A year ago at this time, Michigan had lost two of its final three regular-season games by four points, eliminating the Wolverines from the four-team College Football Playoff conversation.
The Wolverines were 10-2, disappointed, and headed to the Orange Bowl.
This year’s team, in Jim Harbaugh’s third season as coach, is 8-4 and will play South Carolina (8-4) in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. The Wolverines did not beat a team with a winning record and lost to its rivals, Michigan State and Ohio State. They will approach these bowl practices as they did last year — that they’re just not “there” yet.
“We look at it right now, we’re not good enough,” Harbaugh said Sunday night on the Outback Bowl conference call. “Not good enough to win all our games and we need to better, we need to be good enough, and that starts now. It starts today. It really started last week.”
Michigan’s starters took a bit of a breather last week and focused on the weight room, while the non-starters and younger players practiced three times. That group included redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters, who missed starting and playing in the Ohio State game because of a concussion suffered the week before at Wisconsin. Harbaugh said Sunday that Peters practiced last week and is the No. 1 quarterback.
The entire team, Harbaugh said, was expected to practice Monday. Bowl practices are valued for getting younger players more reps in advance of spring practice and the next season.
But the players said bowl practices are not just about preparing for the future. They do want to win the game, after all.
“It’s a great opportunity for a lot of young guys to get better for next season and for us to get another win,” said senior left tackle Mason Cole, who will be playing his final college game. “That’s the biggest thing, just finishing this season out the right way and really starting the next season out the right way for all those guys. These next few weeks (are) just a great opportunity for us not only to get better but to get healthy.”
Safety Tyree Kinnel, who suffered a concussion in the Ohio State game and sat out last week while going through the protocol, said the players enjoyed the break.
“This is definitely a good time for us to recover our bodies,” Kinnel said. “Going through a long camp and then going right into the season, it’s not just us, a lot of teams are very grateful for this period of time to recover and get some relaxation on our bodies and prepare for our opponent in the bowl game. This is a very good period for us to learn together as a team and definitely recover our bodies.”
Michigan has plenty to work on during this break between games. The Wolverines had breakdowns in every area throughout the year, and while every issue can’t be cured, this is when they start addressing them in earnest.
“We’ve got a lot of things to fix up and there’s a lot of time to improve on things,” tight end Zach Gentry said. “We’ll put our nose to the grindstone and keep working.”
Harbaugh said the practices and meetings last week were “really good” and that was a springboard into this week.
“Building and attacking at the same time,” Harbaugh said of his approach during these bowl practices. “I think we had good improvement last week as a team, and I think we’ll go into this week with the same objectives to grow and improve.”