Brady Hoke thinks he has a team capable of winning the Big Ten championship this season.
And they are going to do it without any extra help.
Although most coaches at Thursday’s Big Ten media day left open the option of bringing in players from Penn State, Hoke told reporters that he won’t take any Nittany Lions.
“I’ll be lying if I didn’t say we looked at their roster, but we’ve made a decision that we’re going to stay with our guys,” he said. “We’re going to keep our business our business.”
Hoke said that he’s also not letting himself worry about the competitive imbalance between the Leaders and Legends divisions. With Ohio State and Penn State both barred from postseason play, Wisconsin appears to have a much easier path to the championship game out of the Leaders Division, while Michigan will have to battle Michigan State and Nebraska in the Legends Division.
“It’s not fair, but at the same time, life’s not fair,” he said. “The only thing I can say is that this is such an unbelievable circumstance, and I’m sure that Commissioner Delany couldn’t see this coming.
“It doesn’t matter. We have a schedule to play, and our focus is going to be on the University of Michigan.”
Media polls picked the Wolverines to win the Legends Division and beat the Badgers in the second Big Ten championship game, but Hoke doesn’t care about that either. He pointed to last season’s quick improvement to 11-2 and a Sugar Bowl victory as a time where preseason expectations turned out to be wrong, along with the 1997 national-championship team.
“I don’t think much about that,” he said. “Last year, we were picked fifth and we did better than that. In 1997, we were barely picked in the top 25 and that turned out to be a pretty good team. As in life itself, it doesn’t matter where we start. It matters where we finish.”
The biggest key to that finish, especially with running back Fitz Toussaint’s future clouded by a drunk-driving arrest, is going to be quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson struggled last year to adjust to Hoke’s pro-style offense but showed great improvement in spring practice.
“I think when you look at him, going through spring, his overall grasp of the offense concept-wise is much better,” Hoke said. “He’s had an opportunity to grow a little more in the offense through (offensive coordinator) Al Borges, and he’s really become someone you can count on when it comes to work ethic and leadership.”
Michigan, of course, has possibly the toughest opener in school history — facing national champion Alabama at Cowboys Stadium.
“Obviously, I think people understand that September 1st is going to be a great game,” he said. “When you are playing the national champions, that’s a terrific team that has done terrific things.
“We’re excited about going into a great venue, lining up and seeing what happens.”
Hoke doesn’t think the success of the season will depend on the Alabama game, but on a game much later in the season.
“People talk about our success, but we had a disappointing season last year,” he said. “We didn’t win the Big Ten championship. We haven’t won the Big Ten championship since 2004 and this is Michigan. That is always our goal.”