Is the Hoker Going to be the Next Coker?
Brady Hoke in his first year as Michigan's head coach had as good a season in 2011 as you could hope for. His team won 11 games and a BCS bowl. This season, his team is considered a favorite to win the Big Ten. Even though the team overall has looked strong, you wonder what things might be like for the Wolverines after Denard Robinson graduates. Larry Coker came on strong initially as coach of the Miami Hurricanes, winning the national championship in his first season with the players that he inherited. Things didn't go quite so well in the years that followed. Is Hoke in danger of seeing the same thing happen to his team?
Coo Coo Ca-choo Mr. Robinson
The big question about Michigan's performance thus far under Hoke is where the team might have been without Robinson. He accounted for five touchdowns running and passing in the miraculous comeback win against Notre Dame. He kept the game against San Diego State from getting too close with 200 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. He paired a 337-yard passing day with 117 yards rushing and four touchdowns at Northwestern. His 82% passing, 170 yards rushing and five touchdowns against Ohio State were critical to getting his team to the Sugar Bowl. Likewise, he accounted for Michigan's only two touchdowns in the overtime win against Virginia Tech. Without Robinson, you could have been talking about a six or seven win team. That might have been sufficient for a coach in the first year of a rebuilding project, but how easy is it to replicate without a player of Robinson's caliber?
The top reserves behind Robinson are technically dual-threat quarterbacks. So far, neither has shown anywhere near Robinson's explosiveness as a runner. Devin Gardner was a highly rated recruit out of high school and appears to be in line to succeed Robinson as the starter. Gardner's netted just 53 rushing yards on 25 carries in 2011 and completed less than 48% of his passes with one touchdown and one interception. His build reminds you of Cody Green. Unfortunately for Michigan, so far his play does too. Russell Bellomy hasn't seen the field yet for Michigan and was more lightly regarded out of high school than Gardner. Pro-style quarterback prospect Shane Morris has committed to the class of 2013 and might represent the future prototype at Michigan. You can get Barry Switzer's opinion on immobile quarterbacks right here. Let's just say he's not a fan.
Michigan coaches are often judged based on their performance against Ohio State. The hire of Urban Meyer in Columbus makes that annual showdown a lot tougher. Braxton Miller, a dynamic dual-threat quarterback and younger player than Robinson, also makes that a tall order. As for OSU's long-term strategy at the quarterback position? It's fair to say that Switzer would approve. The same can be said for Nebraska's strategy behind center.
Hoke could match or exceed last year's win total in 2012, but if his team drops back to seven-win territory in the years that follow, his days will be numbered. Coker won a national championship his first season and just missed another in year two. Things regressed noticeably (but not horribly) in the three seasons that followed. By his sixth season his team had fallen to 6-6 and a bid to the MPC Computers Bowl (predecessor to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl). Could Hoke be headed down a similar path? It's not hard to see things cool once Robinson departs. Whether he can replace the kind of production that Robinson provides will be the million dollar question. Otherwise, a TicketCity Bowl bid could be his ticket out of Ann Arbor.