July 24, 2013

Borton's Blog: No acceptance here

Football season always impels onlookers to declare "unacceptable" any number of developments they are powerless to do anything about but accept. Such powerlessness isn't universal.

For instance, when Brady Hoke declares something to be unacceptable, he can do something about it. He can change lineups, alter strategy, emphasize different aspects of the game, recruit better, and pursue any number of other tactical tweaks.

His hands aren't tied, when unacceptable develops.

Hoke's first day in Chicago, he left no doubt: 8-5 is unacceptable.

There were football programs represented in the grand ballroom at the Chicago Hilton for which 8-5 would mark a triumphant breakthrough. Not Michigan, clearly.

From the podium before a full house of Midwestern reporters, Hoke put that word on Michigan's 2012 season: unacceptable. He didn't like the way it developed, either, with 18 turnovers poisoning the Wolverines' five defeats.

Later, in a smaller setting, Hoke elaborated a bit on his irritation over 8-5.

"Number one, we're Michigan," Hoke said. "We have high expectations. That bar has been up there for a number of years. Also, it's how you perform, and the expectations there are high. It is what it is, and we've got to do better."

That phrase alone, we're Michigan, serves as nails on the chalkboard among fan bases of 11 other Big Ten institutions. They see it as arrogant, elitist, and annoying.

And until someone else has won more football games than any other in the history of college football, they just have to deal with it. And until someone else has captured more Big Ten championships than any program around, they just have to take it.

But for Hoke, it's not about arrogance as much as it is accountability. Because of that history, because of the tradition, because of the resources, because of the largest stadium in the country, the most recognizable headgear in college football, and because of 100 other reasons, Michigan simply should win at a higher level.

Period. Exclamation point. You don't hear anyone else labeling falling just short of the Big Ten championship as "failure." Hoke does, and will continue to do so.

Meanwhile, 8-5 is failure with an extra kick in the tail. He insisted in the spring that last year's team wasn't deep enough to be competitive enough with each other, to push the Wolverines to a higher level.

They're starting to get that now. The offensive linemen have more than doubled their number since he arrived in town. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison talks about being at least three deep at every position on the defensive line.

In other words, "unacceptable" is being met not with acceptance, but determined retrenching.

Redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner is absorbing the limit-turnovers message like a Vitamin-D deficient northerner absorbing sunshine on the first day of spring break. Michigan's offensive linemen are getting pushed to push harder, and better, and more angrily.

That sort of message is taking place all over. In fairness, it's taking place all over the Big Ten.

But in this case, there's a higher level of accountability. In some places, 8-5 might have athletic directors looking to extend a coach's contract. In Ann Arbor, it's not the fans that have to label such a bottom line unacceptable.


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