Ann Arbor — The way Michigan’s season ended last year, the departure of so many starters, the influx of an abundance of youth, have combined for a well-worn storyline this offseason.
It’s one the Wolverines are sick of hearing.
That said, they have adopted the chip-on-the-shoulder approach as they head into the start of the season Saturday against Florida at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“No doubt about it,” sophomore defensive lineman Rashan Gary said when asked if the team has something to prove. “I feel excited. We have to prove to the nation what Michigan has and what this season will be. I feel like ever since last season ended going into this season we had that chip on our shoulder. We’ve been keeping it and attacking.”
The Wolverines lost three of their final four games last season by a total of five points. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh later said he hoped that would stick with the team and be a source of motivation.
“We lost three of our last four games,” fifth-year senior center Patrick Kugler said. “Right now we all have a sour taste in our mouth. What better way to show it than against one of the best teams in the country in Florida to start the year?”
Michigan is replacing three starters on the offensive line, the secondary is all new, the receivers are young, and it looks like a tailback by committee. But starting with defensive coordinator Don Brown even before the bowl saying he’s not “afraid” having only one returning starter and the successful recruiting classes the last couple of years, the Wolverines feel confident.
“I think we know what we’re capable of,” Kugler said. “It’s showing everyone what we’re capable of. We’re a bunch of young guys, but everyone is talented. Just as talented if not more talented than last year’s team if you can believe that. It’s a young group so it’s about going out there and executing.”
Defensive lineman Chase Winovich was asked what questions the team has to answer this year.
He turned it right around.
“That’s your job, right? You ask me the questions we’ve got to answer,” Winovich said.
Winovich wasn’t being sharp. Not in the least. But his response suggested the Wolverines are tired of hearing about the youth on the team and the handful of returning starters. Those are the questions they have fielded all camp, all summer, all spring. And the way he sees it, maybe all that youth and inexperience will be a good thing.
“We’ve got to go out and do our job,” Winovich said. “We’ve got to prove the inexperience and the youth — the quote unquote inexperience because we’ve got a lot of people with experience — is not actually a problem but it could be an advantage for us.
“The inexperience and the youth could actually help us form a new identity, maybe one that may be better than last year’s senior class or last year’s team identity as a whole. So far I think it’s helped us form this new identity and help new people step up into leadership (roles) that they might have not.”
Mike Zorich, who coaches Michigan’s cornerbacks, recently ranted about his position group, and added they could no longer fall back on the youth excuse. Winovich agrees.
“It’s not an age thing,” he said. “Everyone wants to make everything, ‘This guy’s a young guy or that guy.’ It’s a football thing.”
Now they finally get a chance to prove themselves.