ONE HOUR BEFORE tip-off, around 8 p.m., Brady Hoke arrives at Crisler Center to watch some basketball. En route from Schembechler Hall, the head football coach passes by a digital countdown clock mounted on the wall of the Wolverines' football HQ. He had it hung there when he took the job two years earlier: 298 days ... 16 hours ... 58 minutes ... BEAT OHIO.
Hoke practically glides along the hardwood during pregame, looking crisp in a white Oxford boldly striped with maize and blue. He glad-hands boosters, waves to shouting students and pauses to chat with ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico.
"How's the class look, Coach?" Tirico asks, knowing Hoke's recruiting haul is projected to be a top-five nationally ranked group.
"Right now? Great," Hoke says. "Ask me again this time tomorrow. But hey, there's nothing we can do about it now but wait."
Hoke has been waiting awhile to sign this class, his second as Wolverines head coach. It was mid-February last year, 17 days after signing day 2012, that a pack of recruits -- led by Jake Butt, the No. 4 tight end and an eventual Michigan signee -- flooded Ann Arbor. That weekend's itinerary included outings to see the hockey team's 3-2 OT win over rival Northern Michigan and, of course, the 19th-ranked basketball team's 56-51 upset of No. 6 Ohio State. As Butt recalls, "We all looked at each other like, Man, we have to be a part of this." Before the weekend was over, Hoke had eight new commitments.
"There was a lot of emotion around Michigan athletics that weekend," Hoke says a year later. "If we can't sell what this place is about then, we can't sell it at all. Do I think that's why a group that large all committed that weekend? It sure didn't hurt."