Note to readers: Thanks for sticking around for the second entry into this three-part series on Hoke's potential to hit the magical nine-win plateau. The talent is there to accomplish such a feat. But is the coaching? Once again, a tip of the cap is necessary--thanks to the readers for contributing to what has been a great discussion thus far.
Entering Week 6, Hoke shouldn't have anything less than a 4-1 record. Really, 5-0 would be ideal. And it wouldn't be out of the ordinary, either. The Wolverines have enjoyed quick starts under Hoke--it's the rest of the season that's been the problem.
That being said, let's take a peek at the next trio of opponents and discuss how Hoke can come out on the good end.
Week 6 at Rutgers
As the new kids on the block, the Scarlet Knights will get their first taste of Michigan this fall on their own turf, also known as Piscataway, N.J. Not exactly a powerhouse program, Rutgers--at least on paper--doesn't pose much of a threat to Hoke.
However, first-time meetings can be unpredictable, so don't completely rule out a strong effort by the Scarlet Knights, who've had just four nine-win seasons since 1976 (tons of four- and five-winners, though). Coach Kyle Flood could kick-start an upward trend if he were to fend off the maize and blue.
Of course, that's not likely--not at all, really. Flood has struggled while recruiting, and it's doubtful that 2014 will be the year that he stands toe-to-toe with one of NCAA football's historically great teams. In all likelihood, the bout will serve as a great teaching tool for the Big Ten's eastern children.
How Michigan can win: Rutgers will have to play Big Ten-style football. It's part of league membership. Running the ball, obviously, has long been a staple of conference contenders. The Scarlet Knights have a pair of running backs capable of ringing up the yards, sophomore Justin Goodwin and senior Paul James.
James led the team with 881 yards, nine touchdowns and an average of 5.6 yards per touch. Goodwin finished with 521 yards, five touchdowns and an average of 4.7 yards per carry. Basically, they guarantee five yards per call and two carries would move the chains.
That type of offense is difficult to stop. Controlling the line of scrimmage is the key to this one. That, of course, has been a weakness during the past few years, so look for the Scarlet Knights to exploit that area.
Week 7 vs. Penn State
Avenging this past season's 43-40 4OT loss is a must. It was thoroughly embarrassing and discouraging. Making strides each week, the secondary appeared as if it had no clue on how to defend the deep ball--and it fell victim to a notorious deep-ball threat, Lions wideout Allen Robinson.
Luckily for Michigan, Robinson declared for the NFL Draft. No more Hail Mary-catches that send should-have-won games into overtime.
How Michigan can win: James Franklin is the new sheriff in town, and those in Happy Valley are yearning for the former Vanderbilt coach to get the post-Joe Paterno era in full swing.
Bill O'Brien, the other former coach, helped to restore normalcy--but he just bolted for greener pastures(?!), taking over as head coach of the Houston Texans instead of continuing what he started at Penn State.
Franklin will undoubtedly have his players ready for Hoke. They know how much knocking off the Wolverines at The Big House means to visitors. Keeping Christian Hackenberg, an all-leaguer in the making, at bay and beneath a metric ton of duress should be the No. 1 priority.
Week 8 (Bye Week)
By this point, the Wolverines will be in need of a rest after potential dogfights with Notre Dame and Penn State. Game plan, game plan, game plan--that'll be the buzzword Oct. 18...
...Because the Spartans invite Hoke to their place for a date Oct. 25 in East Lansing.
Week 9 at Michigan State
Winners of five of the past six, the 2014 Rose Bowl and Malik McDowell Sweepstakes, Mark Dantonio's Spartans are riding high these days.
Too high, really.
Hoke's in clear and immediate danger--each year, he slips further behind his in-state counterpart, and that's not what Michigan football needs right now. Hoke hasn't had great luck against Ohio State, either. But losing to the Spartans, who until recently have been dominated by the Wolverines, seems to grind Hoke beyond recognition.
Lost, a little out of focus--he just doesn't seem the same after dropping one to Coach D.
And it's certainly not a pleasant experience for fans, who haven't enjoyed a solid victory since the "Little Brother" comeback of 2007, led by Mike Hart, Chad Henne and Mario Manningham.
How Michigan can win: Regardless of record, which should be in the realm of one or two losses, beating Dantonio is a must. That can't be stressed enough. Honestly, another 12-10, field-goal-laden victory would be better than the alternatives, which have been spankings.
Stopping Connor Cook, the Rose Bowl-winning quarterback, and his weapons will be near the top of the list. Typically, corking receivers during early stages works wonders. Michigan State found out that Cook could throw, so look for Dantonio to dial up plenty of calls involving the second-year starter's arm.
It'd also be a good idea for Devin Gardner to forget 2013 and focus on what he can change--and that's future performances. Not at his best, he saw the floor more times than his team saw the endzone. Beaten, battered and abused, the junior who was supposed to be on the rise served as moving-target practice for one of the nation's most rabid defenses.
That can be avoided. Protection is necessary, and Gardner's O-Line afforded less than a smidgen of coverage.
Big Ten football is all about trench control. Having and maintaining a stock of skilled athletes make sa difference, but taking ownership of the line of scrimmage always takes priority over making highlight-reel plays.
Hit Michigan State in the mouth--on both sides of the ball, starting with the ball-carriers.
Perhaps watching old film of Butch Woolfolk carving up the green and white D-Line would suffice? Maybe classic footage of Tim Biakabutuka would spur production and results?
Hoke can win nine games if he and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier develop the backs.
Follow Maize 'N Brew's Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81