LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan will face a lot of talent — especially when it tries to block South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — in the Outback Bowl.
The 19th-ranked Wolverines, though, have just about seen it all.
They’re the only team since at least 1996 to go into the postseason after facing the top three teams in The Associated Press poll. They lost each game to No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State.
“I think it’s always a benefit when you play good football teams whether you win or lose,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday. “You learn how you have to play. We have to do a better job of taking care of the football, have to run the ball better.”
Michigan (8-4) also lost to No. 23 Nebraska, leading Hoke to vote for his team No. 15 in the coaches’ poll, which ranked the Wolverines 22nd on Sunday. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, who was replaced by Hoke, and Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly were the only other ones to vote for Michigan as high as Hoke did in the coaches’ poll.
“I think we’re a good team,” Hoke said, explaining why he voted his team as high as he did. “You look at the opponents that we played compared to other schedules that are out there. It would be easy to play a lesser schedule. But I think this has helped us grow as a program and a team.”
Michigan’s banged-up quarterbacks should be helped by the long break between losing Nov. 24 to the rival Buckeyes and playing the Gamecocks on New Year’s Day in Tampa, Fla.
Denard Robinson missed two-plus games with nerve damage in his right elbow and then was limited by the injury — that prevented him from throwing in a game — for the last two games of the regular season.
“I feel pretty good, to be honest with you,” Robinson said. “When we start practicing, I can have more say. I’m not throwing how I want to throw, but I’ll get there.”
Devin Gardner replaced Robinson under center late in the season and had an ankle injury against Ohio State that was serious enough to place him in a walking boot.
Hoke insisted Gardner would be ready to practice with his teammates Friday and Saturday and said the time off the field will help every player on the roster.
“They go through that grind, it’s good for all of them to heal up a little bit,” Hoke said. “To get them away from the pounding helps them all.”
When the Wolverines work on their inconsistent running game, they’ll be without one player whose role was to help pave the way.
Junior fullback Stephen Hopkins has left the team and Hoke wouldn’t — or couldn’t — provide reasons for the decision.
“You’d have to ask him,” Hoke said.
Hopkins certainly didn’t lash out in a message posted to his Twitter account Monday afternoon: “I love the University of Michigan and everything it means to be a Michigan Man. I look forward to getting my degree.”
Hopkins started in four of eight games this year and didn’t get the ball once.
Rodriguez recruited Hopkins from Double Oak, Texas, to Michigan in 2010 and he had 151 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 37 carries as a freshman. Hopkins was handed the ball 11 times for 43 yards last season, in Hoke’s first year, and caught one pass for 28 yards.
Robinson acknowledged being “a little bit” surprised that Hopkins is leaving the team.
“We support him,” Robinson said. “That’s still a brother to me. I would never say anything bad about him.”
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