It only took two minutes into Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference for the Big Ten’s first representative, Michigan coach Brady Hoke, to receive his first question about the arrival of Ohio State’s new coach Urban Meyer and his thoughts on how Meyer will affect the rivalry.
“Obviously you’ve got two storied programs who have a lot of great tradition and, as far as I know, it’s never been about the coaches, it’s always been about those two schools,” Hoke said. “The intensity of that whole week when you get ready to play each other, what a great game and a fun game it is to coach in and play in.”
Michigan redshirt senior safety Jordan Kovacs resonated those feelings and said Meyer’s arrival should have a big impact on The Game.
“Two of the best coaches in the nation are coaching these programs,” Kovacs said. “They’re recruiting better than anyone in the nation right now. Historically it’s a great rivalry … and I think it’s going to take that next step and be an elite rivalry for these next few years.”
Hoke appears to have coached his players on how to reference the Buckeyes in conversation. Kovacs wouldn’t say the word “State” in Ohio State when he further elaborated on his feelings of the rivalry.
“It’s always a big game, it’s the Michigan-Ohio game and it’s a big game every year. We’re going to be really excited about it and we can’t wait to get down there,” Kovacs said.
Michigan is coming off their best season since 2006 after going 11-2 in Hoke’s inaugural season last year, including an overtime victory in the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech, and the team’s first win against OSU after losing seven consecutive games to the Buckeyes. But it was still a failure of a season for Hoke, Kovacs said.
“The thing is, people want to say we set the bar really high last year,” Kovacs said. “But at the end of the day, one of the things that Coach Hoke really emphasizes, is that last year we failed. It wasn’t a successful season. Our mission every year is to win a Big Ten championship and we didn’t do that. Big Ten championships are the mindset that everyone on this team is about and at the end of the day, we didn’t get what we wanted, so that keeps us hungrier for next year.”
Hoke said he is excited for his team to get back out onto the field this spring, but also said they have a long way to go.
“On either side (of the ball) it’s not very good right now,” Hoke said. “I think the kids are working, they’re coming in here with energy and all those things. But the expectation levels of how physical we want to be as a football team, we’re not where we need to be.
“I think the big consistency issues that are out there are us finishing and finishing well as we get through these next three practices. We’re a long way being from where we want to be in August, so there is a lot of work to be done.”
Michigan is holding their annual spring game Saturday, but to Hoke, it’s just another practice.
“It’s another chance for us to get better,” he said. “It’s a chance for our guys to be in that great stadium again and play in front of people, and also how some young guys handle those situations.”
The game will be at noon Saturday and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.