ANN ARBOR, MICH. (AP) - Brady Hoke was born and raised in Ohio and climbed the coaching ladder in the Midwest except for a stint as an Oregon State assistant.
Hoke left Lloyd Carr's staff at Michigan to take a shot at leading his first team, Ball State, in 2003. After turning around his alma mater over six seasons, he went to coach San Diego State.
"It was the right opportunity at the right time," he said.
Kind of like him bolting the beach to coach at the Big House.
Hoke was hired to lead the Wolverines and replace Rich Rodriguez in January and eight months later, he has to face one of the programs he fixed: No. 22 Michigan hosts San Diego State on Saturday in a matchup of 3-0 teams.
The Aztecs, off to their best start in 30 years, might be good enough to make Hoke regret all that hard work. San Diego State players insist they didn't feel jilted when they found out Hoke was leaving via text messages.
"We were on Christmas break so we were all gone anyway," linebacker Miles Burris said. "It would have been a hard thing for him to have to individually call every single one of us and tell us about the move."
Still, Hoke lamented not being able to do jus that, as he did at Ball State. He has tried to downplay the attention that comes with facing his former team.
"I think people may make a big deal about it," he said.
Relatively speaking, Hoke made San Diego State a big deal.
The Aztecs won just two games the year before he arrived. Two years later, they won nine games _ the program's best season since 1977 _ and beat Navy 35-14 in the Poinsettia Bowl for their first bowl win since 1969.
San Diego State coach Rocky Long, who was Hoke's defensive coordinator, echoed his players' mindset about facing Hoke.
"I don't think there's any vendetta, any bad feelings," Long said. "I think our team is excited about playing, but I don't think it has anything to do with coach Hoke. I think they're excited about playing because they're playing a Top 25 team in a great big stadium and there's a whole bunch of interest in it."
The Aztecs have a shot to pull off an upset that might vault them into the rankings.
The Wolverines have been shaky on defense, but have made up for it by forcing eight turnovers, and will be tested against the Aztecs.
San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman is averaging nearly 166 yards rushing per game _ ranking second in the nation, just ahead of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson _ and leads the country with eight rushing touchdowns. Michigan's front four has perhaps been the weakest link on the team, allowing Eastern Michigan and Notre Dame to run for about 200 yards each the past two games.
Aztecs quarterback Ryan Lindley has started a program-record 34 straight games and is 12-4 since 2010, coming off an impressive game win against Washington State. Lindley was 21 of 37 passes for 273 yards with two TDs and an interception.
"He's got a very strong arm, he's got a great demeanor, and he's got a tremendous work ethic when studying opponents," Hoke said. "His coach, Brian Sipe, who wasn't a bad football player in his own right."
Lindley helped San Diego State beat the Cougars 42-24, snapping the school's 22-game losing streak against BCS schools and a 19-game skid to teams against Pac-12 teams.
Michigan, meanwhile, has struggled to get Robinson to make a smooth transition from Rodriguez's spread to a pro-style offense in which he is asked to be a drop-back passer at times. The reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year has connected on just 43 percent of passes with four interceptions the past two games. Robinson's running skills have overcome his inability to consistently throw accurate passes.
The Wolverines, who have won 11 straight nonconference games, are 3-0 for the third straight season, but they seem more humble about this year's start.
"I think 3-0 in the last couple of years has felt like a bigger accomplishment," defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. "We kind of had more confidence, undeserved confidence. Right now we are at the stage where we recognize we have not played very well and we are 3-0. We have not put together a full game offensively and defensively, yet we found a way to win in our three games."