What was Brady Hoke thinking?

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see the Alabama-Michigan game last Saturday night in person at Cowboys Stadium. Here’s the view from our luxury box, and yes, the stadium is as impressive as you’ve heard. Jerry Jones has done at least one thing right in the last 15 years.

As an Ohio State fan, I wasn’t very thrilled about the match-up, though of course these are two of the most storied programs in college football. Nick Saban has Alabama at the top of the mountain, while Brady Hoke is trying to rescue Michigan from the RichRod debacle.

Michigan fans were thrilled with last year’s 11-2 record, but many of them and the “experts” around the country were a little too giddy about Michigan’s prospects for this season. Michigan didn’t beat a top 15 team last year, so that record wasn’t as impressive as it looked.

That said, the team’s performance on Saturday was pathetic, and frankly I blame the coaching staff. Sure, Alabama is clearly the better team, but Brady Hoke has Denard Robinson, and he’s the kind of player that can change a college football game in seconds with his explosiveness.

Last year I wrote about Michigan’s dilemma with Denard Robinson. Brady Hoke wanted to run a pro-style offense, but he had one of the best running quarterbacks in the country. Well, Hoke tried to have it both ways for a while, but on Saturday he and his staff called plays as if they had Tom Brady under center instead of Robinson. The result was ugly with incompletions and brutal interceptions. Hoke specifically avoided Robinson’s best play – sending the receivers deep and then tucking the ball and running.

We’ll see if Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges realize they blew it with the game plan. Hoke likes to run his mouth, and he’s gotten plenty of support following RichRod, posting 11 wins and then beating Ohio State. But now Urban Meyer is in Columbus, and he seems to know how to use his dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller. Hoke’s support in Michigan will start to whither if he can’t find a way to unleash Robinson and starts losing to his Big Ten rivals.

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Michigan gets the monkey off its back, beats Ohio State

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (C) celebrates with teammates after his diving touchdown into the end zone against Ohio State during the first half of their NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Michigan November 26, 2011. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES) – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

The streak is over. It had been 2,926 days since Michigan had last beat Ohio State, but today, the Wolverines ended that, picking up a 40-34 win against the Buckeyes in a thrilling game at the Big House.

Courtney Avery picked off a Braxton Miller pass in the final minute of the game to seal the win for Michigan, which is now 10-2 with a legitimate chance to be selected to a BCS bowl. In fact, at this point, I’d be surprised if the Wolverines were passed up by the Sugar Bowl, which is very likely going to have two at-large choices thanks to the SEC likely putting two teams in the national title game.

It was an improved defense that had Michigan in that position heading into today, but it was Denard Robinson that finished the job. The junior quarterback had the best game of his career in what was really a must-win situation for the Wolverines (more on that in a second). He was 14-of-17 for 166 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 170 yards and two scores. He’s had statistically better games, but this is the one that Denard will be remembered for in Michigan.

As to the must-win declaration: With Ohio State in the state it was in this season, and with Urban Meyer coming on board, if Michigan didn’t win this year, it might have been a while before the Wolverines found a way to win against the Buckeyes. Brady Hoke has done a great job in Year 1, but he’s led a bit of a charmed existence thanks to a very weak Big Ten, an 8-game home schedule, and his chief rival — both on the field and in recruiting — being hampered by a rough season on and off the field. He’s taken advantage and deserves credit for doing so — he should make no apologies for dragging a fading program back to 10-2 — but had he lost this game, a lot of the goodwill he has built up might have been gone.

It nearly was, had it not been for the erratic arm of Braxton Miller. The Ohio State freshman looked brilliant in spots, especially running the football, but he missed a lot of open receivers and cost the Buckeyes at least two sure touchdowns with overthrows. The second came on the final drive, as DeVier Posey had double-moved J.T. Floyd into oblivion and was running free down the sidelines.

The thought of Miller with some more seasoning and in Urban Meyer’s offense should scare not only Michigan fans and the rest of the Big Ten, but the rest of the country. Those two will win a lot of games together.

But not today. No, today belonged to Michigan, which isn’t thinking about all of that other stuff while celebrating the only thing that matters in Ann Arbor, beating Ohio State.

Fade Material: College Football Week 12 Predictions

Michigan’s quarterback Denard Robinson looks for his receiver during the second half of their NCAA college football game against Purdue in Ann Arbor, Michigan, October 29, 2011. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

It’s November, and predicting college games in November is akin to jamming your hand down a garbage disposal with a ring on each finger.

In other words, it can be a bloody mess of a situation.

Sorry for the graphic nastiness. I’m just a little salty after going 1-3 last week, which dropped my season record to 24-18-2. That’s not bad overall but when you consider I haven’t had a winning week in a while, I’m a little on edge. (I’ve had plenty of .500 weeks, but a push is not a win, my friends.)

The hook screwed me in the Nebraska-Penn State game while Illinois was thumped at home by Michigan and Nevada couldn’t cover the digits against Hawaii. Louisiana Tech was an easy winner at Ole Miss, but a 1-3 record isn’t going to do it. Unless, of course, you name your prediction column “Fade Material.” Then you’re covered either way. (See, smart, huh?)

