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With Ohio State up next, Hoke's fate might be sealed

Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News

Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett said he will evaluate coach Brady Hoke and his staff after the season.

That evaluation might be coming even sooner than thought.

Maybe it's already done.

Hackett, on the job not yet a month since his appointment after Dave Brandon's resignation, spoke with reporters before last Saturday's game and discussed, among other topics, the future of the football program.

Then Michigan self-destructed, subjecting itself to two costly penalties in the kicking game, burning two timeouts in the third quarter and dropping key passes while ultimately not taking advantage of a 292-yard rushing performance.

Michigan lost, 23-16, to Maryland at Michigan Stadium, and was swept this season by the Big Ten conference newcomers, including Rutgers. The Wolverines are 5-6 overall and need to beat Ohio State, East Division champion and winner of nine of the last 10 meetings with Michigan, on Saturday to become bowl-eligible.

This is Brady Hoke's fourth season as Michigan head coach, and he could be coaching his final game. Hackett is expected to make an "evaluation" after the game against Ohio State, which is a 20-point favorite.

"I just have said at the end of the season," Hackett said. "When I get there I know I'll be ready to talk about it."

Hackett said he has had conversations with Hoke, is appreciative of Hoke and what he has tried to accomplish at Michigan.

But the Wolverines have been in steady decline since an 11-2 record and Sugar Bowl victory in 2011, Hoke's first season. Since then they have gone 8-5 in 2012, 7-6 last season and can finish no better than .500 in the regular season this year. They lost three games at Michigan Stadium this fall.

Hackett, a former Michigan player and CEO of Steelcase, said he will continue to explore where the program has gone and where it is going under Hoke, who was hired after Rich Rodriguez was fired following three seasons.

"The evaluation of his go-forward status is going to come," Hackett said of Hoke. "I'm going to give you a really clear answer on that when we get to the end of the season because it's a body of work, guys, and we have two more games, one of them is a red-letter game, a really important rival (Ohio State).

"When that's all done it won't be vague or unclear about where we stand. I also want to emphasize, we're not where we need to be. He knows that. The bigger issue is, not only do I know it, but does our coaching staff know it, and they know it. Sometimes in business I found myself in reviews of situations and you thought, 'People don't understand where we are.' They understand where we are. That's a good start in terms of doing the evaluation that I have to do."

As for that red-letter game, Michigan hasn't won at Ohio State since 2000.

Michigan was a heavy underdog last season and lost, 42-41, after failing on a two-point conversion attempt in Michigan Stadium. Quarterback Devin Gardner played valiantly on a broken foot for much of the second half.

This season Ohio State is ranked No. 7 and is in the national playoff conversation. A rout of Michigan would produce style points for the Buckeyes, who are headed to the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 6 in Indianapolis.

Michigan center Jack Miller, an Ohioan, was already thinking about playing the Buckeyes immediately after the loss to Maryland.

"We're not playing for a whole lot like they are," Miller said. "They're trying to get a bid into the playoff. Games like this is what this rivalry is built on, when one team is going to be a big underdog going in, and all three kids in here (the postgame interview) are Ohio kids, and I can tell you it would be pretty sweet to go in their backyard and get a win."

Does that mean this will be about Michigan ruining Ohio State's shot at a playoff?

"No, don't, come on, no, it's not about that," Miller said. "It's about us trying to go out on a good note. For a lot of Ohio kids on the team, that's a pretty nice way to end the season.

"They are playing for a lot, and we're not, that's no secret. Would it ruin their season? Yeah, but that's not the goal to ruin their season. The goal is to go out on the right note."

Senior linebacker Jake Ryan grew up outside Cleveland and promises a strong effort by Michigan. The Wolverines' defense will have its hands full. Ohio State leads the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 44.3 points, and has a strong passing game behind redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who leads the conference in total offense (318.8). Michigan's defensive weakness is its secondary.

"It's going to be a game, I can tell you that much," Ryan said.

The players talked as players in the Michigan-Ohio State game do every year, about throwing out record books.

"All of that big-picture stuff, our goal is week-by-week and however it sorts out it sorts out," Miller said. "Obviously, at the end of the year, you'd like to say we didn't have a losing record and went to a bowl game. We're just trying to beat Ohio and let the chips fall where they may."

The game will offer a fairly strong insight into Hoke's future, as well.

Hackett made clear he is comfortable making a change in the football program if that's what he determines is required.

"The process of evaluating the coach at the end of the season is a really certain mark on the stage that I know I had to do," Hackett said. "I'm really comfortable with the fact this guy has done an extraordinary job in very difficult times. You wait for the moment. … It's almost like a solemn ceremony because it's a deep respect for him and a deep respect for the process you go through to make a decision like that."

Michigan at Ohio State

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

TV/radio: ABC/WWJ 950

Records: Michigan 5-6, 3-4 Big Ten; Ohio State 10-1, 7-0

Line: Ohio State by 20