clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Look at Michigan Football

New, comments

Three years at Michigan have given me all different types of highs and lows, but there is no bigger gap then the high as a freshman against Notre Dame and the low as a senior against Ohio State. These two experiences left me we a split personality when it comes to Michigan football, with the crazy Mr. Hyde believing beyond a doubt in the future of Michigan Football while the reality focused Dr. Jekyll fears for their future. Who is right? I wish I knew.

Brady Hoke talks during Big Ten Media Days
Brady Hoke talks during Big Ten Media Days
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

During my three years at Michigan I have experienced a roller coaster ride from the epic high of that first Night Game to the tremendous low of poorly thrown ball to Drew Dileo. Even after seeing 17 and a half games in person (I left last years Akron game at halftime) I have no idea what to think of Brady Hoke and his Michigan Wolverines. The starry-eyed Mr. Hyde wants to believe Michigan football is B1G contender, while the more educated Dr. Jekyll knows Michigan football is a team that was one Akron pass away from being a historical low point. Which one of these personalities is right?  Why don't we let Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll duke it out and find out.

Mr. Hyde - Michigan will be good because Brady Hoke has been unlucky since 2011

Any argument about Michigan Football has to start and end with Brady Hoke. He has the home record and trash talk that is the stuff of legends, but the downward trends have many people wondering if he is the 11-2 coach of 2011 or the 7-6 coach of 2013. What does the optimist think? 11-3 of course!

2011 is the one year of Brady Hoke's career where his system was truly in place and the results speak for themselves. Sure there were a couple of close wins, including over Notre Dame and Virginia Tech but the Iowa loss could just have easily been a win. The point is winning close games takes skill, not just luck. Injury on the other hand is luck, bad luck. Bad luck like a career altering injury to star QB Denard Robinson.

Fresh off a monkey-off-back win over Michigan State in 2012, Michigan rolled into Lincoln looking to lock up the Legends division. Trailing 7-3 in the second quarter Denard Robinson rushed for 7 yards and setup Michigan with a 1st and Goal against one of the worst defense in the Big Ten, but it all changed when Denard came off the field. We all know what happens after that. Bellomy comes in, struggles, throw three picks and Michigan gives up its best chance at a Big Ten Title in years. Michigan would go on to win their with Gardner before dropping two to OSU and South Carolina, while the Badgers embarrassed Nebraska in the B1G Title Game.

This was luck. Bad luck, but still luck. Were Denard to stay in that game odds are Michigan wins that game and goes on to win the Legends Division. Don't believe me? Read about that game again and tell me that Denard doesn't win that game. Denard stays healthy, Michigan wins the legends, probably beats Wisconsin and faces a weak Stanford team in the Rose Bowl. Brady Hoke gets two BCS Bowls, 1 B1G title and around 20 wins in his first two seasons. This is the coach Brady Hoke really is. This is what Michigan football really is.

Dr. Jekyll - Michigan will be bad because Brady Hoke was lucky in 2011

Except that's not what Michigan football really is. Thats what San Francisco 49ers football is. Brady Hoke had a ton of Rich Rod talent and systems in place when he arrived and the benefit of eight home games with losses in the two real road trips to MSU and Iowa. He won an impossible game against Notre Dame, should have lost against Ohio State and was given a win by a fluke injury to the Virginia Tech kicker. 11-3? More like 8-7, which conveniently is how he followed it up.

Enter 2012 when all things seem great before an absolute pounding by Alabama. Brady Hoke's sophomore season featured a way-too-close 7 point win over Air Force, a probably-should-have-lost 2 point win over Michigan State and a God-really-hates-Northwestern win over, well... Northwestern. Even assuming those first two wins are offset by close losses to OSU and South Carolina and you are still reasonably looking at a 7-8 team. Unless you chalk Roundtree's catch as some sort of Hoke-planned underthrow, juggle, pray play, then yeah 8-7!

Then comes 2013 when all will be good because Lewan is back, Hoke's systems are in place, there's a good arm under center and early win over Notre Dame! Then Akron and UConn and Gibbons and Penn State and Sparty and Nebraska and three OT's against Northwestern (a game I completely forgot happened) and Iowa and OSU and Kansas State and do I need to continue? It wasn't good. Brady Hoke was lucky in 2011, but true to form in 2013.

