Since Brady Hoke took office with the Michigan Wolverines in 2011, an outstanding emphasis has been put on the importance of rivalry games. Hoke loves it, and the fans love it in return. But after back-to-back seasons of finishing 1-3 against the Wolverines’ three main rivals (Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State), 2014 needs to be a year of resurgence for these staple games on the calendar.
Hoke’s overall record of 4-5 against Michigan’s rivals isn’t too terrible. After all, Michigan State and Ohio State have been near the top of the college football world almost the entire time Hoke has been in Ann Arbor, and that 2012 Notre Dame team went all the way to the national championship. And if you really want to start thinking about it, how close is Hoke to being 5-4 in these games? He’s a two-point conversion away from having a winning record against the Buckeyes heading into his fourth season.
Fans are increasingly growing impatient as they await the results we all witnessed in 2011, when Michigan marched to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl victory. What a way to kick off your tenure, right? But it’s been a progressive decent in the two years following, and that’s what makes losses to rivals sting so sharply.
Certainly Hoke isn’t on a very hot seat heading into this season; Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon has publicly been a big fan of his football coach, and the recent hire of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has breathed some hope into what was very recently a mopey fanbase for the most part.
This season Michigan has to travel for all three games, which puts a serious damper on the likelihood of perfection. To be perfectly realistic, the Wolverines would be extremely grateful to walk away with two wins — at Notre Dame and at Ohio State. Michigan isn’t ready to hang with its “little brother” in 2014, although Devin Gardner and company could have a little easier time getting points on the board. But even Notre Dame is a stretch this season. The Irish are getting dynamic quarterback Everett Golson back, and even though Tommy Rees won’t be there to clean up any messes, there are options to be found all over the place on offense.
If Michigan loses all three rivalry games this season — which they very well could — Hoke probably still remains safe as head coach of the Wolverines. Of course, that’s not to say a three-win season doesn’t get him the boot, but realistically speaking, Michigan is going to be another middle-of-the-pack team in 2014. Two wins — it doesn’t matter which ones — would tremendously help Hoke and his image, as well as the team. Michigan hasn’t won two of these three games since that 2011 season. Plus, with Notre Dame playing “chicken,” who knows when these two teams might play again.
Rivalries are such an important part of Michigan football, and Michigan’s performance the last three years hasn’t completely warranted all the negativity being tossed at Hoke. What hasn’t helped is a two-year stretch of mediocrity. That’s why Hoke needs to get it going again this season against the Wolverines’ rivals. It’s one thing to talk about its importance; it’s another to play it out.