Near-miss at Nebraska vaulted Hoke

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The last time Brady Hoke faced Nebraska, it might have been the launching point to him ending up as the head coach at Michigan.

In 2007, as the head coach at Ball State, he took his team to Lincoln, Neb., to face the Huskers. And he almost won.

"It was fun," Hoke said.

It was more than that. It was a statement of how far Hoke, who took over Ball State before the 2002 season, had brought the Cardinals. Nebraska beat Ball State, 41-40, on Sept. 22, 2007.

But the Cardinals made an impression even if they missed a field goal at the buzzer to win. Ball State outgained Nebraska, 610-552. Wide receiver Dante Love had 214 yards receiving against Nebraska.

And Ball State had 188 yards rushing -- 122 of them from undersized running back MiQuale Lewis, one of Hoke's best recruits from Fort Wayne, Ind.

Out on the west coast, then-San Diego State athletic director Jeff Schemmel noticed what Hoke was doing with a program that had not had a winning record in a decade. Ball State finished 7-6 in 2007.

"They lost at Nebraska and had them on the ropes," Schemmel said earlier this year. "I think the whole country took notice that day and said, 'Look at Ball State and what they are doing and how much better they have become.'

"I think that put Ball State on the radar screen for a lot of people that day. What happens when he's on your radar screen? You just continue to watch."

Schemmel put Hoke on his list if he ever needed to look for a head coach. A season later, in 2008, Hoke went 12-0 in the regular season with Ball State. San Diego State, meanwhile, fired coach Chuck Long.

Schemmel targeted Hoke almost immediately and hired him in 2008 -- setting in motion where he turned another program around in San Diego, attracting the eye of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon.

Those two turnarounds helped land Hoke with the Wolverines, where he'll face Nebraska every season starting Saturday.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.