk about mixed messages. How does Hoke manage all of this? Peppers isn't even on campus yet. This is going to be a wild, wild period in Wolverines football history. 

 

Handling Devin 

When focused, Gardner is the guy. He's earned the No. 1 position, and barring a catastrophic meltdown this fall, he'll probably finish his career as the starter. Spending the latter weeks of 2013 on crutches, Gardner's on the rebound from a surgery on his right foot. He's either repaired or worse than before, which seems almost impossible. 

In the case of Gardner, intent and passion are never in question. Often times, though, his mentality and ability to compartmentalize come under fire. Bu he's been able to make good on past mistakes. Take a look at how he curbed interceptions a year ago. He was on pace for 200, but turned in just 11 after throwing eight within his first 58 attempts (four games). 

Gold stars on an otherwise so-so report card, Gardner threw for 2,960 yards and completed 60 percent of his passes, a career high. Knowing when to roll with Gardner and when to set him aside isn't an exact science, but it's certainly not an undertaking for the faint of heart or indecisive crowd. 

Will that be Hoke's call, or will Nussmeier be given executive authority? Seeing how they handle their signal-caller should provide insight into the dynamic that will be Hoke and Nuss

 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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