Brady Hoke's future at Michigan depends on the results of 2014.
There's really no other way to think about it.
Now entering his fourth year as head man in Ann Arbor, Hoke, the ideal "Michigan Man" in the eyes of some and the opposite in the eyes of others, has consistently raised the bar each season only to consistently field a team of impostors with winged helmets.
However, the 11-win campaign followed by an eight-win and seven-win offering stands as the proverbial "proof in the pudding." He's getting better talent, but still falling short where it matters most: On the biggest stages, against the biggest rivals.
The expiration date for Hoke could be as early as September if Team 135 sleepwalks through another fall.
Michigan Must Start 2-0
It's only March, but the future of the football team trumps the Madness. Thinking about August, today, is pretty much the mindset of everyone who religiously follows college football.
And, in case you haven't heard, the Wolverines have quite the fanbase--one which won't accept anything but a pair of triumphant victories to start 2014.
Every fan wants his/her team to win as many as possible before losing. But for Hoke, the next two up are kind of important; they represent a thorn in Michigan's side.
Week 1 provides another chance for an improbable underdog to thoroughly embarrass the Maize and Blue at The Big House.
For obvious reasons, Hoke can't let that happen. Another loss to Appalachian State, which pulled out a dramatic 34-32 victory in 2007, could be grounds for immediate dismissal--yeah, it's that deep.
"To have the University of Michigan invite us back is the ultimate compliment for us as a program and a University," Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said (via AppStateSports.com). "We're grateful for the opportunity to have a new generation of players experience a gameday at the Big House and to test themselves against college football's all-time winningest program."
Moore's words come across as sincere. But he's a coach, and he's going to carefully toe the line when talking about the Wolverines, who'll always be haunted by the ghosts of former Mountaineers Julian Rauch, Corey Lynch and Armani Edwards.
Hoke needs to take care of business Aug. 30 in Ann Arbor before taking Michigan to South Bend for the final time (really, it's done?!) to face the Irish, who popularized "#meatchicken."
The curtain call between winged helmets and golden domes represents the closing of one of the greatest chapters in all of collegiate athletics.
Who wants to lose that one? Certainly not Hoke, whose seat is definitely increasing its temperature.
"We have unbelievable rivalry games at Michigan," Hoke said (via ESPN). "The Notre Dame, that rivalry, which they're chickening out of ... they're still going to play Michigan State, they'll play Purdue; they don't want to play Michigan."
View the schedule here, courtesy of MGoBlue.
If Hoke starts 0-2, it's time to cut ties.
What's the Scenario?
Reaching the Big Ten Championship Game and prepping for a healthy playoff run--yes, playoffs!--is the priority. Hoke doesn't even have to an offer a quote on that one--it's understood.
That being said, losing six of seven to the Spartans would be a bummer, and bowing to Ohio State in "The Game"--which hasn't really been on lately--could do one of two things:
1. Let's say Hoke has a decent year and his only loss comes to the Buckeyes--cool, but not really. There is no shame in having a one-loss record, but giving way to Ohio State is unnatural for men of maize and blue ilk.
2. Let's say Hoke's year is another cluster%^#$%^--a loss to Michigan State, maybe a slip to Notre Dame and loss at Northwestern before playing Urban Meyer's Buckeyes would be catastrophic. A win over Ohio State wouldn't remedy that situation.
Nope. Note even close.
The desperate may view it as "saving the season," but let's be honest and upfront here: Anything less than nine wins probably won't be enough for Hoke to maintain his perch as Ann Arbor's Football God.
That's if he makes it through the season.
Follow Maize 'n Brew's Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81