Published Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 11:07 pm
Barfknecht: Hoke’s Wolverines have yet to meet great expectations

EAST LANSING, Mich. — It looks like another wasted football season for Michigan.

Don’t jump me for writing that. That’s according to UM coach Brady Hoke, or at least the gospel he has preached at Big Ten media days since his arrival three years ago.

“If we don’t win the Big Ten championship, it’s a failure,” he said before the 2012 season, in which Michigan went 8-5. “We all know the expectation. If we don’t meet it, then we’ve failed.”

Hoke repeated that in July.

“It’s Michigan,” he said. “It’s the burden we carry. When anyone says ‘Michigan,’ they’re talking about 11 national championships and 42 Big Ten championships. So if we don’t win it, like I’ve said, we’ve failed.”

Failure arrived like a sledgehammer Saturday when Michigan State walloped the Wolverines 29-6 — the largest margin of victory for MSU in the series in 46 years.

The only way Michigan avoids “failure” this season and claims the Legends Division title is this:

Win its remaining four games, which includes Nebraska at home this week and a Nov. 30 date with No. 4 Ohio State, while Michigan State loses its final three games (at Nebraska, at Northwestern, Minnesota).

Even if that somehow fell into place, Michigan would have to beat Ohio State again a week later in the Big Ten championship game to claim its first title since 2004.

I get what Hoke preaches. I like setting the bar high. If you don’t have an internal standard of excellence for your program, who will? That’s how it should be at places like Michigan and Nebraska.

Hoke is a likable sort. Though he’s a “Michigan man,” he’s a little rumpled, talks plainly, wears short-sleeved shirts on cold days and has an underrated sense of humor.

He also has strong respect in the business because he has won at places that, by their limited financial commitment, show they don’t care much about football (Ball State and San Diego State).

The question with coaches like that is when they move to a blue-blood program, can they duplicate high-level success. When no longer an underdog — physically or fiscally — the mindset must adjust.

Hoke has figured out how to use the Michigan name in recruiting. ranked his 2012 class No. 7 and his 2013 class No. 5. His 2014 class is No. 17. Among the signees or commitments are four five-star prospects and 32 four-stars.

But those high-falutin’ recruits aren’t translating into championship-caliber play very quickly.

Michigan State, which has won five of the past six games in this rivalry, has recruiting-class rankings in that same span of Nos. 41, 40 and 36, with no five-stars and eight four-stars.

MSU coach Mark Dantonio was asked why he is 5-2 as a head coach against Michigan using mostly two- and three-star recruits.

“I can’t tell you why,” he said. “All I can tell you is we do what we do. It’s what you do with the players you have and your belief system.”

Michigan under Hoke hasn’t made the mark many expected.

His teams have lacked toughness in certain situations, indicated by Hoke’s home record (19-0) vs. road (6-9). So-called signature wins are hard to find, too. The offense remains stuck in an identity crisis because the offensive line and running back play has been average, and the defense lacks eye-opening playmakers.

Though some Wolverine fans are grumpy, Hoke isn’t getting heat from anyone at the school who matters. But many more “failures” will soon get everyone’s attention.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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