By Larry Lage, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR (AP) – Brady Hoke has had some success at Michigan, winning 11 games in his debut, eight the next season and the first four this year.
The coach, though, covets a Big Ten championship. And he’s still waiting to lead the Wolverines to a title after going 6-2 in conference play in each of his first two seasons.
“We understand what the expectations are and should be for this program,” Hoke said Monday.
Expectations and results haven’t been one and the same with the Wolverines, who have endured their longest drought without a conference championship in a half-century. Michigan’s last Big Ten title was in 2004, and college football’s winningest program hasn’t gone this long without one since the gap between its 1950 and 1964 conference titles.
Hoke and his players desperately want to end that dry spell.
“I can talk for all the seniors, if we can go out with a Big Ten championship, there would be no better way to end the season,” said fifth-year senior offensive tackle Michael Schofield, who was recruited by ex-coach Rich Rodriguez. “That’s all of our goals right now and we’re working toward that every day. Especially at the start of Big Ten play, that’s on our minds.”
The 19th-ranked Wolverines (4-0) can move a small step toward their goal by beating Minnesota (4-1, 0-1) in their Big Ten opener Saturday at home. They’ve been able to rest since rallying from a 14-point, second-half deficit to stay undefeated Sept. 21 at Connecticut.
“We’re excited to start the Big Ten season, excited to play in the oldest trophy game that there is for the Brown Jug with Minnesota,” Hoke said. “And, we got a lot of work to do as you all know.”
Michigan opened the season by routing Central Michigan and beating Notre Dame 41-30, then needed a goal-line stand to avoid an upset against Akron and needed the second-largest comeback on the road in school history to get past the Huskies.
The Golden Gophers lost their conference opener 23-7 to Iowa on Saturday at home after starting the season with four nonconference wins.
The Wolverines are a three-touchdown favorite to defeat Minnesota, but they will have tough tests the following week on the road against Penn State and in November at Michigan State, against Nebraska and in the regular-season finale against Ohio State at the Big House.
To win the Big Ten title, Michigan has to figure out a way to do a better job of moving the ball on the ground to take pressure off quarterback Devin Gardner. Part of the solution might include benching center Jack Miller or one of both of the offensive guards, Graham Glasgow and Kyle Kalis. Hoke would like the trio of first-year starters to stick together and jell, but he seems to be losing patience while waiting for production.
“That might be more critical than chemistry,” Hoke said. “We have to put the guys in there that give us the best chance to be successful.
“We wouldn’t have a problem making a change, if that’s what we deem we ought to do,” he said.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.