ANN ARBOR — The Michigan football team didn’t discuss a bowl game in the wake of its one-point loss to Ohio State.
It barely took note of the fact that the team's performance had plummeted in the final month of the regular season. In its regular-season finale, Michigan played for pride, and gained some respect after Saturday’s 42-41 loss to the No. 2 Buckeyes.
By next week, the Wolverines (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) will know which bowl game they will play in, but they finished another season without winning a Big Ten championship.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke conceded that this season was a failure, much like finishing 11-2 and winning the Sugar Bowl in 2011 and going 8-5 last season.
“It would be the same,” said Hoke, whose team lost four of its last five regular-season games. “We have goals here. The goal is to win the Big Ten championship. Every year. We’ve got 42 of them. More than anybody else. We want the 43rd.”
Michigan hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2004, when it shared the title with Iowa. Furthermore, following Saturday’s loss to Ohio State, Michigan finished its fourth season in the last six with a losing conference record. Prior to that stretch, UM hadn’t had a losing Big Ten record since 1965 (2-5).
The Wolverines will watch Saturday’s Big Ten championship game from their couches, and bowl pairings will be announced following the conference championship games. Both CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm and ESPN.com on Sunday projected that Michigan will earn a berth in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2014, in Jacksonville, Fla., against an SEC opponent.
The Detroit Free Press reported Sunday that the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is still a possibility. Fiesta Bowl chairman Brian Hall told the Free Press that it is interested in Michigan as a candidate for the Dec. 28 bowl against a Big 12 opponent in Tempe, Ariz.
A berth in a bowl game will finish a season that began with a 5-0 start, included single-digit wins over Akron and Connecticut, and the showcase win under the lights against Notre Dame. After a record-setting output Oct. 19 in a 63-47 win over Indiana, Michigan’s offense fell apart. Before Saturday’s game, UM had shuffled its offensive line five times and included three underclassmen at guard: Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis, and Erik Magnuson.
While Jeremy Gallon (1,284 yards, nine touchdowns) emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top receivers, the Wolverines’ running game couldn’t forge an identity in November.
Opponents held UM to minus-69 yards in two games, and the Wolverines put the ball in the hands of a pair of freshmen, including De'Veon Smith, whom Hoke removed from the travel team prior to a 29-6 loss at Michigan State because of performance issues and later reinstated.
Michigan’s most notable November game before Saturday’s loss to the Buckeyes was a 27-19, three-overtime win at Northwestern, punctuated by Brendan Gibbons’ last-second field goal and Drew Dileo’s sliding scramble to hold the ball. But twice last month, athletic director Dave Brandon gave Hoke votes of confidence, first telling the Associated Press after the loss at Michigan State that "he's absolutely the right guy to lead the Michigan football program."
The second came last week, after UM commit and five-star cornerback Jabrill Peppers announced that he planned to make official recruiting visits to other schools in the wake of rumors that Hoke’s job was in jeopardy.
“We have the right leader, and despite the fact we have lost three very close games … the consistency will come,” Brandon wrote. “There have been speed bumps along the way and unforeseen obstacles that have hindered our progress this season, but the resiliency of this team has been remarkable.”