The team improved from Rodriguez's high-water mark of 7-6 in his final season in 2010 to 11-2 during Hoke's first year at the helm of the program in 2011.
The Michigan Wolverines put the college football nation on notice—we're back.
Michigan had its "Michigan Man" and proved that its brand of football didn't need the tinkering of the Rodgriguez era. It even beat Ohio State for the first time since 2003 and won the 2012 Sugar Bowl to cap it all off.
What more could you want out of your head coach's debut season?
Furthermore, what could Hoke do when he didn't have to mold his style to Rodriguez- recruited players?
Michigan started 2012 ranked No. 8 in the preseason and were going to be a national contender once again—forget about just contending in the Big Ten. However, since that lofty ranking the Wolverines have been anything but back to their old ways before Rodriguez.
Any thoughts of Michigan being back to its old ways were quickly put to rest in the season opener, as defending national champion Alabama beat the Wolverines 41-14 at Cowboys Stadium.
Michigan finished 2012 with an 8-5 record and bookended its season with losses to the SEC, as South Carolina beat the Wolverines in the Outback Bowl.
The good news was that the Wolverines posted the same 6-2 Big Ten record as they had in Hoke's first year. They just needed to get more of his players ready to go and this team would take off.
Clearly 2012 wasn't the year of the return of Michigan, but everything was supposed to go back to 2011 levels in 2013.
All the signs were there this time around:
- Al Borges could finally run his pro-style offense with Denard Robinson graduated and off to the NFL.
- Taylor Lewan spurned the NFL draft for one final go-around in the Maize and Blue
- Michigan was bringing in a second straight Top 10 recruiting class (according to 247sports.com).
It all added up to Michigan being a co-favorite to win the Legends Division, as per MLive, and to play Ohio State for the conference crown in Indianapolis.
But once again, this season hasn't gone like the prognosticators thought it would.
Devin Gardner, the quarterback who got starts in five games in 2012, hasn't turned out to be the pro-style answer people thought he could be. He's thrown 13 touchdowns to 11 interceptions while completing just 59.9 percent of his passes.
Lewan and the rest of the offensive line have struggled, giving up 19 sacks already, and it hasn't helped Gardner's progression.
The running game is weak, ranking 10th in the Big Ten with just 154.9 yards a game, and there seems to be little answer as to what ails the run game either.
All of that was never more evident than when Michigan struggled to to beat Akron and UConn in back-to-back weeks in mid-September.
Akron and UConn have combined to go 3-14 so far this year, yet Michigan won those two games by a combined seven points.
Those narrow wins were a sign that Michigan wasn't quite who most thought it was in the preseason, and in Big Ten play, things have gotten worse. After righting the ship in a blowout of rival Minnesota, the Wolverines have lost two of their last three games and now are in real danger of missing out on the Big Ten championship game once again.
Add in the fact that the last loss was a physical beatdown from in-state rival Michigan State, and the critics are growing in number.
Hoke's record against the Wolverines' biggest rivals and best opponents also has the critics raising their voice.
Michigan is just 4-4 under Brady Hoke against rivals Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State (1-1 against Ohio State, 1-2 against Michigan State and 2-1 against Notre Dame). The team is just 1-2 against teams from BCS automatic qualifying conferences, losing twice to SEC opponents and beating Virginia Tech in the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
However, don't count Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon amongst his critics, as he gave Hoke his full support following the latest loss in a report from the Associated Press (via FoxNews.com).
The results on the field don't add up, considering Michigan's recruiting classes over the past few years. It's not as if the majority of them aren't seeing the field or have been biding their time behind established players. Guys like Kyle Kalis, Ondre Pipkins, Chris Wormley, Devin Funchess, Mario Ojemudia, Jehu Chesson, Derrick Green and Joe Bolden have played significant roles and some are full-time starters as well.
Even with those players from amazing, nationally recognized classes, Hoke hasn't seen the results pay off on the field.
Perhaps the greatest sign of struggle has been his inability to mold his philosophy to his players.
Offensively, the Wolverines would like to be a power-running team with a pro-style passing game, but that hasn't panned out thanks to a mess on the offensive line and a quarterback that isn't a pro-style fit.
Defensively, the Wolverines have failed to be the physically dominant group that Hoke, a defensive coach by trade, and Greg Mattison have wanted. It's led to a pass defense that's ranked 11th in the Big Ten, giving up 255 yards a game and 15 touchdowns (tied for second most in the Big Ten).
In today's college football world, three years is a lifetime, and for Michigan, the return on the Brady Hoke era has provided a lot of promise, but not a lot of meaningful results.
Michigan clearly has a long way to go under Hoke, or anyone else, to be "back" to its old self. The question is, just how long will the Wolverines give him to prove he's the right man for the job?
*Andy Coppens is the lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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