On to this week’s nastiness…

Nebraska @ Michigan, 12:00PM ET
I think the Huskers are a pile of inconsistent dirty diapers. One week they hold Michigan State to only a field goal and then come out the following Saturday and lose to Northwestern at home. Then they build a 17-0 lead on Penn State only to keep the Nittany Lions in it until the very end. My point is, I don’t trust Nebraska. I don’t know what I’m getting in Nebraska. I know what I’m getting in Michigan. They can’t throw the ball but Denard Robinson is going to make plays and the Wolverines have been unbeatable at home this year. The hook scares the hell out of me after what happened last week at Happy Valley but I’m going to roll the dice anyway with the home favorite.

Oklahoma @ Baylor, 8:00PM ET
The Sooners are done losing this year (at least in the regular season) and they clearly are out to prove that they’re still national-title worthy. The last time these two teams met was in Waco last year, where Oklahoma rolled to a 53-24 victory. I expect more of the same this year from Landry Jones and Co. Robert Griffin III is a nice player but I trust Oklahoma’s defense to stop Baylor’s explosive offense way more than I trust the Bears to slow down the Sooners.

USC @ Oregon, 8:00PM ET
When I first saw this line I said, “Wow, 14.5 points? USC has more than enough talent to hang with Oregon and cover that spread.” Then I remembered how badly the Ducks took it to the Trojans in Southern Cal last year and one of the many unwritten rules of college football betting: Never go against Oregon in Eugene. I think I’m 0-42 either with or against the Ducks this season, but I like them tonight. Matt Barkley will keep things close at first but Oregon is just too explosive on its home turf.

Cal @ Stanford, 10:15PM ET
With the way Andrew Luck and Co. lost last Saturday to Oregon, I think it’ll take them a quarter or two to shake off the bad vibes. Cal is a very imperfect team but its more than capable of hanging with the Cardinal if Stanford comes out in a fog. Call this one a hunch, but I like the Golden Bears to stay within a touchdown or two of the Cardinal.

Check out College Football Point Spreads at Bullz-Eye.com.

Iowa’s win against Michigan was just so … Iowa

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz (L) speaks with an assistant coach on the sidelines during his team’s play against Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl BCS NCAA football game in Miami, January 5, 2010. REUTERS/Hans Deryk (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Coming off a loss at lowly Minnesota, Iowa looked to be lost. But really, it was just Iowa.

The Hawkeyes are consistent this year. That’s not necessarily a good thing. They’re awful on the road (0-3) and good at home (6-0). Teams playing better at home than on the road is not at all out of the ordinary. But when you lose at Minnesota then win at home against Michigan, there’s something major going on. Does the team bus have a carbon monoxide leak?

Iowa picked up a 24-16 win against the Wolverines by shutting down Denard Robinson and playing better defense than it probably has all year. The Wolverines had four plays from inside the 5-yard line as time was running out, but couldn’t punch it in (cue Michigan fans claiming Junior Hemingway did actually score on one of the plays — he pushed off, folks).

So just so we’re straight, Iowa held Michigan to less points than it did Minnesota. To be fair, I guess, Michigan State did the same thing, eking out a win against the Gophers today.

So now Iowa, which has lost to a team that is 2-7 and another that is 5-4, controls its own destiny in the Big Ten Legends Division. It has Michigan State at home next week, then plays at Purdue and at Nebraska to close out the year.

If things go as they have so far this season, that means a 1-2 finish for Iowa and a middling bowl. But with a well-balanced offense and a defense that can apparently stop people every once in a while, there’s a decent chance Iowa will be playing in Indianapolis. Yes, Iowa, the team that lost to Minnesota.

Denard Robinson having some problems

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (16) runs the ball by Ohio State defender Johnathan Hankins (52) during the second quarter of their NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio, November 27, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Before the college football season started, I described the dilemma facing the Michigan coaches regarding Denard Robinson. Robinson is a great running quarterback, but he has problems throwing the football. With 11 interceptions so far this year, it looks like Brady Hoke’s plan to use Robinson in their pro style offense is running into serious problems.

Now we have Dave Miller from the National Football Post describing Michigan’s “Shielace” quandary:

But if Brady Hoke wants to win a Big Ten championship with the junior Robinson on his roster, the first-year Wolverines head coach may have to consider whether “Shoelace” is best suited to be the team’s quarterback on an every-down basis.

In Saturday’s loss at Michigan State, Robinson went 9 of 24 passing for 123 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Granted, it was a windy day in East Lansing. But even in ideal conditions, Robinson has shown this season that he isn’t a consistent passing threat in Al Borges’ offense.

What’s most alarming for the Michigan coaching staff is Robinson’s propensity to throw up jump balls — wild tosses that can result in big plays for either the Michigan offense or the opposing defense. This fall, “Shoelace” is completing only 53.9 percent of throws, and he’s already thrown 10 interceptions. He threw 11 picks all of last season while completing 62.5 percent of his passes.

There’s no question that Robinson is one of the 11 best Wolverine players on offense. But is it time to turn the starting quarterback duties over to Devin Gardner, the No. 2 quarterback, and utilize Robinson in a variety of ways in Borges’ offense?

I think they’ll stick with Robinson, but he’s probably going to wilt again as he starts to face tougher defenses.

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