Mr. Hyde - Michigan will be good because Michigan State and Ohio State are overrated

With all due respect to Sparty and the Bucks, they simply aren't as good as everybody claims. Sorry Mark, no amount of playoff spots leads to MSU winning the National Title last year. Why? Because Florida State, Auburn or Alabama would have pounded Michigan State. Florida State lost to no one, Auburn lost to LSU and Florida State and Alabama lost to Auburn while Michigan State lost to Notre Dame. This doesn't even get into strength of schedule, which does not favor the Spartans. MSU is not on the elite level some fans like to think they are.

The same can be said of Ohio State, who cruised through the season undefeated along with Florida State. The difference? Florida State pounded Clemson, Miami, Florida and Duke while Ohio State narrowly escaped Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan. All of this before losing badly to MSU and Clemson.

What does all this mean for Michigan? The Big Ten is open, not wide open but open. MSU and OSU lost a lot of a talent, showed cracks and will be riding high coming into the year. If Michigan can improve upon the bright spots of last year (when they competed with OSU on their best day) they can compete against the two "elites" in the Big Ten.

Dr. Jekyll - Michigan will be bad because Michigan State and Ohio State are not overrated

All of the above about MSU and OSU is true with a national perspective. No they are not true title contenders and no they would not have beaten Florida State or Auburn. However they are on a different level then Michigan. The wins speak for themselves, as the two combined for 33 wins and 1 loss before the Big Ten Title game. Sure they lost talent but the Narduzzi defense has talent in spades and Braxton Miller hasn't gone anywhere. The Big Ten is still weak on a national scale, but Michigan is far away from competing with these two.

Mr. Hyde - Michigan will be good because the Al Borges offense is gone

I am divided on Brady Hoke. I am not divided on Al Borges. They could have replaced him with "Ask Madden" and I would have been thrilled but they went the extra mile and went out and got Doug Nussemeier. This is about the same as switching Jim Schwartz with Chip Kelly and the results will speak for themselves. Nuss ran a machine at Bama with a pro style offense based off low talent running backs (ask the Browns and Colts if Trent Richardson is as good as he appeared to be) and consistently efficient passing (AJ McCarron threw 28 touchdowns to 7 interceptions). Replacing Borges ends an up and down offense based around the old fashioned "Run forward regardless of down, distance or defense" play and can only improve Michigan.

Dr. Jekyll - Michigan will be bad because most of the offense is gone too

On the other hand, a coordinator is useless if the players he has to coordinate can't compete. Michigan's offensive line was bad last year and that was before losing two very good starters. There isn't much analysis to be made here. A bad unit two starters including one NFL first rounder. Did I mention they lost Jeremy Gallon too? Good for Tom Brady, bad for Michigan.

Mr. Hyde - Michigan will be good because the home schedule is very easy

The same reason that has Michigan struggling to fill seats and sell tickets is the same reason Michigan will be good next season. Michigan will likely be favored in every game at home as they play Appalachian State, Miami of Ohio, Utah, Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana, Maryland. Say what you will about Brady Hoke, but he's only lost 2 games at home and this year looks like another 8-0 homestand. Take just of 2 of 5 on the road from Notre Dame, Rutgers, MSU, Northwestern and OSU and you've got a 10-3 team.

Dr. Jekyll - Michigan will be bad because the road schedule is very hard

Huh... maybe it won't be that bad. Even the road schedule is tough the home schedule is so easy. Even 1-4 on the road probably gets you to 9-4 with a decent Bowl Game. Fair enough, Michigan may be good next year thanks to strength of schedule alone.

Mr. Hyde - Michigan will be good because the team is full of unproven talent

Jabrill Peppers is coming to Michigan, Derrick Green has lost weight, Shane Morris could take the starting job, the O-Line is refurbished and there are even more young, unproven players ready to make an impact on the field. Michigan is the biggest wild card in the Big Ten and a large part of that is due to raw talent. If Brady Hoke can turn his highly touted recruiting classes into victories on the field, Michigan will be much better in 2014.

Dr. Jekyll - Michigan will be bad because the team is full of unproven talent

Unless Peppers disappoints, Green returns lighter but just as slow, Morris and Gardner struggle, the O-Line is refurbished in the sense that an 81' honda is refurbished and all the young players sort of fizzle out. This the biggest question for Michigan and out of all these reasons is probably the one that will most affect the outcome. If the underclassman underperform the team will struggle, if they shine so will the team.

--

So there you have it, 5 reasons why Michigan could be great and 5 reasons why Michigan could be good. Which reasons are right and which are wrong are up to the football gods to decide. For what it's worth, I have Michigan at 9-3 with losses to MSU, Northwestern and an undetermined upset at home but wins over OSU and Notre Dame.