by P. Carl Giordano, Manging Editor

After posting an 11-2 record, snapping a 7-game series losing streak against archrival Ohio State and beating Virginia Tech in OT in the Sugar Bowl, Brady Hoke (left) has become the toast of Ann Arbor after just one season. For his efforts, Hoke was awarded four different Coach of the Year titles for the 2011 season, including the Maxwell and Bear Bryant awards.

Now the Wolverine faithful expect an encore, and it looks very much as if Hoke’s team and staff will oblige. The job defensive coordinator Greg Mattison did with the Michigan stop unit in 2011 was nothing short of miraculous. The Wolverines looked more like Mattison’s recent Baltimore Raven defenses than the ill-prepared Rich Rodriguez-era unit that ranked as the worst in school history in 2010. Michigan cut its points allowed in half between 2010 and 2011, yielding just 17.4 ppg a year ago after giving up 35.2 and ranking 110th in total defense in 2009. Mattison’s pro-style blitz packages had an immediate and dramatic impact, as opponents were left scratching their heads as the Wolverines climbed to 6th in the nation in scoring defense.

Mattison welcomes back seven starters, including a trio of 5th-year sr. vets in MLB Kenny Demens (led team with 94 stops), SS Jordan Kovacs (2nd LY with 75) and CB J.T. Floyd. Hoke said the defense is much more physical and faster than it was a year ago, and, with sr. DE Craig Roh appearing ready to quickly become a force up front, paired with 322-lb. run stuffing sr. DT Will Campbell, this unit is loaded with potential. Expect big things again from the Wolverine defense in 2012, although improvement year over year to match last season would be nearly impossible. Michigan’s incoming freshman class was loaded with quality defensive players, so any potential holes or injury gaps might be filled quickly.

Offensively, Hoke and o.c. Al Borges have the potential to field one of the Big Ten’s very best attacks, with six senior or 5th-year senior starters back. QB Denard Robinson (right) was 2nd-team all-conference last season and has generated 7,621 yards of total offense while rushing for 30 scores and throwing for 38 more over the last two seasons. Hoke and Borges are intent that Robinson take on an expanded leadership role and cut down on his mistakes, as he threw 15 interceptions last year. Robinson will be operating behind an offensive line returning three starters, including mammoth 2nd-team all-Big Ten left tackle Taylor Lewan, and 6-7 left guard Michael Schofield. One small drawback up front was the graduation of all-Big Ten C David Molk, a loss evident in spring as several bobbled QB-center exchanges miffed the coaching staff.

Although leading 2011 pass catcher Junior Hemingway went on to the Kansas City Chiefs, Borges has a couple of excellent deep threats available, including Jeremy Gallon (2nd on the team with 31 catches last year; a great yards-after-catch receiver) and Roy Roundtree, who was limited to 19 receptions last season but showed a flash of huge upside potential in 2010 when he hauled in 72 passes. Redshirt frosh Jerald Robinson showed in spring that he can stretch defenses and he’ll become an important cog in the passing game.

The attack has a real ace at RB in sr. Fitzgerald Toussaint, who gained 1091 yards and scored 9 times in 12 games last season, leading the team in rushing in 7 of those appearances. Toussaint looks to be an all-conference level player this season. Depth worries at the position were somewhat alleviated with the quality spring performance of soph Thomas Rawls, who ran for 73 yards on 10 carries in rout of Minnesota last season and flashed a physical nature while scoring twice in the spring game.

Summary: Brady Hoke has made obvious inroads with the onfield performance in Ann Arbor, but what’s flown a bit under the radar is the recruiting progress. Hoke hauled in the 7th-rated class of 2012, and his Wolverines are credited with raking in the top-ranked recruiting class of 2013 as well. Beating Michigan State and Ohio State are at the top of the priority list, and a demanding opener against defending champion Alabama in “Jerry Jones Stadium” in Arlington, Texas might keep the Wolverines from national title contention. Hoke is a good fit for the Wolverines, and Michigan football is definitely back.


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