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Know your foe: Michigan Wolverines

August 17, 2011

The Michigan League, on the University of Michigan Central Campus

It’s probably safe to say that there’s been much more written about EMU’s third 2011 football opponent than about the first two opponents combined, and Eagle Totem readers are probably fairly familiar with our neighbors to the west. Since they’ve been so well covered elsewhere, and I’m not interested in writing a history of Michigan football, this post about UM is largely drawn from several Wikipedia articles (University of MichiganBrady Hoke, and Michigan Wolverines football), and we’ll cover the history of the EMU-UM series in a separate post with original content.

The university was founded in 1817 in Detroit as the “Catholepistemiad”, or “University of Michigania”, about 20 years before the Michigan Territory officially became a state. What would become the university moved to Ann Arbor in 1837 onto 40 acres of what is now known as Central Campus. Since its establishment in Ann Arbor, the university has physically expanded to include more than 584 major buildings with a combined area of more than 31 million gross square feet (712 acres), and transformed its academic program from a strictly classical curriculum to one that includes science and research. U-M was the site of much student activism in the 1960s. When presidential candidate John F. Kennedy visited the University on October 14, 1960, he gave an impromptu speech on the steps of the Michigan Union that led to a University of Michigan student movement which contributed to the establishment of the Peace Corps. The University was also a focal point in the controversy over affirmative action within higher education admissions.

In the 2011 U.S. News & World Report “National University Rankings”, the university was ranked 29th among national universities in the United States, In 1995, the National Research Council ranked Michigan third nationally for the quality of its graduate programs. Michigan has one of the world’s largest living alumni groups at 460,000 in 2007. U-M has one of the largest research expenditures of any American university, passing the $1.14 billion mark during the 2009-2010 academic year.

Brady Hoke, in his days coaching Ball State

Brady Hoke was born in Dayton, grew up in Ohio, and attended Ball State University, where he played linebacker from 1977 to 1980. He began his coaching career in 1982 and held assistant coaching positions at Grand Valley State (1983), Western Michigan (1984–1986), Toledo (1987–1989), Oregon State (1989–1994) and Michigan (1995–2002). He left Michigan in December 2002 to become the head football coach at his alma mater, Ball State. In six years at Ball State, Hoke was credited with turning around the football program, though under his watch the Cardinals landed on probation for “extra benefits to athletes”. In 2008, he led the Ball State football team to a 12–1 record and the first appearance in the Associated Press Top 25 (peaking at No. 12) in school history. In December 2008, Hoke was hired as the head football coach at San Diego State University. He led the 2010 San Diego State Aztecs football team to the school’s first nine-win season since 1971 and a victory over Navy in the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl. Hoke was hired as Michigan’s head football coach on January 11, 2011.

The Michigan Wolverines football program has the most all-time wins and the highest winning percentage in college football history. The team is known for its distinctive winged helmet, its fight song, its record-breaking attendance figures at Michigan Stadium, and its many rivalries, particularly its annual season-ending game against Ohio State, once voted as ESPN’s best sports rivalry. Michigan began competing in intercollegiate football in 1879. The Wolverines joined the Big Ten Conference at its inception in 1896, when the conference was commonly known as the Western Conference, and have been members since with the exception of a hiatus from 1907 to 1916. Michigan has won or shared 42 league titles, more than any other football program in any conference. Since the inception of the AP Poll in 1936, Michigan has finished in the top 10 a record 37 times. The Wolverines claim 11 national championships, most recently that of the 1997 squad voted atop the final AP Poll.

Fielding Yost won six national championships at Michigan

From 1900 to 1989, Michigan was led by a series of nine head coaches, each of whom have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame either as a player or as a coach. Fielding H. Yost became Michigan’s head coach in 1901 and guided his “Point-a-Minute” squads to a streak of 56 games without a defeat spanning from his arrival until the season finale in 1905, including a victory in the 1902 Rose Bowl, the first college football bowl game ever played. Yost’s teams accounted for six of Michigan’s 11 claimed national championships. Fritz Crisler brought his winged helmet from Princeton University in 1938 and led the 1947 Wolverines to a national title and Michigan’s second Rose Bowl win.

Bo Schembechler coached the team for 21 seasons (1969–1989) during which he won 13 Big Ten titles but no national championships. The first decade of his tenure was underscored by a fierce competition with his former mentor, Woody Hayes, whose Ohio State Buckeyes squared off against Schembechler’s Wolverines in a stretch of the Michigan – Ohio State rivalry dubbed the “Ten-Year War”. After Schembechler’s retirement, his longtime assistants, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr, helmed the team for the next 18 years. Michigan continued its success under Moeller and Carr with a winning percentage of .755, eight more Big Ten Conference championships, and a share of the 1997 national title, but the era was punctuated by a number of high-profile defeats for the Wolverines, including a loss to Colorado on Kordell Stewart’s iconic Hail Mary pass to Michael Westbrook in 1994, a controversial last-second loss to Michigan State in 2001, and an infamous defeat at the hands of the FCS Appalachian State Mountaineers in the 2007 season opener. Rich Rodriguez succeeded Carr in 2008 and was fired after three seasons in which he compiled the worst record of any coach in program history.

The Michigan Wolverines have featured 77 players that have garnered consensus selection to the College Football All-America Team. Three Wolverines have won the Heisman Trophy: Tom Harmon in 1940, Desmond Howard in 1991, and Charles Woodson in 1997. Additionally, Gerald Ford started at center and was voted most valuable player by his teammates on the 1934 team.

Michigan returns 17 of 22 starters from last year’s 7-6 (3-5 in the Big Ten) team. The departing starters are guard Stephen Schilling, linebacker Jonas Mouton, cornerback James Rogers, defensive tackle Greg Banks, and safety Ray Vinopal. Expectations for the Wolverines seem to range from 6-6 to 9-3, depending in part on how well the players adjust to Hoke’s system.

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