Michigan Football: Why Things Are Looking Up in Ann Arbor
Since day one, Brady Hoke has said the goal was for Michigan to win Big Ten Championships and threaten for national titles.
So in that sense, Hoke's tenure as head coach for the Wolverines so far, and especially this season, has been a disappointment.
But even after finishing the 2012 regular season with an 8-4 record, a loss to hated rival Ohio State and no chance at a Big Ten title, Michigan should be encouraged about the future.
Hoke brought Michigan back to national relevance in 2011 with a 10-2 season and a BCS win in the Sugar Bowl, and this season, ended the Wolverines' frustrating losing streak to in-state foe Michigan State.
Michigan extended its own home winning streak to 14 consecutive games and will play in a New Year's Day bowl for the fourth time in seven years.
The Wolverines will say goodbye to Denard Robinson, as well as several other senior leaders who helped bring Michigan out of the dark shadow of the Rich Rodriguez era, but the Wolverines will welcome back several impact players, bring in a heralded recruiting class and will have a lot to look forward to in 2013 and beyond.
Here are the five reasons things are looking up in Ann Arbor:
Good Chance to Beat Quality SEC Opponent in Outback Bowl
The benefit of an extra month of practice is always helpful for teams looking forward to the following year, and this season, Michigan will have the opportunity to beat a very good SEC team in South Carolina.
The Gamecocks, ranked No. 10 in the country, went 10-2 this season, with their only losses coming in back-to-back weeks against then-No. 9 LSU, and then-No. 2 Florida in October.
South Carolina went 6-2 in the rugged SEC this season and come into the Outback Bowl with a lot of confidence, riding a four-game winning streak, capped by a 27-17 victory over No. 11 Clemson.
The Michigan offense will have to gameplan against former No. 1 overall recruit, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. But with over five weeks of time to prepare for the Gamecocks, Michigan should be able to perfect the combination of Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson together in the backfield.
Michigan matches up very well with South Carolina and will have the chance on New Year's Day to show the country that it can compete with one of the better teams in the best conference in the country.
As electrifying of a player as Robinson has been in his career, offensive coordinator Al Borges' system will run a lot more smoothly with Gardner under center.
Gardner, who only appeared sporadically in two games his freshman year in 2010, is petitioning the NCAA to receive a redshirt for that season, giving him two more years of eligibility.
Regardless of whether Gardner wins his bid for a fifth year of eligibility, he will definitely be in line to lead the Wolverines under center next season.
After coming to Ann Arbor as a highly-touted quarterback recruit, Gardner found himself buried on the QB depth chart, forcing him to move to wide receiver to begin this season simply so the Wolverines could utilize his athleticism.
Robinson's elbow injury, which he suffered Oct. 27 at Nebraska, may have been a blessing in disguise for the Wolverines because Gardner was forced to start the next game, and Michigan finally realized what the 6'4", 203-pounder from Detroit could do at quarterback.
Gardner is a perfect candidate for Borges' pro-style system, and with a full year of preparation under his belt, knowing he should be the 2013 Opening Day starter, Gardner will take his game to the next level.
2013 Recruiting Class
The Wolverines will reload in 2013 with Hoke's second full recruiting class.
According to ESPN.com, Michigan has the No. 5 recruiting class in the country for 2013, with 22 commits ranked in the ESPN Top 150.
Led by 6'3", 190-pound quarterback Shane Morris, who's the No. 54 overall recruit in the country, according to ESPN.com, Michigan will have a generous influx of talent and athleticism at several key positions next year.
With Gardner under center for at least the next year, Morris will get a chance to learn the system and will possibly take a redshirt, giving him an extra year of eligibility.
But Morris isn't the only highly-touted incoming freshman next season.
The Wolverines will welcome the services of cornerback Jourdan Lewis, ranked No. 92 overall, athlete Dymonte Thomas, ranked No. 97 overall, and a slew of other players regarded as top 150 prospects nationally.
Hoke was hired in January, 2011, so he wasn't able to fully engage in recruiting for the 2011 campaign, but after a full year of recruiting under his belt before this season, people saw his recruiting prowess come to fruition.
Several true freshmen made a huge impact in big games this season for Michigan, and with the haul the Wolverines have coming in next year, freshman production won't likely decrease.
Hoke is setting his foundation in Ann Arbor, and with brand-new facilities and an eager, dedicated coaching staff, young players are itching to go to Michigan and will be for years to come.
The Wolverines have an extremely favorable schedule next season.
Unlike this season, Michigan will open the 2013 season at home, and next year's opener will be against a mediocre MAC team in Central Michigan.
CMU won't give Michigan a test—or beating, for that matter—like Alabama did open the 2012 campaign, but the Chippewas will give the Wolverines a respectable matchup, allowing them to get the kinks out before facing Notre Dame at home in Week 2.
Michigan lost to Notre Dame on the road this season, but the Wolverines have beaten the Fighting Irish in each of their last three meetings in Ann Arbor.
After the Notre Dame contest, Michigan welcomes the Akron Zips to the Big House before traveling to play Connecticut in Week 4.
UCONN is a mediocre team that Michigan handily defeated, 30-10, in the 2010 season opener, and the Huskies don't exactly have a daunting home-field advantage that will trouble the Wolverines next season.
For the Big Ten slate, Michigan hosts Minnesota, Indiana, Nebraska and Ohio State in Week 6, Week 8, Week 11 and Week 14, respectively.
2013 Big Ten road games include trips to Penn State, Michigan State in Week 7 and Week 10 and back-to-back games at Northwestern and at Iowa before hosting the Buckeyes in Week 14.
Minnesota and Indiana should be relative breezes for the Wolverines, and Michigan will look for revenge at home next year against Nebraska and OSU after road losses this season.
Road games at Northwestern and Iowa won't be too daunting in 2013, but winning at Spartan Stadium and Beaver Stadium against MSU and Penn State is never easy.
Michigan had a much tougher schedule this season than it will next year, and with seven home games, including a home date with the hated rivals at OSU, the Wolverines will have a much easier road to a Big Ten Championship next season.
Michigan Basketball's Success
How can the Michigan basketball team possibly help the football team?
This year's Michigan basketball team is currently ranked No. 3 in the country and drawing major positive attention for the Wolverines.
Just like basketball recruits get taken to Michigan football games during official visits in the fall, football recruits go to the Crisler Center during the winter to see what the athletic atmosphere is like in Ann Arbor.
Similar to the renovation of the football facilities, Michigan has undergone a multi-million dollar upgrade to its basketball facilities, and the Wolverines are already seeing the fruits of their labor.
When football recruits come to the Crisler Center now, they see the dedication to all athletics, beautiful facilities and a mostly full arena rooting on one the best teams in the country.
For football recruits to see a return to prominence in the building down the street, they can get a sense of the direction Michigan athletics is going as a whole.
The Wolverines dominated both major sports in the 90's, but both teams have fallen flat on their face lately.
With the resurgence the basketball team is having, the excitement to come to Ann Arbor becomes that much greater and makes the experience of being a Wolverine that much more enticing.