Columbus, Ohio — Michigan's season is over, and for the players and coaches, much of it has been about weathering so many situations away from the field.
The Wolverines lost 42-28 at Ohio State on Saturday, ending the season with a 5-7 record, a win away from bowl eligibility.
The season, players dealt with the public fallout from UM playing quarterback Shane Morris — later diagnosed with a concussion — after a big hit late in the Big Ten opener and allowing him to return to the game. There was the aftermath of "Stakegate," when linebacker Joe Bolden drove a stake into the Spartan Stadium field before the Michigan State game. Then there was the aftermath of athletic director Dave Brandon's resignation, not to mention the constant speculation about coach Brady Hoke's future with the Wolverines. Defensive end Frank Clark was kicked off the team in November after he was arrested and charged with domestic violence.
Through it all, players had to find ways to stay focused. Center Jack Miller throughout the season said the players bonded through it all, a theme he reiterated after the loss to Ohio State.
"I stand by what I said when we got in that storm, that it brought us together," Miller said. "I've been on teams and I know a lot of teams, it would have torn apart the locker room. Guys would have been upset with each other, blamed each other. That never happened. That was real.
"That's a testament to Coach Hoke, his leadership and the rest of the staff and the leaders in the locker room, too. It was tough. It seemed like every time you turned around there was something new that you had to talk about it. But it brought the guys closer together. No one ever wavered."
It has been a tough three seasons under Hoke since he went 11-2 his first season in 2011. The Wolverines have lost more games each season.
While Hoke would not evaluate his four seasons after the loss Saturday, he did say the program is headed in the right direction.
"Because of the youth we have on our football team," he said, citing the fact there are 56 players on the two-deep and 50 of them are returning.Miller, a junior, also pointed to the youth on the team while talking about what the future holds.
"This adversity we've been through this year, which has been tough on everyone, is only going to make us better down the stretch," Miller said.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner, who played his last game for Michigan, said that while the season was a challenging one, Hoke has always been consistent.
"His belief and his fight and him coming to work every day hasn't wavered one bit," Gardner said. "No matter what has happened, lose or win, Sugar Bowl, or no bowl game, he's coming to work every day and worked hard with us, and we've got to respect him for that, and we love him for that.
"I don't make those type of decisions (regarding Hoke's job security), but I know he's a great coach and he's coached us hard, and we've tried to execute it, but it hasn't worked out the way we thought it should."