By Chris Emma-
(CBS) At Michigan, there are two dire rules a football coach must follow. Beat your rivals and protect the Big House.
Brady Hoke has failed at both, and the clock appears to be ticking on Michigan’s head man.
Inexplicably, Hoke has Michigan regressing each season, despite recruiting classes tabbed in the top 20 of 247Sports’ annual rankings. The Wolverines are bringing in big-name prospects, but they’re not panning out. Pin that on the head coach.
Hoke has gone from 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl victory in 2011 to eight wins in 2012 to seven in 2013 and a fortunate bowl berth (thanks for the freebie, Northwestern) to, well, the debacle of now.
Losing 31-0 to Notre Dame — in the apparent final game of that great rivalry, no less — made Hoke’s spiral spin a bit faster. Then came last week, a lethargic loss to Utah at Michigan Stadium that didn’t really seem like an upset, just a beatdown of a bad team that’s now 2-2.
The week that followed brought a Coke-for-tickets deal (turned out to be a mistake, but it seemed too real), a key quarterback question and concerns over filling the Big House, something that’s never been a problem in the past.
Michigan, one of college football’s greatest power programs, is a shell of itself. Change at the top seems unavoidable.
The rumors are starting already. Jim Harbaugh, a Michigan man, is at odds with the San Francisco 49ers’ management. Hoke’s seat seems to be scalding hot. Could it be a match? This wannabe expert thinks so.
It’s going to take a near-miraculous run for Hoke to save his job. Are those wins going to come against Michigan State and Ohio State? Those are the rivalry games Michigan’s coach is demanded to win.
The road has been rough for Hoke, and it may be coming to an end fairly soon.
1.) Just as the Big Ten appeared to have flatlined, a little life returned to the conference. A 12-1 mark last week seemed hard to imagine after a tumultuous two weeks of hot gridiron garbage. Only Michigan (see above) was defeated. Road upsets by Iowa, Maryland and Indiana raised eyebrows. Michigan State’s beatdown of Eastern Michigan was absurd. Wisconsin’s run game was record good. And Nebraska was impressive. Just part of another busy Saturday.
2.) If Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah aren’t invited to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, nobody should be. The Big Ten’s two most dynamic playmakers are putting together phenominal seasons. Gordon ran for five touchdowns on 253 yards while averaging a whopping 19.5 yards per carry last Saturday. He now owns the most yards per carry in college football history. Not to be outdone, Abdullah posted 229 yards and two scores against a solid Miami defense. This was just another stellar weekend of work. Take notice of these two, Heisman voters.
3.) It seemed like Indiana was in deep trouble just a couple weeks ago after it fell at Bowling Green. Few outside of Bloomington — and probably in town, too — would have projected an upset of Missouri, the defending SEC West champions. But college football can be tricky sometimes, and that win is prime evidence. Tailback Tevin Coleman was great again, Nate Sudfeld managed the game well at quarterback, and the Hoosiers’ defense was a surprise in slowing down the Tigers. This was a big win for Kevin Wilson, one which excuses Indiana’s blunder the week before.
4.) Enough is enough, Pat Fitzgerald. You can’t go from saying, “We’re an embarrassment” to being “insulted” by the notion that these Wildcats will struggle to win Big Ten games. Northwestern isn’t good enough right now, and the latest evidence came in a sloppy 24-7 win over Western Illinois that was much closer than the score appeared. The Wildcats just don’t have it right now, nor have they in the past year. Their regression is hard to explain. But Fitzgerald can’t get testy when his team’s poor play is very real.
5.) On paper, it meant very little. Purdue pounded Southern Illinois, a foe it should beat easily. But for a program that’s been dealt loss after loss the past 13 months, it was a neeed confidence booster. Promising quarterback Danny Etling needed this two-touchdown performance. Coach Darrell Hazell needed the boost. Sure, it was just the Salukis, but any victory is important for a program that’s seen such great struggles and likely has more ahead. It was a feel-good win for the Boilermakers, even if expected.
6.) For all the bad headlines the Big Ten has taken this year, one team’s start stands out. Nebraska has worked its way to 4-0 and appears to be the real deal. The West Division looks to be in the Huskers’ hands if they can hold on. Bo Pelini has a history of capping out at nine wins in the regular season, but maybe this group is different. The key is Abdullah, who has brought consistency to Nebraska’s dynamic offense. That “Blackshirt” defense looks great, too, but Big Ten play will prove what the Huskers are really made of.
