ANN ARBOR -- When Jordan Kovacs summarizes the 2011 season for the University of Michigan football team, it might surprise people. Then again, his description of the Wolverines' lofty expectations might not be so surprising.
"As far as last year goes, the interesting thing about this team is, people want to say we set the bar really high," said Kovacs, a strong safety and a Clay graduate. "But at the end of the day, one thing Coach [Brady] Hoke emphasizes is, we failed."
Michigan opened the season on a six-game winning streak that included a last-ditch effort win over Notre Dame under the lights at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines defeated Ohio State for the first time in seven years. Then, defeated Virginia Tech in January to win the Sugar Bowl, seemingly punctuating a turnaround season in Hoke's first year at the helm of the Wolverines.
There was one thing Michigan did not do: win a Big Ten football championship.
That, Kovacs said, is the focus of the program every season. And that is where the Wolverines fell short.
"We didn't get what we want, and that keeps us hungry for next year," Kovacs said this week, prior to Michigan's spring game at noon Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
In a way, Kovacs' personal expectations mirror those of the Michigan coaching staff.
"The great thing is, every day, Kovacs sets that bar for himself," said Hoke, who mentioned Kovacs as a candidate for captaincy during Thursday's press conference at Schembechler Hall. "He's one of those guys who's a self-starter and very detailed of how he plays, very critical of how he plays. He's a very intelligent, smart football player who does a great job in the back end, and a physical guy."
Likewise, Hoke has high expectations for Kovacs. If Kovacs set the bar high for himself, Hoke believes Kovacs has yet to achieve the proverbial desired height.
"I would think if you would ask him, he'd tell you the same thing," Hoke said. "He hasn't met the expectations yet."
But consider Kovacs' rise from a true walk-on in the summer of 2008, when he was told to leave Michigan because of a knee injury that had not properly healed. After surgery and rehabilitation, Kovacs returned to camp the following summer and made the squad, then earned a scholarship from former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez (now at Arizona) in the summer of 2010. Last summer, Hoke's staff named Kovacs a starter at safety, and in 12 starts last fall he finished second on the team in total tackles with 75, including a team-leading 51 solo tackles, and one interception.
Last spring, Kovacs and Michigan's defense had to learn a new scheme under then-first-year defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who took over a defense that was last in team defense in the Big Ten, allowing an average of 450.8 yards per game and allowed an average of 35.2 points per game in 2010.
The Wolverines improved to fourth (322.2) and second (33.3), respectively, in each category in 2011, and have the benefit of a year of experience in the 4-3 scheme.
"It's nice to be able to come into the same defense in the second year in a row," Kovacs said. "It's the first time I've been able to do it, and anybody on the team's been able to do it. It's comforting coming into a similar defense."
But Mattison, Hoke and even Kovacs will tell you this: Entering today's spring game at Michigan Stadium, there are holes that need to be filled, and Michigan's overhauled defensive line still needs to be firmed up.
But today's spring scrimmage marks a certain milestone - the unofficial start of Kovacs' senior season and the continuation of lofty expectations.
"It's been nice to get back into it after a few months off," Kovacs said. "But it's crazy how fast it comes."
The Michigan athletic department announced this morning that the spring football game will be played at noon today at Michigan Stadium, despite the threat of storms to the Ann Arbor area.
Initial reports from Friday forecast a 60 percent chance of showers for today. Temperatures of 50 degrees and clouds are in the forecast for Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor.
If lightning or thunder comes within six miles of the stadium, the spring game will be cancelled immediately.
Michigan Stadium's gates will open at 9 a.m. and the alumni flag football game starts at 10 a.m. The final spring practice and scrimmage will begin at noon and will be broadcast by the Big Ten Network.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.