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2011 Michigan football preview: Hoke faces uphill battle

Brady Hoke will lead the 2011 Wolverines
Brady Hoke will lead the 2011 WolverinesGetty ImaGES

Brady Hoke waited his entire life for this. And he wants it to be perfect.

But it’s not going to be perfect. And he admits he’s nervous.

“We’re not ready to play,” said the new University of Michigan football coach earlier this week. “We get to play and that’s a good thing. We get to see where we’re at as a team and as a program. My nervousness only comes from that we’re crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s.”

Hoke takes over as the new coach of the nation’s all-time winningest team on Saturday as the Wolverines host Western Michigan at 3:30 p.m. at the Big House in a game broadcast on ABC/ESPN.

Hoke, who hired on last January, has spent most of the last nine months talking about how “he can’t wait” to take the field and lead the Maize and Blue. But now that the time is come, he isn’t quite as gung ho.

Because Hoke knows all about Michigan’s tradition and history on the gridiron and wants desperately to get the program turned back toward its winning heritage. And Hoke knows, although he will never admit it, that the team he will lead out of the tunnel is not talented enough to win consistently in the rugged Big Ten.

You know the story. Michigan went to a bowl game nearly every year from 1969 until the time Rich Rodriguez was hired to replace Lloyd Carr following the 2007 season. Rodriguez won big in West Virginia, only a game away from the national championship game, with an all-out spread offense that simply didn’t work in the physical Big Ten.

After two straight losing season, Michigan was a winner last year at 7-6, but was embarrassed against quality teams and ended the season with three losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State and Mississippi State by a combined score of 137-45.

Hoke has excited the Michigan community with his energy, attention to detail and willingness to embrace Michigan’s strong tradition, based on power football.

But he inherits a team that was not only the worst defensively in the Big Ten last year, it was ranked 108 in the nation. And the kicking game was simply the worst.

Michigan released its depth chart for Saturday’s game and on offense all looks good. Here’s the starters:

QB – Denard Robinson, FB – John McColgan, TB – Mike Shaw or Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR – Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway, LT – Taylor Lewan, LG – Ricky Barmum, C – David Molk, RG – Partick Omameh, RT – Mark Huyge and TE – Kevin Koger.

Robinson, McClogan, Roundtree, Hemingway, Lewan, Molk, Huyge and Koger are all returing starters. Robinson was the nation’s leading rushing quarterback last year and is the returning Big Ten offensive player of the year. Molk is the best offensive lineman and Koger is a team captain. Shaw should start over Toussaint.

Here’s the defense: DE – Craig Roh and Will Henninger, DT – Mike Martin and Ryan Van Berge, SLB – Cam Gordon, MLB – Kenny Demens, WLB – Mike Johnes, LCB – Troy Wolfolk, RCB – J.T. Floyd, SS – Jordan Kovacs, FS – Thomas Gordon.

The tackles are both strong and getting Troy Wolfolk back after he missed most of last season with an injury will help, but the rest are all a question mark. Kovacs, a former walk-on, is undersized but he is a good tackler. The others will get their chance.

A big question mark is a kicker as returner Brendan Gibbons is back after suffering a miserable season last year. Freshman Matt Wile will try the long kicks and he could step in if Gibbons falters.

Look for Michigan to get off to a good start. The early schedule isn’t tough. They open with Western Michigan and their first five games are a home. But the Wolverines finish the season with four straight rough ones --- at Iowa, at Illinois, against Nebraska and then Ohio State.

But it week two Michigan hosts Notre Dame in the first night game ever at the Big House. It will be a big test for the Wolverines and Brady Hoke.

We’ll find out a lot about Michigan that night under the lights.But at this point it all comes down to this -- can Michigan stop the big play on defense and can they tackle? They will have to. Or it will be a very long season.

For more information: mgoblue, annarbor.com, espn

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