so much for that
The talk that Michigan will not compete for National Championships is misguided
Let me start out by saying that teams do not compete for National Championships, plural. They compete to win every game on their schedule every individual year and the chips fall where they may. A team (and coach) must win ONE championship before they win another, this is highly important as one undoubtedly makes the other possible. Look at the champions from the past decade (I also included Michigan's 1997 team for comparison purposes), their coach, and the number of years their coach was in place at the school when they won it all
1997 - Michigan - Lloyd Carr (3rd season)
2000 - Oklahoma - Bob Stoops (2nd season)
2001 - Miami - Larry Coker (1st season)
2002 - Ohio State - Jim Tressel (2nd season)
2003 - LSU/USC - Nick Saban (4th season)/ Pete Carroll (3rd season)
2004 - USC - Pete Carroll (4th season)
2005 - Texas - Mack Brown (8th season)
2006 - Florida - Urban Meyer (2nd season)
2007 - LSU - Les Miles (3rd season)
2008 - Florida - Urban Meyer (4th season)
2009 - Alabama - Nick Saban (3rd season)
2010 - Auburn - Gene Chizik (2nd season)
Who the hell were all these guys before they won? Sure Meyer had a good run at Utah and BGSU but so what? Yes Carroll was in the NFL, where he was average (Wannstadt anyone?). Sure Saban did some nice things at MSU...and? These guys were all on their way up the ladder, not already at the top. All of these coaches except Mack Brown was at their respective school four years or less when they won their National Championship. These numbers suggest that most of these teams were not very good (as they were hiring new coaches to replace their ineffective ones) just a few short years before winning it all (this is not true for Texas, Miami, Michigan, or LSU with Miles) which should give any fanbase hope. This also suggests either that these coaches were/are geniuses or that their hires invigorated recruiting and player development. I for one do not believe that Mack Brown, Les Miles, Larry Coker, or Gene Chizik are anything more than good coaches. I would agree that Tressel, Saban, and Meyer might be very good coaches but none of them are unblemished or in the same category as a Bill Belichick.
Why is this important? Because college football is fickle, much more fickle than the NFL where everyone for the most part operates on an even playing field with the best athletes in the sport. One of the columnists on ESPN was saying that if the NFL was like college football, the Patriots would just play the Falcons to determine the championship this year. I am sure there are some people who think the Falcons would deserve that but I don't think it is the majority. This is the lot we are stuck with as college football fans.
This also means that winning the NC is more than having the best players or best coach. Schedules are hugely important. Look at MSU this year. They did not have to play OSU and could have snuck into the NC game if they did not lay an egg at Iowa. Wisconsin might have been able to beat Auburn in the NC game behind their brusing line but they did not get the chance because they lost to MSU on the road (inexplicably). I don't think anyone here would argue that if we played OSU at home in 2006 the result would have come out in our favor.
Winning a national championship is also not about being undefeated, or even the best team necessarily. Auburn won all of its games in 2004 yet was left out of the discussion. LSU (under Miles) got into the NC game via the backdoor when RR's powerhouse WVU team lost to a terrible Pitt team. The Hokester is getting a lot of heat for his stance on winning B1G titles and not focusing on NC's. Well you can't have one without the other.
NC seasons are about getting lucky not just being good. Oklahoma was 7-5 the year before they won, how many people picked them to win it all? OSU was 7-5 the year before they won. LSU, 8-5. Florida, 9-3 (first title). Auburn, 8-5. Michigan, 8-4. These trends suggest more than just the x's and o's of coaching. Teams do not go from 7-5 or 8-4 to National Champions with out a little luck, especially if they have a target on their back in every game. It is tough to win when everyone is giving you their best shot. Ask Alabama this year, or the Miami Heat. Being able to play without the expectation to win every game is huge especially when you are talking about 18-22 year old kids.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football and hiring new coaches has a major effect on that. Maybe newer coaches recruit harder or bring a more committed attitude but winning NC's, plural, is about putting together ONE magical season then reaping the benefits years later. Does anyone think OSU's 2002 NC team was better than the Miami team they beat, or even better than their 2006 NC losing team? Their win is what has kept them at the top of the heap in the B1G. They get who they want because they are now the badass on the block (perception is a bitch). LSU, same thing. Florida, who was the 3rd best program in their state for a long time is now cleaning up on the strength of their recent history while Miami and FSU have been trying to rebuild. All we have to do is capture a little magic and we will be right back where we belong.
In summary, Hoke does not need to come in here with some guarantee about NC's. He needs to invigorate recruiting to bring in some difference makers while putting the guys we already have in a better position to win. Unfortunately for us, 2011 was setting up nicely. We have 8 home games including all of our rivals except MSU at home. In theory we should be a stronger team in 2012 then we are in 2011 except our schedule is much tougher. That means we could look to 2013 as a golden season where again the schedule goes in our favor. As much as I am one to look ahead, we do not know what kinds of bounces will go our way any given year. The SEC, which everyone agrees is the best conference, could cannabalize itself this year allowing a team like Stanford to put together a NC team where they end up playing a hot FSU team. Would anyone see that coming? Stanford and FSU are not setting out to win the NC this year, they want to win all of their games and then the rest is out of their hands.
We do not need to heap expectations on ourselves. We need to go into the season focused and prepared. If we show holes or flaws, we need to fix them via recruiting or scheme changes and we need to play who is in front of us every saturday and only who is in front of us. Let the pollsters worry about who should be on top every year. How many teams come out wire to wire national champs anyway? If we win B1G championships we will get our shot. I think we will have a very good season in 2011 and I think it will enable us to pick up some key recruits who will help us in our quest.
The last thing to consider is that in 1997, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, and 2010, the team with the best player in college football won it all. We have a guy now who could carry that title in the years to come, although do not sleep on Devin Gardner.
Sorry, it just kept going and going...