Brady Hoke: Michigan never left elite status

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan took a step toward
returning to college football’s elite last season with an 11-victory season and
a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech.

Would a season-opening upset of defending champion Alabama mean the Wolverines
are all the way recovered from the Rich Rodriguez era in just two short
seasons?

Brady Hoke and the Wolverines don’t think so because they believe they never
left the top of that pyramid.

“Michigan is still Michigan,” Denard Robinson said this week.
“The 132 teams before us have built a legacy that no one can take away.

“We’re playing in a huge game against the national champions in Cowboys
Stadium, and Michigan is supposed to be in those games. That’s why we all came
here — to play in the biggest games.”

Since arriving last season, Hoke has worked hard to emphasize the tradition of
Michigan football, from the “Team 133” moniker for this year’s squad
to the legacy-jersey program.

Instead of Desmond Howard’s No. 21 being retired and forgotten, it will be worn
by top receiver Roy Roundtree and include a jersey patch honoring Howard. In
the future, other standout players could be honored with President Gerald
Ford’s No. 48, Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 or Ron Kramer’s No. 87.

“I don’t think we need to re-establish ourselves as anything because we’ve
got a great institution with 133 years of football history,” Hoke said.
“Playing and coaching in games like this one is what people have done at
Michigan for decades. That’s why every coach and every player is here.”

Hoke and his players echo the same themes: “Team 133,” Bo
Schembechler’s “The team, the team, the TEAM” and the constant
references to the program’s history and traditions.

That doesn’t mean, however, that they expect to roll over the Crimson Tide.

“I know we’re pretty clear underdogs, and that’s how it should be,”
senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. “They are the defending national
champions, and they are still arguably the best team in college football.

“But we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think we could win the game. It’s
going to be the biggest season opener of our lives, and we’ve had great urgency
building up to this. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan agrees entirely that Alabama should be favored,
but adds that the Crimson Tide shouldn’t take the Wolverines for granted.

“They are the champs, and they’ve got a ton of talent. And they come from
the SEC, so they’ve got that feared SEC speed,” Lewan said. “But
we’ve got Denard speed, and no one can match that.

“We know the system. We’re comfortable with each other, and that allows us
to play at a very high tempo ourselves.

“Can we win? Why not? We’ve been big underdogs before and come through, so
why wouldn’t we do it again?”

Michigan’s offense got some good news on Monday when Hoke announced that
Roundtree had been fully cleared to practice and play after sustaining a knee
injury in the first week of camp.

“When my knee went out and they told me I was going to need surgery, I
couldn’t believe this could happen during my senior year, just before
Alabama,” Roundtree said. “Then they said it was going to only be
arthroscopic and there was a chance I could play if I worked hard on my rehab.

“I did everything I could as soon as they told me I could do it, and I
feel 100 percent right now. I can’t wait to be out there.”

There’s still a big question hanging over Michigan’s running game. Starting
tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint has been suspended since a July drunken-driving
arrest, and although he has returned to practice, Hoke has not said when he
will be allowed to play.

The Wolverines on Monday released their first depth chart of the season.
Toussaint is listed as the starting tailback, but Hoke was quick to clarify his
position.

“Do I know what I’m going to do about Fitz? Probably,” Hoke said.
“I’m sure I’ll say something when the time is right.

“We’ve spread the reps among several backs in camp, so I think we’ll be
fine whether he plays or not.”

Hoke does believe they will be fine because, after all, they will be the team
wearing maize and blue.

“Do I think we should be huge underdogs?” Hoke asked. “No, I
don’t.

“I like Michigan.”