7.) Is Ohio State the team that pounded Kent State or the one that lost at home to Virginia Tech? A weekend battle with the Cincinnati Bearcats will further reveal what the Buckeyes are made of. Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel is off to a stellar start to his collegiate career, and Ohio State is in for quite the test. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer will have his hands full in planning for that passing attack, and J.T. Barrett will have another challenge in facing a quality nonconference foe. Ohio State needs a big win before Big Ten play, but it won’t come easy.
8.) It’s not often a quarterback who goes 1-of-7 for seven yards is the player of the game, but Minesota’s Chris Streveler was the exception last Saturday, rushing for 161 yards. Mitch Leidner, the regular starter, was out with an ankle injury, so Steveler got the nod. He should stay in place, even when Leidner returns. Streveler ignites the Golden Gophers’ struggling offense and gives them a better chance to win. The passing attack must improve, but that run threat is lethal.
9.) In a quarterback conundrum of its own, Iowa should stick to its backup, C.J. Beathard, a sophomore who came off the bench and sparked the Hawkeyes’ comeback at Pittsburgh. In Beathard, Iowa has a better caretaker for its offense that has struggled a great deal in the first three games of the season. The passing attack was much improved against the Panthers. Let Beathard keep rolling as the starting quarterback instead of Jake Rudock, who has been battling injury.
10.) With star running back Paul James lost for the season with a torn ACL, Rutgers is in trouble. His 90.8 yards per game fueled the Scarlet Knights’ offense, one that needs more from its passing game. Rutgers will have a difficult time making up for the loss of James.
Quote of the week
“I’d rather be really, really good in a crappy league.” — former Michigan and current Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, taking shots at the Big Ten.
Big Ten power rankings
1.) Michigan State (2-1) — The Spartans didn’t allow a first down in the entire first half against Eastern Michigan. Looks like their defense is still dominant.
2.) Ohio State (2-1) — Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel will give the Buckeyes a great challenge on Saturday.
3.) Nebraska (4-0) — Still unbeaten, the Cornhuskers are the front-runner to win the West.
4.) Penn State (4-0) — Tested and proven, the Nittany Lions will go as far as their star quarterback Christian Hackenberg takes them.
5.) Iowa (3-1) — A loss to Iowa State was followed by a win at Pittsburgh. How did that happen, and what could be next?
6.) Wisconsin (2-1) — That running game set records that date back to the stone ages of football. Well done, Badgers.
7.) Maryland (3-1) — The Terps took care of business with a big win in the Carrier Dome, another impressive victory for Randy Edsall’s team.
8.) Rutgers (3-1) — Without Paul James in the backfield, how will the Scarlet Knights fare?
9.) Minnesota (2-1) — Stick with Streveler, coach Kill. The offense will only benefit from the quarterback’s dangerous wheels.
10.) Indiana (2-1) — What a win for the Hoosiers, but they have to find a way to sustain the success enjoyed in Missouri.
11.) Illinois (3-1) — A near-upset from Texas State still counts as a Fighting Illini win. Now come the real tests.
12.) Michigan (2-2) — This Michigan team just isn’t very good. There’s no other way to put it.
13.) Northwestern (1-2) — A weary win over Western Illinois didn’t exactly build happy vibes in Evanston.
14.) Purdue (2-2) — Any win for the Boilermakers — at least in this point of a rebuild — is a good one.
Emma’s record against the spread: 18-18-1
South Florida at Wisconsin (-35) — Wisconsin, 42-14
Tulane at Rutgers (-12) — Rutgers, 34-17
Iowa at Purdue (-9) — Iowa, 31-20
Wyoming at Michigan State (-28) — Michigan State, 52-7
Northwestern at Penn State (-12) — Penn State, 27-13
Maryland at Indiana (-4) — Maryland, 35-34
Minnesota at Michigan (-13) — Michigan, 21-17
Cincinnati at Ohio State (-18) — Ohio State, 41-21
Illinois at Nebraska (-22) — Nebraska, 35-28
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.