I don't think there's anyway you can be disappointed with the start they've had. In the last two years, they had some nice starts, but there were clear vulnerabilities to the team which were exposed by the Big Ten schedule. This team barely beat UMass last year. Should we have expected things to be different? Not really, because they gave us no reason to be more optimistic. That defense was just that bad.
And that's why this season, we're more optimistic. The defense is much better and the in game coaching, so far as making adjustments, has been much better as well. We've given up points to Notre Dame and Northwestern, but they've made the necessary adjustments to stop them from scoring more points and winning the game. That's the hope right there. That's why all of us are setting our sights on more wins than we did coming into the season.
To evaluate the program, I think you have to look at expectations of the new coach coming in. It wasn't pretty. A lot of people doubted him. I just re-read the 2010 thread and I had flashbacks of how much doubt there was when he was initially hired. It was understandable given that Coach Hoke was 47-50 coming into the season and didn't have a huge profile. I think you have to look at it from three fronts, recruiting, on the field, and players going to the NFL. I'll touch up on recruiting and producing NFL players.Recruiting/Keeping players:
I was one of the first on this site to defend the Hoke hiring, but I did express my concern when we started losing commits
at the beginning. I don't think that anyone can say that Hoke and the coaching staff, who also deserve a lot of credit, have disappointed us. They closed the last class strong, and though they have had some guys leave, they have at least had one solid player (future star?) in Blake Countess. Freshmen don't normally make an impact right away, so it's a wait and see with the rest of the class. Some of the others have played, like Rawls, Beyer, and Morgan, but they haven't adapted as quickly as Countess.
Furthermore, Hoke did a good job of keeping players. The first concern was keeping Denard, and Hoke did that. I don't know how much of a chance there was that Denard was going to leave in the first place, given what he's said, but it was a concern to all of us. He had a couple players leave, but they weren't key players/contributers (unless you really liked Vinopal). We don't know exactly how much work he had to do on some of the younger players who may have wavered. Fact is that there wasn't an outflow of veteran talent. He got the guys to buy into the system and the program.
Going forward, the current commits look awesome. What was more important than anything was to reestablish the core recruiting for the program. By making in roads in Michigan and Ohio, Hoke has recaptured players that may have erred to different schools, including rivals. He has been able to capitalize on the uncertainty down south and he's also taken away the advantage that Michigan State has had in state. I know recruiting may not have a direct correlation with the play on the field, but by depriving both of these rival schools of some of this talent, those teams should be weakened comparatively as a result and Michigan should be better off.
As for the individual players, Hoke seems to have really addressed the positions of need. We're losing a lot of linemen in the next couple years on both sides of the ball, so it was important to get new blood coming in. In addition, Hoke's preaches toughness, so he needed to get in the type of players that fit into his system. He has done that on both sides of the ball. We've also seen him bring in a lot of other defensive players. While the guys that have been here are doing a good job now, it is important to get guys that fit better into the system coming in. He's done that by bringing in aggressive linebackers and ballhawking defensive backs. These players haven't even enrolled at the University, but I can't say I haven't tried to imagine what our defense is going to look like in a few years.
Furthermore, Hoke has done a great job of looking forward. Once he got the players into the 2012 class, he looked at the 2013 class and made important inroads there. He's got the commitment of one of the top quarterbacks in Shane Morris. I can't understate how excited I am about his commitment. He also reeled in Dymonte Thomas who is one of the most talented safeties. That's not including the impressions he's made on some of the other top recruits in the 2013 class. I like that Hoke's looking to the future. It shows us as fans or alumni or students that there will be continuity and a sustained level of expectation. NFL Players:
The one player we knew that was going to the NFL prior to this season was Mike Martin. He has been the one bright spot in one of the worst defenses. You could probably have made the case for David Molk to as a mid to later round pick. Other than that, a lot of these guys might have been undrafted pick ups. With the improvement of the defense this year, I think it's foreseeable to see a guy like Ryan van Bergen working his way into the draft. Furthermore, you have guys like Craig Roh and Taylor Lewan playing up to their potential. The future seems a lot brighter as far as producing NFL caliber players. That's fantastic because besides Brandon Graham and Zoltan Mesko, there really haven't been many recent players going to the NFL. It's important to have a presence, not only Saturdays, but also on Sundays. It looks like there'll be some new Michigan players in the NFL.Conclusion:
A lot of the negative perceptions that were attached to the program have been lifted and Hoke seems to have brought some of that Michigan arrogance/swagger back. There's a lot of reason for excitement. For Hoke, the remaining test is how his teams perform down the stretch and in rivalry games. Rich Rodriguez had a 6-18 record against the Big Ten, with 3 of those wins coming last season and the only ranked win over a #9/8 Wisconsin team (that was a miracle). Additionally, he was 2-7 in rivalry games against Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State. That just didn't cut it. Hoke has already beaten Notre Dame, but the true tests will be Michigan State and Ohio State. He has a big chance to prove himself in the eyes of many alumni by beating State this Saturday. There's still a lot of things that Hoke has to prove to us, but I think a lot of us like the direction we're head, especially CS who hated Rich Rod.
Bring the Paul Bunyan Trophy home, Brady.